Red Bank complicit in illegal roadblock, high court says

This tunnel opening under Stringer’s Ridge is on the Red Bank side, out of which came travelers who encountered a post-Riverbend Festival roadblock ruled illegal by the state supreme court. (Photo Google Earth)
This aerial view shows the northern mouth of the Stringer’s Ridge tunnel, obscured by trees, from which travelers came before a state traffic trap in 2012. The Red Bank checkpoint took place just below the right-hand turn motorists could have made to avoid going through the police dragnet. (Photo Google Earth).
This is the view down Dayton Boulevard toward Stringer’s Ridge, with Chattanooga lying beyond. The road at left apparently was the “escape” motorists were allowed to take to avoid an unconstitutional highway patrol and Red Bank police roadblock. (Photo Google)

Red Bank police are scored by the Tennessee Supreme Court in the prosecution of Chattanooga architect Robert A. Franklin, snared in a Riverbend Festival nighttime roadblock set up on the Red Bank side of the Cherokee Boulevard tunnel, according to a court record.

The blockade was June 15, 2012, and was organized by the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Three troopers and six Red Bank police officers took part in the blockade that stopped 285 users of the road from their harmless and free movement on the people’s right of way.

By David Tulis / NoogaRadio 92.7

Red Bank city government and its police department has a poor reputation for respecting the rights of the people. Its cops sparked a riot at a graduation party of African-American UTC students. at which they stole the cellphones of students recording them. The department has refused to tell reporters its plans for holiday roadblocks. In August 2018 officers helped gun down an unarmed woman as they sought to enforce a commercial transportation rule on someone not involved in transportation.

The fruit of the blockade approved in Hamilton County by criminal court judge Don Poole was minimal. A state witness “stated that one person was written a citation for ‘DUI,’ eight individuals were written citations for ‘DWI,’ and several individuals were written citations for ‘open container’ and other minor violations during the checkpoint. Lieutenant Phillips also said that one person was arrested for a felony and one person was arrested for a misdemeanor at the checkpoint.”

Its faults were numerous. The roadblock was one trooper short of that required by the rules; had not given proper notice to the press and the media; had been set up without them having been a study on the traffic on that road; the district attorney had not been notified;  a checklist was completed without personal knowledge of the answers; no notice had been given to the Chattanooga police department nor the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, as required in rules; officers checked for expired tags outside the scope of purpose of the checkpoint;

The checkpoint was terminated after an hour because heavy traffic from Chattanooga heading toward Highway 27 made it impossible to stop every car. The officers stopped every other car, then every second and third car, then stopped cars at random, exercising too much personal discretion.

The court makes a show of seeking the interest of protecting citizens right to be free from general and unwarranted searches, and calls the block illegal. “We conclude that the lack of advance notice, the officers’ exercise of substantial discretion at the scene, and the substantial deviations from the order severely interfered with Franklin’s privacy and liberty.”

To least intrude on innocent members of the public, the blockade must meet four main tests.  “(1) stopping all cars traveling in both directions, unless congested traffic requires permitting motorists to pass through; (2) taking adequate safety precautions, such as warning approaching motorists of the roadblock and stopping cars only in a safe and visible area; (3) conducting the roadblock with uniformed officers and marked patrol cars with flashing emergency lights; and (4) providing advanced publicity of the roadblock to the public at large, separate from, and in addition to, any notice warnings given to approaching motorists.”

Requirement for notice, escape

Officers in the Red Bank blockade and their THP counterparts used the Cherokee Boulevard tunnel to conceal the trap and make it almost impossible to avoid it. The court requires an escape prior to any allowable roadblock.

Here’s how the court deals with this problem of notice and escape:

“Second, the record shows that the officers failed to warn motorists of the checkpoint before entering the tunnel and failed to stop cars only in a safe and visible area. We note that the site of the checkpoint, which was set up just outside a tunnel with no warning signs prior to the entrance of the tunnel, was chosen with little thought to the safety of motorists and the officers conducting the checkpoint. Although it is clear the officers sought to use the tunnel to disguise the checkpoint until the last possible moment, the record shows that traffic frequently became congested inside the tunnel, putting both the motorists and officers at risk for accidents and injuries.

“Although the State admits that there were no signs posted before drivers entered the tunnel on Cherokee Boulevard, it contends that the checkpoint was not placed immediately outside the north side of the tunnel and that officers did not allow traffic inside the tunnel to become congested for safety reasons. Although the record provides limited information as to the exact location of the checkpoint, it does indicate that the checkpoint was located only a short distance from the exit of the tunnel. We strongly question whether tunnels, which provide the motorists limited space in which to avoid accidents and place officers and motorists at increased risk of harm, should ever be utilized to conceal checkpoints.

“Notwithstanding that concern, we conclude that the officers’ failure to post warning signs prior to entering the tunnel undoubtedly prevented motorists from having adequate notice of the impending checkpoint. Adequate warning signs at the entrance of the tunnel not only would have increased motorists’ safety but also would have “‘reassure[d] motorists that the stop [was] duly authorized,’ thereby diminishing the possibility of surprise, concern, or fright.” Id. at 534 (quoting Ingersoll v. Palmer, 743 P.2d 1299, 1316 (Cal. 1987)). The absence of adequate warning signs at the entrance to the tunnel and the officers’ failure to stop cars a safe distance away from the tunnel leads to a conclusion that adequate safety precautions were not taken in this checkpoint and weighs against a finding that the checkpoint is constitutionally permissible.”

For more on roadblocks in Tennessee

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