A Chattanooga police officer was so frightened by the knife in the hand of a wheelchair paraplegic that he whipped out his service pistol, screamed at the man, called for backup and feared for his life.
So frightened was officer Timothy McFarland that he is accusing Christopher Leo Hardaway, 45, of assault.
By David Tulis / 92.7 NoogaRadio
State’s attorney Neal Pinkston will be trying the impoverished Mr. Hardaway with felony aggravated assault Feb. 27 in Hamilton County criminal court
Mr. Hardaway will be defending himself. He is under F$1,000 bond in the county jail and his been assigned attorney Zack Newman to aid in his defense.
Mr. Hardaway, called a career criminal in a newspaper report, has been convicted of crimes ranging from burglary and assault. But that was before a car accident in 2004 that paralyzed from the waste down.
With little useable muscle in legs, he neither can control his bladder, and in soul and mind he is troubled by anger and paranoid schizophrenia. A battery powers a wheelchair that growls to a halt often in the worst circumstances, such as alongside streets in the line of traffic.
On the night of the perilous Sept. 3 encounter, officer McFarland is skulking around the Food City on Brainerd Road when he finds Mr. McFarland charging his wheelchair. Mr. McFarland, who serves mayor Andy Berke and David Roddy, his chief of police, had earlier declared a ban on Mr. Hardaway from the Food City property.
Mr. Hardaway is a paraplegic, but a video on the time Free Press website showing an earlier arrest indicates he has some use of his hands. In that roadside seizure, the officers are recorded as saying Mr. Hardaway is able to use his legs to help them lug him from wheelchair to the back seat of a police car.
Mr. Hardaway will be making his own defense in court. The injured party is the state of Tennessee, a corporation. Its elected agent, Mr. Pinkston, will resort to bluff to make the charges stick since the assault and the guilty mind statutes don’t clearly support the criminal charge upon the body of facts as reported.
Assault and aggravated assault are at Tenn Code Ann. 39-13-101 and have as their requirement that the accused “intentionally or knowingly causes another to reasonably fear imminent bodily injury.” Assault is aggravated when the act involves “the use or display of a deadly weapon.”
Did Officer McFarland reasonably fear imminent bodily injury? Had Mr. Hardaway had full use of his legs, the drawing of a knife and the declaration that Mr. Hardaway was “disclosing” it to the officer might have produced such fear had Messrs. McFarland and Hardaway been standing next to each other as physical equals.
But the officer is afoot in his boots, body armor and multiple pistol magazines on his belt (sharp and beakish, like the prow of a Navy frigate), impressive and belligerent looking by policy, and the cripple, from a formerly enslaved black race, is in his inert wheelchair.
In the culpable mental state rule, also called mens rea, “a person commits an offense who acts intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or with criminal negligence, as the definition of the offense requires, with respect to each element of the offense” Tenn. Code Ann. 39-11-301.
Mr. Hardaway arguably lacks the guilty intent that the statute requires to be proven “with respect to each element.”
The intent to cause injury is limited by the capacity with which to cause it. A paraplegic in a wheelchair may be angry; he may be holding a 4-inch blade and if his paraplegia is only partial, he’s able to tilt the blade toward an another person or even raise his hand, with the blade in it. But if he is incapable of using his limbs by 40 percent, 60 percent or 90, his intent is diminished by his capacity.
Mr. Hardaway could argue that Officer McFarland, given his courage and training and powerful equipment, could not “reasonably” have felt Mr. Hardaway a threat, with these evidences of power widening the gulf between the state actor’s invulnerability and the accused’s intent reasonable weakened by his capacity.
A man treading water in a pool, holding a knife and threatening to slice another man, standing on the side of the pool, cannot be reasonably be said to be posing an “imminent” threat of bodily injury. Capacity, position, reasonableness.
Officer McFarland alleges that the intent implied in the pulling out of the knife and disclosing it is an act that he reasonably understood to involve him in a threat to his person and well-being. But, “a person acts knowingly with respect to a result of the person’s conduct when the person is aware that the conduct is reasonably certain that to cause the result.” Tenn. Code Ann. 39-11-302.
Mr. Hardaway’s task will be to show the unreasonableness of the charge, that the strong officer could not have been “reasonably certain” that Mr. Hardaway’s holding the knife could “cause the result” of injuring him.
Source: Zack Peterson, “Paraplegic man faces officer assault charges,” Chattanooga Times Free Press, Feb. 15, 2018.