Police officers in the Tennessee town of Red Bank swarmed a group of college students at a graduation party that was slowly dissolving into the early morning hours, and created an uproar captured by one of the participants whose iPhone was siezed “as evidence.”
By David Tulis / 92.7 NoogaRadio
The phone of Roderick Allen DeBerry was seized because he had the mendacity to record the melee and not leave the private property when the city officer told him to scat.
The quiet breakup of the 150-person event was rippled by an argument and possible shoving match between a student and a private security worker at the entrance of the Gallery. City cops got a 911 call and rushed into the dispersing groups of students, spewing obscenities, throwing people to the ground, using mace on several and arresting four of them, including Mr. DeBerry.
Mr. DeBerry says had the students been white, the officers would have focused only on the party involved in the scuffle, and respectfully and quietly watched everyone else get to their cars. But because they were black, they were treated as dangerous animals.
Mr. DeBerry’s grievance is threefold.
➤ He has a first amendment right to record police in public. They have no expectation of privacy, and photography is not a crime — especially when on private property.
➤ Police seized his phone and held it 24 days. They seized the phone of a second student, Dewun Harper, and held it without warrant 25 days.
➤ Officers cooked up criminal charges against him and three others to justify their rough treatment of citizens at the event, 95 percent of whom were black.
Arresting officer Joseph Rubin avers that Mr. DeBerry and others had been ordered to leave “immediately,” but instead “loitered” and got in the way of officers. Midway into the festivities, Officer Greg Huff was sitting atop a female, Mr. Rubin says, but “had numerous subjects around him yelling and encroaching on his personal space.”
Affidavit of Roderick Allen DeBerry II
Describing his arrest by Red Bank, Tenn., police May 6, 2018
I, Roderick Allen DeBerry II, being of sound mind and body, testify that I am a resident of Hamilton County, Tenn., and reside in Hamilton County, Tenn.
I was born April 17, 1995, with family in Memphis. I attend the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and am a senior biology student.
The night of May 6, 2018, I was attending a UTC graduation party at The Gallery in Red Bank at 3918 Dayton Blvd.
More than 100 people had gathered at the celebration.
At about 1:45 a.m. many partygoers were dispersing across the parking lot of cars and trucks, with my car at a far remove from the Gallery entranceway.
An argument with a private security officer began, and I was aware of people involved in a scuffle at the Gallery entranceway.
I continued walking and began to get closer to my car while mingling with other students.
Within five minutes, Red Bank city police showed up, maybe a dozen in number, in about 10 cruisers.
I was about 40 yards away from the commotion at the Gallery entrance and turned my iPhone 8 on to record the officers’ shouting, pushing and ordering the young adults to depart.
As they talked with the crowd, the officers repeatedly used obscenities and profanity, such as, “get the f*** out,” “damn” and words such as “shit.” The Red Bank Police used the word f*** in every situation in which an officer was speaking loudly to groups of students.
I saw officers shine their blinding LED flashlights into the young people’s faces and spray Mace at several.
I was close enough to at least one of these attacks and had to cough to clear my system of the effects of the gas.
I recorded one scene in which a private officer and a city cop rushed upon a young woman. The officer flipped her and while on top of her he began to mace her. I took two or three videos of police officers interacting with students.
A young man, whose name I learned later is Dewun Harper, also was using his smartphone to record police conduct. Obeying orders to leave, he held his hands high in the air as he walked away from the Gallery, with his smartphone lit.
I recorded how an officer told him to leave, then apparently changed his mind about Mr. Harper’s departure. He stalked behind Mr. Harper until he was about to open the door of the passenger side of a car and arrested him, throwing him onto his belly.
Speaking loudly, I told the officers, “He didn’t do anything. He didn’t do anything.” All this time, I’m recording scenes of shouting cops and crowds of people, some uttering cries.
I heard students saying, “He didn’t throw anything at you,” implying that Mr. Harper was being arrested because he hurled an object at the police officers.
Calling to Mr. Harper, surrounded by officers, I said, “It’s OK, bro. I got it all on camera. It’s fine. It’s fine.” I also said, “Sir, what’s your badge number?”
City workers’ obscenities on the clock
I heard an officer say, “Good, I’m going to take your phone as evidence.” It took me a moment to realize that the officer was talking to and about me.
I then saw police arrest Niko Dabney, which I recorded. The officer said, “Get your ass! You want to grab on my f*cking car and try to open the door?!” As he roughed him up, he said, “Get your ass over here. I’m gonna tase him — I just want to tase his ass. I’m going to f*cking tase you.”
I said, “Hey, if you tase him, this is going online!”
“You’re gonna get tased if you don’t back up!” he said.
The officer who had arrested Mr. Harper grabbed me, first one arm and then the other while my camera was running. He put handcuffs on me. He forced me to my knees. Other UTC students and friends recorded the incident.
I said several times, “I’m not resisting and I’m not going to resist,” as the private security officer repeated, “Do not resist,” while the Red Bank police officer arrested me.
While I was handcuffed with my arms behind my back, my phone was running, but then I felt the officer taking the phone from my hands. I told people surrounding me, “Walk with me” as witnesses.
A girl nearby said, “They are arresting him for recording.” She said it twice.
Refusal to read Miranda rights
The officer took me to the police car parked up the hill on the road. He put my phone on the roof of his car.
“Officer,” I said, “you did not read me the Miranda law.”
“It’s ‘right,’ you idiot,” he says. He then put me in the car.
I suggested that he “might be wanting to look for a second form of income because this arrest would not be as easy as he thinks.”
“Not like I haven’t heard that before,” he said. “That’s what they all say.”
I said this after he called me an idiot.
The officer did not tell me the charges nor did he read me my Miranda rights.
The officer put me in the car. He stood in front of the hood of his car with my phone in his hand, pressing the screen several times with his fingers.
In the cruiser I met Mr. Harper, who had been arrested by the same officer. We waited 20 minutes. Our arresting officer brought to the car a third person, who have been arrested by a different officer. The person was Mr. Dabney.
Trespass, other criminal charges
I was held in a cell in Hamilton County jail in downtown Chattanooga, booked in the morning around 8:00 a.m. I had a visit with the magistrate 30 minutes later. The magistrate read me my Miranda warning, saying that anything I might say or produce would be used as evidence against me in court. This was the first time I was read my Miranda Rights.
I was charged with four crimes: Disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, criminal trespassing and inciting to riot.
My trial in Red Bank city court is set June 25.
On May 30, I went up to the Red Bank police department at about 9:30 a.m. The receptionist said Capt. John Wright was in a meeting. She gave me information to email him a request for a meeting. In a 3 p.m. meeting, he gave me my phone with a slip showing it had been in the police department evidence room. This visit was the seventh or eighth time I had made a trip to the police building in an attempt to get my property.
One video of the night in question seems to have been at least partly deleted, but Capt. Wright indicated that no one with forensic knowledge was able to get into my iPhone. My phone had been in the City of Red Bank custody for 24 days.
Further affiant saith not.
Allen DeBerry tells his story to David Tulis, “the blogger with the biggest pen” in Chattanooga and host of a show focusing on local economy and free markets. (Courtesy 92.7 NoogaRadio.)