A juvenile court judge in Chattanooga dismissed a charge of resisting arrest against Kennedy Gray, whose arrest cell phone video caused and internet sensation with 1.5 million views and put mud on the face of the Chattanooga police department, whose officer meddled with a car repossession.
By David Tulis / 92.7 NoogaRadio
In a Facebook message Thursday afternoon, the girl’s mother, Avery, said the juvenile judge dismissed the case. The girl, 14, had been charged with resisting arrest, stop, frisk after the June 25 encounter at the curb outside the county jail, where her mother was on personal business.
Mrs. Gray said magistrate Bruce Owens dismissed the case. “Judge Owens looked at me and said, ‘Mrs. Gray,’ he was like, ‘I’m not going to have you come back to this court’. He said, ‘Mrs. Gray, I’m dismissing this charge, and he said, ‘It looks to me like you’re a very good parent. If you have a 21-year-old, a 16-year-old about to be 17, and a 14-year-old daughter that’s never been in our system, that’s never been in juvenile or jail, that lets me know what type of parent you are.’ So he said, ‘I’m not even requiring to come back to this court anymore.’ He said, ‘I’m dismissing this charge.'”
Mrs. Gray says she told him she intends to sue over her daughter’s arrest and injuries to her arms. “He was very sympathetic to that,” Mrs. Gray says.
I asked state prosecutor Neal Pinkston spokeswoman, Melydia Clewell, what role Mr. Pinkston’s office played in the dismissal of the charges, as I had pointed out in a letter to Mr. Pinkston that the criminal charge against the girl was disconnected from the facts of the case as evidenced in the girl’s arrest video and the copcam record.
“It’s against the law to divulge any information concerning a specific juvenile case w/out a court order from the judge allowing information to be made public,” Mrs. Clewell said. “All I can say is that we take our duty to both prosecute the guilty and protect the innocent most seriously.”
The charging statute was Tenn. Code Ann. 39-16-602. Resisting stop, frisk, halt, arrest or search — Prevention or obstruction of service of legal writ or process. It becomes operative when the accused uses “force” to resist. Miss Gray did not use force.
The hard-scrabble and occasionally homeless Gray family, originally from St. Louis, is pressed on many fronts. Kennedy’s dad, Terrance, a truck driver, is often away, and is jailed on seven counts of robbery. On Friday morning, Mrs. Gray said that her car broke down and that she had to leave it overnight to be towed Friday.
On Saturday, nearly in tears, Mrs. Gray says she lost her F$14 an hour job as a forklift operator at a local logistics company.
“I can only take so much,” she laments. “All of this is so overwhelming — OK? I feel like I’m in a dream. My life has been turned upside down because of the Chattanooga police department.”
Act of oppression?
In an interview, Mrs. Gray said she is trying to determine if the city police officer’s actions, helping a repossession agent of M&R Motors in Rossville, Ga., violated the law in a way to make the arrest of the girl actionable as an act of official oppression, which in Tennessee law is a crime, not a mere private tort.
If an act of oppression is not prosecuted by a district attorney such as Mr. Pinkston, it would be actionable with the help of a private attorney, whose involvement would be premised on a contingency fee, usually a third of any damage award.
If an oppressive act under color of law is prosecuted by the state, no compensation or restitution goes to the victim.
Trouble for officer unlikely
The police department has not revealed if the officer, whose family name is Wright, faces any sort of administrative discipline. The law that appears to have been violated is not directed at him, but at parties in repossession action. These repossession actors are required to avoid a “breach of the peace” when they seize collateral property without a court order (nonjudicial vs. judicial repossession).
Apparently, if an agent waves a court order in the air over the sidewalk, he is allowed any amount of breaching the peace and hoopla necessary to satisfy the claim against the debtor and take back the goods.
The breach of the law appears largely to have been the fault of the unnamed repo man, whose actions are subject to the statute. Whether any penalty provision attaches to the law is not immediately clear, whether as against the agent, or officer Wright.
The officer, in his defense, would be able to show he didn’t know about the statute, and didn’t intend to violate it and cause the results forbidden by it.
It is unlikely the DA would act against him, because Mr. Pinkston is aware that intent has to be proven in a criminal case for each element of the offense. “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. Pinkston highlights the mens rea requirement in on the county website, saying he “fairly prosecutes individuals who choose the violate the criminal law.” The intent requirement originates in God’s civil statutes in the Old Testament, and keeps in check the power of the civil authority.
An open records request for the police report about the Gray arrest was denied, and I have been unable to review the citation and arrest narrative from Mrs. Gray.
The Gray arrest, and that of Diana Watt on July 7, have created an uproar in Chattanooga, with police being chastised and praised for officers’ short tempers and summary use of violence and criminal charges to subdue members of the public, in these cases — women of color.
One city council member, Demetrus Coonrod, objected to the conduct of the officers serving Mayor Andy Berke, whose branch of government is responsible for police. Other council members sat mutely Tuesday.