Antonio Bell, center, appears to be one of those “Just Busted” faces whose story really is one of innocence of the crimes charged. (Photo David Tulis)

Antonio Bell, center, appears to be one of those “Just Busted” faces whose story really is one of innocence of the crimes charged. (Photo David Tulis)

Antonio Bell says he is in jail until Sunday under a plea agreement that has him admitting to two misdemeanor counts of retaliation against a judge or officer in a case that suggests a fabricated police account of the incident to allow for the use of a charging statute that is abusively applied to the defendant.

The statute under which he was charged — and to which he pleaded — is irrelevant because it envisions “retaliation” against a judge not in his a private and personal capacity, but in his official.

By David Tulis / Noogaradio 1240 AM 101.1 FM

Mr. Bell, 28,  indicated confusion about the agreement in a case prompted by a midnight encounter in front of the Hixson Wal-Mart market with David Bales, who during daylight hours is judge in Hamilton County sessions court.

Mr. Bell gave an interview at Silverdale workhouse to a deacon at Brainerd Hills Presbyterian church. He said he did not know which of his acts constituted the retaliation against judge or officer charges and discussed rescinding his plea bargain.

Attempts to reach Judge Bales — through his office by phone and by personal visit and through social media — were not successful. A March 2 message sent to Chief  Fred Fletcher to discuss the case received no response.

David Bales

David Bales, citizen, but also sessions court judge

Mr. Bell expressed despair about his options. He had been charged with five counts in what he and a witness say was a peaceful encounter among Mr. Bell, Mr. Bales and three city police officers — except for exaggerated and threatening tones that rose from the lips of the officers.

Premised on an angry, threatening encounter the state describes in its police report, the state’s accuser in the Hamilton County district, attorney Neal Pinkston, stacked five charges against Mr. Bell.

➤ Assault

➤ Aggressive panhandling

➤ Disorderly conduct

➤ Retaliation against a judge or police officer, two counts

Disturbing history in Chattanooga

Officers in Chattanooga routinely perjure themselves in their reports — their accusatory documents giving them as representatives of the state — and in oral testimony before the Hamilton County grand jury. Their department and Mr. Pinkston have a high threshold for such crimes. In two recent cases, perjury by officers Jeff Rahn and David Campbell was overlooked, though Mr. Campbell was fired for violating policy in the unwarranted arrest of Hanson Melvin, a pedestrian who refused to give his SSN or show a driver license “walking while black.”

The practice is subsidized by long custom of plea bargaining. That keeps defendants from juries and degrades adjudication in open court into administration — hasty bargaining meetings between DAs and lawyerless defendants that clear the docket and give tens of thousands of people police records.

In the plea bargain regime bargained into existence between the DA’s office and the public defender’s office, police accuse whom they will, make up a story and are usually certain nothing will show them to have perjured themselves. As to why officers would perjure themselves and act without probable cause in low-level misdemeanor cases, the explanation goes to police “us vs. them” culture, to the political and social management purpose of policing. Not only do police suppress and terrify uneducated poor working people, but generate income for the court system and its myriad hangers-on.

The Bell arrest is similar in that defendants and eyewitnesses contradict a police report. The report against Mr. Bell appears a falsified report by one officer, with consent by two others and Judge David Bales, who gives the court number for his telephone number as part of the pretense of his being involved as complainant in an official capacity. I suspect  the officers arranged the case in obsequiousness to Judge Bales to teach Mr. Bell a lesson.

The city says my open records request for the video and audio of the encounter is going to take two weeks beyond the statutory requirement.

Admitting guilt to avoid prolonged woe

Mr. Bell says he pleaded guilty to the retaliation charges “as the only way to get out. I figured that was the easiest way out, so I pled to it.” His sentence includes time served since Feb. 12.

He says he has already on his record a felony assault case which is a blight against his status as job applicant. Criminal records are one of the biggest hindrances to employment is the state, whose law enforcement machinery keeps the judicial industrial complex and all its hangers-on in cash

Bales encounter, Version No. 1

Tarah Melvin on Friday describes how close her car had been parked to that of David Bales, complainant against Antonio Bell, who was to have been released Feb. 12 from Silverdale workhouse in Chattanooga. (Photo David Tulis)

Tarah Melvin on Friday describes how close her car had been parked to that of David Bales, complainant against Antonio Bell, who was to have been released Feb. 12 from Silverdale workhouse in Chattanooga. (Photo David Tulis)

According to Mr. Bell’s neatly penned four-page statement and two jailhouse interviews with me as church deacon, the encounter with Mr. Bales on his entering the store was unremarkable and peaceful and that his arrest came after provocative words and threats by officers.

Before he and the innocent eyewitness were detained, he and Mrs. Melvin had been told they could leave; but they were waylayed by the arrival of more officers.

Mr. Bell has spoken inconsistently on whether he asked Mr. Bales for money or for a ride. He said he offered Mr. Bales money if he would take him home. He was referring to his sister Angelica’s address on Brighton Lane. But that Mr. Bell offer generated a response that indicates he’d really asked for cash.

“I don’t have any money to give, but if you need a job, I give out jobs,” Mr. Bales said, according to Mr. Bell.

Mr. Bell said that he told the man he needed a ride, not a job. “I have a job; don’t you see my Arby’s cap on my head?”

Mr. Bales ducked into the store. Mr. Bell says he did not ask the man for money.

Ten or 20 minutes later, Mr. Bales came out, and Mr. Bell says he said, “‘Indeed, have a nice night.’ He did not respond as he continued to walk. I looked no more or thought nothing of it.”

Mr. Bell also recounts a brief encounter with the store manager,  who asked him if he were asking people for money. He was not, he replied. The man seems to have accepted his answer; complainant in the case is Mr. Bales.

Mr. Bell may have momentarily dozed off as he sat in the seat of a shopping cart, one with large open back seats suitable to moms with children. An officer approached him, addressing him “in an aggressive manner,” Mr. Bell said. He stood up and asked what was the problem.”

The officer says Mr. Bell is asking people for money . “I responded, ‘No, sir. I am not. I am awaiting for my friend,” Mrs. Melvin, just then at the checkout line in view of the encounter just outside the doors.

‘Don’t eye-fuck me’

Claims of assault and intimidation that night Feb.  11 are far-fetched, according to Mr. Bell and to an affidavit by eyewitness, Tarah Melvin, a Hixson resident.

Mr. Bell says the first officer cleared him to leave. Mr. Bell was being given a ride by Mrs. Melvin, a stranger who says she was concerned for Mr. Bell’s welfare, thinking him endangered by an encounter with police. She is the wife of Hanson Melvin, and the mother of three young children.

Mr. Bell helped Mrs. Melvin and take her groceries to the car and as she was strapping in her child, the officer standing over his shoulder, started to offer under my breath saying, ‘This is some bixx axx shix going on.’ He then responded and said, ‘Are you calling me a bixxx?’ I said no, but what’s going on is referenced to as bullcrap.”

As the two people being detained waited, an officer stood outside the car. Mr. Bell asked if they were free to leave. “No, just hold on till everything is cleared.”

Mr. Bell got out of the car and stood next to it. After 10 minutes of waiting and standing, the officers leave a visit with Mr. Bales and approach Mrs. Melvin’s car. One cop asks Mr. Bell, “Do you know that guy?”

Mom, child, Bell detained 20 minutes

After 20 minutes, the officer came over and without ado arrested Mr. Bell, putting his arms behind his back, answering that he was being arrested for disorderly conduct. “I didn’t do anything,” Mr. Bell said. “But you’re not going to tell me to slap the taste out my my mouth without my saying anything.”

Mr. Bell was taken to an interview with Mr. Bales. On returning to near the Melvin car, he glared at an officer, who said, “Don’t eye-fuck me, either,” the officer said, according to the affidavit, “or I’m gonna smack the taste out your mouth.”

Mr. Bell questioned the officer’s authority to strike him. “I guess you three are going to play the dirty cop game in the parking lot?” he says he stated.

Mr. Bell says he asked one officer if he would be willing to testify against the officer who’d made the threat.

Taken toward the patrol card, Mr. Bell asked passersby, “Can I use any of you to all as a witness as to me not doing anything?”

Mr. Bell declared that he was victim of a “dirty cop game” and he admits have expressed anger, which is not a crime. “Once he let the other who had put me in the car, walked back over to the car, asked if I was going to calm down, I continued to loud mouth about him telling me he was going to slap me in my mouth in offence, then he started to boast as well as brag about what he can do as far as his rights, asked again if I thought I could whoop his ‘cock’ [and he] opened the door and told me, ‘If you think can, get out.’ I responded, ‘I am already in cuffs. Take me to jail.’”

Bales story, Version No. 2: Cop calm, Bell threatening

The police narrative of the Bell arrest seems to have come from a different universe. In the report sworn by officer Ketron, Mr. Bell is angry, belligerent and foul mouthed.

The police report is sworn under penalty of perjury, and justifies the charges against Mr. Bell.

“Upon arrival I discovered Mr. Antonio Bell sitting in a shopping cart outside of the entrance of the market. Mr. Bell fit the description of the suspect of the disorder, so I approached him and engaged him in conversation. He stated that he was waiting on his friend inside the store and he was just about to leave. I stated that would be fine and escorted he, and is friend and child to their vehicle. While they were loading their groceries into the vehicle I made contact with the complainant, Judge David Bales. Judge Bales stated that Mr. Bell had asked him for money when he was going into the store., to which he replied, ‘I can help you get a job to make some money.’ Mr. Bell did not like that answer and began to cuss loudly at Judge Bales stating, ‘You mother fucker, you son of a bitch.’’

Having heard details of a harsh encounter from Mr. Bales, the officer goes back to the Melvin car and speaks with Mr. Bell. The statements below would have been in presence of Mrs. Melvin, whose affidavit indicates much of this uproar is a work of fiction. Especially creative appears to be Mr. Bell’s “defensive posture” in which he stared “directly into my face to establish dominance.”

“I went and spoke to Mr. Bell to advise him that he needed not to panhandle and have respect or other citizens in Chattanooga. He became very agitated and yelled, ‘Naw fuck that dude, I don’t give a shit about no Judge Bales.’ I asked Mr. Bell twice to lower his voice and talk with me, which he refused.

“He continued to get more and more agitated and took a defense posture by squaring up his body in a bladed fighting stance while simultaneously staring directly into my face to establish dominance. I told him if he continued to behave like that that I would defend myself. He then became even louder and more animated and was taken into custody *** . While in the back of my patrol care he repeatedly stated that he couldn’t wait to find Judge Bales, Officer Tomas or myself out in public so he could ‘beat our cracker asses.’ Mr. Bell was extremely uncooperative and refused to answer any questions. He was transported to Hamilton County jail without further incident.”

Mr. Ketron says in his statement that he had been called to the Wal-Mart “on a disorder” and that when he arrived Mr. Bell was sitting in a shopping cart. “Mr. Bell fit the description of the subject of the disorder.”

Problems in Ketron story

This narrative contains several problems. For one, audio and video are running and if the department does not delete the files, they will show a much different story. Even better, an eyewitness, Mrs. Melvin, is right there. She heard none of these things, and says Mr. Bell was cooperative.

A man asking for money or a ride is not going call a passerby who refuses him “a motherfucker” — no quicker way to get booted from a store premises. And why would be do that while he was waited for his ride, the woman with a child going through the line? How could a man who has secured what he needs at that late hour use angry, confrontational language with a stranger when that might prompt a call to the cops? The story creates acts by Mr. Bell inconsistent with his station and circumstances and depict him as irrational, belligerent and violent — apparently to justify the criminal charges being cooked up among Mr. Bales and the officers.


The charges to which Mr. Bell agreed to plead guilty are that of retaliation against a judge, officer. It’s not clear that Mr. Bell knows what the statute says and he did not indicate that the attorney with whom he spoke from the public defender’s office described the test and the requirements for retaliation. The facts of State vs. Bell do not appear to be remotely near those of the statute.

Bell calm after cops arrest him at behest of judge outside Wal-Mart, witness says

Boiled down, the statute to which Mr. Bell pleads guilty applies to threats and retaliation pursuant to a court case.

“A person commits the offense of retaliation for past action who harms or threatens to harm a witness at an official proceeding, judge, district attorney general *** by any unlawful act in retaliation for anything the witness, judge *** did in an official capacity *** .”

Neither Mr. Bell, Mr. Bales nor the three officers had had any engagement with Mr. Bell in the nature of “retaliation.” And nothing that Judge Bales did that night was in official capacity. The police report justifies two counts on the retaliation charge, one covering words directed against Mr. Bales, the other apparently against Officer Ketron. Telling a cop you are not going to let him beat you is not retaliation.

Begging rule high standard for ‘aggressive’

The aggressive panhandling charge is bogus on its face, given the police’s own account. Calling someone a motherfucker is not violating the rule that requires intimidating and threatening acts and words, blocking a path, persisting when rejected or touching the person approached.

Mr. Ketron, in marshalling his accusations, appears to throw in this charge for good measure, though his story does not substantiate it.

Worried family

Mr. Bell says when he arrived at the lockup he was met by six to nine officers because he was deemed “an aggressive one.”

The system which brings every defendant to plead guilty discourages careful police work and careful police reporting, and effectively subsidizes lies and carelessness by officers. It also prevents the laws as they’re written from being tested through court trial and appeal. If everybody pleads, the law is not put to the test and refined, clarified and corrected. For example, the disorderly conduct statute is unconstitutionally vague on two of its five provisions — “

Mr. Bell’s brother, Antwuane, in Nashville; his sister, Veronica Jordan, also in Nashville, say they are concerned for Mr. Bell’s welfare in jail.

Antwuane fears his jailed brother may have acted without proper legal advice and says the brother caved under the state custom of charge stacking and intimidation. Mr. Bell, whom is separated and who has three children in Nashville whom he regularly visits, has been homeless. But he has been staying with a sister, Angelica Blair of 4843 Brighton Lane in the Hixson area. Before sentencing he had been under a high F$32,000 bond the family could not afford, as bondsmen usually will cover bonds for 10 percent of their value, or F$3,200, which they keep as a fee.

Note on aggressive panhandling ordinance

The city ordinance standard for aggressive panhandling is “[t]o approach or speak to a person in such a manner as would cause a reasonable person to believe that the person is being threatened with: 1. Imminent bodily injury; or 2. The commission of a criminal act upon the person or another person, or upon property in the person’s immediate possession; b. To persist in panhandling after the person solicited has given a negative response; c. To block, either individually or as part of a group of persons, the passage of a solicited person; d. To touch a solicited person without the person’s consent. *** f. To engage in conduct that would reasonably be construed as intended to intimidate, compel or force a solicited person to make a donation” (city ordinance, 25-39(a)(3)).

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