Police rape case strains council decorum; citizens demand ‘oversight’


City council member Darrin Ledford talks with a city resident Tuesday while, background, council member Ken Smith speaks with Basil Marceaux. (Photos David Tulis)

Demetrus Coonrod is the only city council member to have expressed opposition to police violence.

Basil Marceaux of Soddy-Daisy gives a five-minute chat regarding his high theories of law and justice to council member Erskine Oglesby and others Tuesday. He is fed up with police brutality and arbitrary uses of police power, and has had many cases go up on appeal with remarkable and confusing results.

Two petitioners at city council meeting asked for a citizens advisory board be created to supervise the police department and review cops’ activity in Chattanooga.

Earlier in the day the Times Free Press reported that an officer, Desmond Logan, is accused of having raped women while on duty.

By David Tulis / 92.7 NoogaRadio

Across the country, cities have formed such boards; in Nashville on July 13 protesters blocked streets in making such a demand for a citizen body to search into the state-based police industry, which is insular and seemingly removed from mayor’s offices and city legislatures alike.

No city council member says anything during the meeting about the public clamor last week over two routine arrests that made an Internet sensation. Both involve women of color dragged from cars and injured by wristcuffs, viewed as the citizens are as a threat to officer’s lives and good health. Both involve bogus criminal charges, either under the “resisting arrest” statute or Tenn. Code Ann. Title 55, which city officers are on notice not to use against people not involved in transportation.

Both incidents — one June 25 and the second July 7 — are bringing scorching attention to law enforcement by a city government that under statute has authority to help the sheriff keep the peace but, also under statute, lacks authority to punish anyone, but only to impose civil fine in the nature of liquidated damages (City of Chattanooga v. Myers, 787 S.W.2d 921, 1990, and  City of Chattanooga  v. Kevin Davis and Frank Barrett v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County. No. E2000-00664-SC-R11-CV, 2001

Citizen oversight board urged

After adjournment, councilman Anthony Byrd says he is sympathetic to the idea of a citizen oversight body. He has a new job as a coordinator for a law firm and says he will be able in the future to get away from work for an interview about police abuse, with which he is familiar as an African-American.

In a particularly raucous and colorful public comment time, homeless journalist Monty Bell has a shouting match with councilman Ken Smith or abuses and ruination by city government thaqt began, he says, in the 1980s, and Basil Marceaux, pro se litigant par excellence and longtime critic of police oppression under Title 55, gives a hard-to-follow speech about the legal system’s multiple fractures.

Two people propose a citizen oversight board to investigate gangland activity by city employees in Mayor Andy Berke’s department.

Ironworker Geoff Meldahl says “there really needs to be meaningful civilian oversight” of the police department, an agency enjoying “a culture of impunity that allowed these things to happen, that allows credible claims to be pushed aside” until, as of late, they pile up.

Area cops are under this administrative notice as PDF, 20pp

Mr. Meldahl refers to “unempowered citizens” and urges the city council to bring reform. “Please go to bat for us and make some changes,” he says.

Warning from book of Esther

Activist Marie Mott takes to the public citizen microphone and has on her face a look of exasperation, like a mother peering at a child who keeps slipping into naughtiness.

Miss Mott cites the Old Testament story of Esther, the Israelite who won the favor of King Ahasuerus and became the queen of Persia and who is put into a position of saving her people — if only she’ll take it. The wicked courtier Haman has convinced the king to sign an edict liquidating the Israelites.

“But Mordecai sends her a word, and he said that, ‘Esther, do not think that — let me make it relevant to you –” and here Miss Mott updates the narrative to 2018 Chattanooga, “that because you are in city hall, and because you are all on city council, that you will escape the reality of your fellow Chattanoogans. But God in reality has raised you up for such a time as this: To be relevant to the issues that are going on in Chattanooga. We cannot run from our problems. We cannot stay silent from our issues,’” Miss Mott roars.

She pointedly addresses the black members of the city council. “You are here off the backs of oppressed communities, communities as a disadvantage, and you have a responsibility not only as men and women, black or white, gay or straight, whatever you are, you have a responsibility *** to stand up for what is right, simple and plain.”

The use of power has gone unchecked, Miss Mott declares, and she insists the council not remain silent. “We are long overdue for a [police] oversight board.”

Rape defined as stolen treasure

But Miss Mott is not done. In an unguarded glimpse into her person, she takes the liberty to define rape — much more pernicious if done in a police cruiser. “As a woman and a young lady, my sexual treasure is a gift that I have been given to give to a young man of my choosing. And never should it be ripped from me. And I hope you understand. That if an officer pulls me over, I should be at peace, and not terrorized or afraid. My heart should not skip a beat. I should not be worried about if I should be dragged out of the car or if he is going to rape me.”

Miss Mott says signs are all about God is angry with Chattanooga. Its employees’ transportation stop July 7 of Diana Watt shows her being handcuffed as if she were a violent criminal and thrown facedown on the tarmac. The officers are working under their personal authority, because the city has been notified about the liberality of Tennessee’s transportation statute, which gives police no authority to enforce transportation rules on travelers not involved in transportation.

Mrs. Watt is understood by the officers to be a private traveler, as they do not ask her for any signs of commercial activity such as contract or manifest, and driver licenses and tags are evidence of commercial activity only under rebuttable presumption (which Mrs. Watt neglected to rebut).

A second arrest of a teenage girl in a car that is being repossessed by is also not “by the book.” The officer acts to assist the repo agent and creates a breach of the peace, which is allowed only if a sheriff’s process server or deputy has a court order.

The city council has plenty of time to turn to new business. The meeting is over is just over an hour. But the members seem bereft of any means of shaking the body from a seeming institutional lethargy that could be broken, perhaps, by a member stepping away from the lofty bar of the members and coming down to the podium where guests and memberrs of the public speak (and, usually, John Bridger, the head of the planning agency, to explain a zoning change).

The council seems bound by a formula and procedure that discourages anything new, any upsetting of staid protocols that exude a moldy whiff of Robert’s rules of order and the way we’ve always conducted public meetings. Demetrus Coonrod, elevated in her life to public office, seems unaware that she might assert herself against the ritual of city council. She is the only member in two meetings to have articulated her objection to violence and crime committed by city employees. But she may be in awe as new member of an august body, and unwilling to tilt at it.

The others — from Erskine Oglesby to Carol Berz to Jerry Mitchell — appear hidden behind an insulation, a conceptual barrier,  that prevents any raucus, noisesome steps of the kind that Monty Bell, homeless journalist, exhibited, ones that broke the evening in two with a shouting match. Is not police violence worth an extra hour of time?

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One Response

  1. Abigail Tulis

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