Antonio Bell as seen from a police cruiser camera. (Photo Chattanooga police department)

Antonio Bell as seen from a police cruiser camera. (Photo Chattanooga police department)

Arrest data for Antonio Bell, charged with five counts in an encounter with David Bales, a sessions judge.

Arrest data for Antonio Bell, charged with five counts in an encounter with David Bales, a sessions judge.

Police video supports the arrest of Antonio Bell in the retaliation case involving Judge David Bales, and undermines the favorable impression of Mr. Bell offered by an eyewitness in an affidavit.

Mr. Bell, 28, was scheduled for release this morning from Silverdale at 9 on a plea bargain on two charges of retaliation against judge or officer. The dropped charges are assault, aggressive panhandling and disorderly conduct.

By David Tulis / Noogaradio 1240 AM 101.1 FM

The video of his arrest Feb. 12 would have been a ruin to Mr. Bell had he demanded a trial on any of the five charges. But in pleading to two charges and agreeing to jail, Mr. Bell moots the case and saves the state from having to prove its claims, especially on its iffy retaliation against judge charges.

The four video files made available by the Chattanooga police department focus on his arrest in front of the Wal-Mart market in Hixson, and don’t record the encounter with late-night shopper Mr. Bales, a Hamilton County sessions court judge.

But Mr. Bell’s vile treatment of officer Joseph Ketron makes it hard to give sympathy to Mr. Bell’s line of argument that his conversation with Mr. Bales had been peaceful and that he is being seized without probable cause and without having disturbed anyone under the aggressive panhandling ordinance.

Neither Mr. Ketron nor chief of police Fred Fletcher returned texts or messages requesting comment about the case.

Tough defendant

Mr. Bell issues, as it were, a noisy defecation from his lips for an hour. His discourse is threatening, haranguing, abusive, ugly, laced with words such “shit,” “m—-rf—-r,” and a repeated cursings such as “F— you mean, bitch.” Though he repeatedly refers to the officer as bitch, all involved with his arrest are men. Some of Mr. Bell’s statements are intended as fighting words.

Officer Joseph Ketron deals with his charge with dignity, with a professional courtesy and grace of which Mr. Bell seems scarcely deserving.

Mr. Bell calls himself “a full-grown nigger” repeatedly and defies officers to “smack the taste out of my mouth” and “whup this nigger.” He claims, “I’ve got big boy balls between these legs, cracker.”

Explosion follows police threat

According to the eyewitness affidavit, a cop told Mr. Bell, “Don’t eye f— me, either, or I’m gonna smack the taste out your mouth.” Mr. Bell probably 50 times expresses anger at this threatening comment he attributes to Officer Ketron, repeatedly quoting it. “I took that real personal, sucker,” he bellows inside the police cruiser. “I took that real personal, sucker.”

Not only does Mr. Bell pile onto the officer, but speaks inconsiderately about the jurist. “Tell the judge to suck this dick, bitch. F— Judge Bales. Who the f— is he? I’m excited to go to jail tonight, bitch. F— you mean! Get on with it.” 

Had he gone to trial, this video would have wrecked everything he might have done to persuade jury members of the irrelevancy of the retaliation statute and his innocence of other accusations.

He challenges the officers to beat him. “Slap me! Come on, slap me! I’m in cuffs now, slap me, bitch. F— you mean. Wait till we get to the police station. You gonna slap me.*** Bitch, you gonna be out of a job. What you gonna bet? You gonna slap me? Bitch, I ain’t done nothing to ya.” 

“You better be lucky you got that gun on and badge on, sucker,” Mr. Bell says. “I beat your ass, white boy. You got me f—-ed up. You got me all the way f—ed up. You gonna slap the taste out of my mouth?”

When the officer tries to speak to him, Mr. Bell shouts at him, “Bitch! Bitch! Bitch!” to prevent having to hear the officer’s words. “That’s my word against his,” he says, referring to Mr. Bales. “F— the judge.”

Interspersing his points in the audio with obscenities, he intones, “You hafta give respect to get respect.”

 “You got me all the way f—ed up,” he says repeatedly. He threatens to file a lawsuit because “I ain’t done shit to this dude.” He expresses indignation that the police threaten “to slap the taste out of my mouth” and charge him with disorderly conduct while there are three of them and one of him, and all he is doing is “defending myself” while they are “playing dirty cop.” He says, “I ain’t calming down.”

Sitting in the back seat, Mr. Bell calls a cop to the car. In one exchange outside the view of the dashcam, after Mr. Bell quietens down, he demands an officer’s name and badge number, and asks if his listener did not hear the officer threaten him. “You were about to swing on him,” the cop says.

Officers endure abusive torrent

“I wasn’t about to swing on that police officer, man. That’s my word against his.”

“I’m trying to talk to you but you’re not listening,” the officer interjects.  M

Mr. Bell rages, “I’m trying to ask for a f—ing witness. I’m trying to ask for a f—ing witness. *** if I was gonna make a move, I would have made it on your punk ass, bitch. That’s cheatin’.

“You’re threatening me?” the officer demands. “You’re threatening me?”

No violent outbursts by Bell in ’retaliation against judge’ arrest, witness says

“Jus’ wait till I get — what’s your name, bitch, so I can turn your punk ass in, too? It’s one person out here against five m—–f——g police,” he declares. He raises the “black against white” issue while the officer is trying to get a word in edgeways against a foul torrent.

“I was trying to be nice,” an officer is heard saying.

“I don’t give a f— your being nice,” Mr. Bell cries as the door opens and an officer’s shadow is cast into the car. “Knock all you want to, ho! I would knock your ass out if I wasn’t in the back of this goddam police car. *** the m———-r had the nerve to open the door and told me to jump out and whup his ass — after I’m in the handcuffs. Well, bitch, let me catch you again somewhere without that badge, that gun, sucker and we’re going to show you what we are about, cracker.”

When asked if a document was his ID a mention of charges against him, he says, “I don’t care a f— about no charges. What the f— does that have to do with me. I’m ‘skeered.’ I’m ‘nervous.’ I don’t give a f— about no pepper spray, neither. I ain’t done shit. Pepper spray me. Do whatever you want to do, bitch. *** I don’t give a f—. *** Before you slap the taste out of my mouth, I beat your ass, I know that, sucker. Now — now — now — ”

‘I don’t know why you wanted it to go this way’

Twenty minutes into the video, an officer asks, “I don’t know why you wanted it to go this way.” No answer from Mr. Bell. The cruiser repositions itself and the camera frame includes the front of Judge Bales’ car. Mr. Bell says he doesn’t know the man and hasn’t met him before.

The officer asks about his license having been suspended, and says he doesn’t have a bad record. “I don’t know why you would want to act all foolish tonight.”

“He could be Judge Big Balls for all I give a f—,” Mr. Bell says. “I don’t give a shit. Shit. F— you mean. *** I tell you what. Before I let one of ya’ll slap the taste out of my mouth, you got me all the way f—ed up.”

“What does that mean, all the way fucked up?” the officer asks, conversationally.

“Dig it out, before you slap the taste out of my mouth, now that’s what you can do,” is the reply.

Part of the conversation is about Mr. Bell’s demand to get the manager in the Wal-Mart with the brown trousers, and when the officer says they already spoke to him, Mr. Bell mercurially turns snarling against the manager, suggesting he’s been co-opted by the cops.

Chief fires cop for arresting Melvin ‘walking while black’

In talking about what was recorded by police audio and camera, Mr. Bell says he is confident he can get the officer’s “badge suspended for a hot month or two, f— you mean.”

Mr. Ketron tries to lighten the mood, asking how tall Mr. Bell, and where he works out. “Don’t worry about it; do your job, bitch.”

“I’m doing my job,” says the officer, resignedly.

“Bitch. Do your job, bitch. Do your job, bitch.” Mr. Bell keeps interrupting any effort by the city employee to speak, suggesting he is ready to fight the officer, as “my momma didn’t raise no p—y. I bet you nine to ten you wouldn’t whup this nigger.” He says “I bet you wouldn’t whup this nigger” five more times, to get his point across.

Mr. Bell suggests that he get on Judge Bales’ docket, “and we’d fight this one out.”

“Do your job and protect him,” says Mr. Bell as the conversation shifts to Mr. Bales, whom Mr. Bell says has a “police hearing aid” that lets him hear everything he is saying to protest his innocence and his having been victimized by the threat to slap the taste out of his mouth.

“Do your job and protect him, sucker, because I’m a nigger. I’m a full-blown nigger at that, bitch. I’m a full-blown nigger at that, bitch. Smack the taste out of my mouth, if you want to. Try me. *** N-i-g-g-a. Ya’ll put the e-r on it to make it sound worse, f— ya mean.”  

Mr. Bell, in asserting his manliness, goes lower. “I got big boy balls between these legs, cracker.” He makes an obscene comment about Judge Bales in this context, and declares to himself that he is “excited to go to jail tonight.” 

The video and audio runs during the ride downtown. It is impossible to make out what is said because officer Ketron lowers the back window, introducing a roar. “You were looking at me like you were going to run through me,” Mr. Ketron says, describing Mr. Bell prior to his being arrested. Mr. Bell protests that he couldn’t be seen threatening an officer because his hands were behind his back.

“I wasn’t doing nothing but explaining myself; the other police officer was standing right there beside me. If I was going to swing on you, or anything, he was supposed to tackle me right then and there. How the f— do you put me in the back of a police car if I was looking like I was going to swing?”

His argument is incoherent, and it is difficult to determine from Mr. Bell’s narrative, decorated with swearing, where his rights might have been violated. He says he will make a phone call after all when he gets to the jail. “I’ll beat your ass out of that police outfit,” he says as they cross the veterans memorial bridge. “Don’t worry about where I work at, bitch. Don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about it, bitch.” He repeats, “Do what you do, bitch.” and is angry when Officer Ketron turns on the radio.

Conflict of Bell case

The Bell case video strongly favors the professionalism of Mr. Ketron the officer and presents him as remarkably forbearing of his foul-mouthed, provoking charge. Not once does Mr. Ketron suggest in his tone of voice he is taking the abuse personally. Not once does he indicate what he is really thinking about the arrested man, nor does he exhibit anything but grace and charity to the highly offended citizen, pricked as he seems to have been by the threat of a humiliating slap.

A cruiser pull into the sheriff's compound at the jail downtown; the courthouse is in the background. (Photo Chattanooga police department)

A cruiser pull into the sheriff’s compound at the jail downtown; the courthouse is in the background. (Photo Chattanooga police department)

So extraordinary — yet so sickeningly humdrum — is Mr. Bell’s discourse that it almost doesn’t matter whether there is any substance to his legal claim, that he had an innocent and harmless interaction with Mr. Bales in the front of the Wal-Mart.

It is not a crime to call a cop an m—–f—-r, though officers often act without warrant when provoked by far less, such as being stared at or a car seat being laid into the down position.

What’s questionable still about the case is the filing of the retaliation charge — and the recommendation by public defender Ted Engel that Mr. Bell plead to it. The provision is designed to protect judges, DAs, prosecutor staffers, clerks, jurors any any family members of such people from “retaliation for past action” and it occurs when the defendant “threatens to harm” any person in this class.

Misfired charges survive plea bargain

But the offense is defined narrowly. It must be “retaliation for past action” pertaining to “an official proceeding” and the purpose of the act of retaliation is “for anything the witness, judge, district attorney general *** did in an official capacity *** ”

The facts of the Bell case don’t meet these requirements for “past action” in “an official proceeding” by acts done in “official capacity.”

The charges seem to have been filed not lawfully, but for purpose of intimidation and bluff, in bad faith by people who can file them and get away with it. But the question is moot, and prosecutorial abuses of the kinds on which we have reported do not get public scrutiny under the plea bargain custom with state actors on both sides of the defendant — prosecuting him and defending him. Very little police work and very few state charges receive public scrutiny at trial.

Mr. Bell makes statements that could easily be argued are assault. Assault is threatening bodily injury to someone — in this case, the officer. Aggressive panhandling requires the beggar threaten his mark, block his way, touch him or repeatedly demand to be given money or favor. The video contain suggestions from Mr. Bell his conversation with passerby Mr. Bales was entirely innocent, but it’s impossible to say. Mr. Bell’s power to be angry was ignited only after more police arrived on the scene and one threatened him with violence, it appears. Eyewitness Tarah Melvin’s affidavit indicates nothing of this side of Mr. Bell, as she didn’t hear all that was said.

The disorderly conduct statute at TCA 39-17-305 is badly written, with two of its five provisions being unconstitutionally vague. But Mr. Bell would have had pressed against him at trial a clearer provision, one that forbids engaging “in fighting or in violent or threatening behavior.”

2 relevant statutes in Bell case

TCA 39-17-305.  Disorderly conduct.

(a) A person commits an offense who, in a public place and with intent to cause public annoyance or alarm:

(1) Engages in fighting or in violent or threatening behavior;

  (2) Refuses to obey an official order to disperse issued to maintain public safety in dangerous proximity to a fire, hazard or other emergency; or

  (3) Creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act that serves no legitimate purpose.

(b) A person also violates this section who makes unreasonable noise that prevents others from carrying on lawful activities.

(c) A violation of this section is a Class C misdemeanor.

TCA 39-16-510.  Retaliation for past action.

(a)  (1) 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, an assistant district attorney general, an employee of the district attorney general or a law enforcement officer, clerk, employee of the clerk, juror or former juror, or a family member of any such person, by any unlawful act in retaliation for anything the witness, judge, district attorney general, assistant district attorney general, employee of the district attorney general or a law enforcement officer, clerk, employee of the clerk, or juror did in an official capacity as witness, judge, district attorney general, assistant district attorney general, employee of the district attorney general or a law enforcement officer, clerk, employee of the clerk, or juror. The offense of retaliation for past action shall not apply to an employee of a clerk who harms or threatens to harm the clerk.

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