Mitchell arrest under no clear statutory authority

Sheriff Jim Hammond rises from an interview in Chattanooga in which he declines to discuss the laws that inform the James Mitchell arrest and stripsearch. With him are Matt Lea, the PIO, and Gino Bennet, his operations manager. (Photo David Tulis)

Sheriff Jim Hammond rebuffs questions about whether the traffic stop that led to the strip search of James Myron Mitchell in Soddy-Daisy on Wednesday was under the shipping statute, and he refuses also to speak of the department’s authority to arrest without a warrant.

By David Tulis / 92.7 NoogaRadio

Sheriff Hammond, influenced by the glasnost thinking of his chief deputy, Austin Garrett, meets with reporters today successively to give them unique interviews about a notorious arrest five days ago that put fresh heat on violent acts and aggression by deputies. 

The two men accused of what might fairly be called a roadside homosexual rape are deputies Daniel Wilkey and Bobby Brewer. The department released the dash-cam video Friday, a refreshing turn toward openness that arises from the thinking of Chief Garrett, whom Mr. Hammond has endorsed as the next sheriff three years out.

The county’s most powerful man has general statement about the arrest of Mr. Mitchell, but says he is here in his department conference room to “answer specific questions.”

Asked about “the underlying authority” in law for the stop, Mr. Hammond cites the officer’s findings rather than the statute. “Probable cause was shaded windows —  tinted windows they felt were a little over the top.”

Whence traffic stop authority?

Tulis. And that’s in Title 55?

Sheriff Hammond. I don’t know where it is.

Tulis. OK, well, those are part of the transportation-shipping law in the “motor and other vehicles statute” [Tenn. Code Ann. Title 55]. My question pertains to whether these people were in fact involved in transportation and shipping, because that’s where your authority would come from. Any discussion on that?

Sheriff Hammond. I don’t have any discussion about that. I’ll answer your questions about this arrest.

Tulis. All right. So they were stopped for tinted windows? And what happened next? 

Sheriff Hammond. Based on what I’ve seen on the reports so far, he did admit to having marijuana and to smoking it. He said, “well, if that’s all you got, you’ll get a citation and you’ll be on your way.” At some point, when they looked a little further, he began to be less cooperative and when he became uncooperative, and then we were able to search for contraband and/or a weapon, and that’s what led to the final conclusion.

Tulis. Were there grounds for arrest — this is the law, for grounds — [thrusting in front him a large-type copy of the statute, Tenn. Code Ann. Title 40-7-103, arrest by officer without warrant]

Sheriff Hammond. I don’t want to look at a law, I’m just telling you what they did. You make your own decision on what they did.

Tulis. OK. Were there grounds for arrest without a warrant, because there was no warrant for this arrest?

Sheriff Hammond. I’m not going to comment on that. [Inaudible] lawyers.

Tulis. Was there a warrant for this man’s arrest?

Sheriff Hammond. *** My understanding is there was a warrant out for his arrest, from another county. 

Sheriff Hammond says that Mr. Mitchell delivered himself to Marion County to be served the warrant. His attorney is Robin Flores. Sheriff Hammond says charges in Hamilton County against Mr. Mitchell have not been dropped, though a TV report said earlier that they had.

Sheriff Hammond said the department is under POST and CALEA standards. 

Sheriff Hammond. I am confident that the training that we give our officers is where it needs to be. There has been suggestions that our training for road officers is different than for the jail. It is different, in some aspects, because the jail is a whole different ballgame. ***

Training defended

Tulis. Is there anything to say regarding the reports on these two men that their training is inadequate, that they did not complete their training, that they needed rebriefing on certain points of traffic arrest?

Sheriff Hammond. I’m not prepared to say where they stand. I do know that at least one of them had to get a waiver because of either some time he was away, or issues, but that’s normal, standard — it happens. It does not in any way disqualify them because this training goes on and one every year. You have to have so many hours. He did not have his total hours. First, I heard it was because of military time. I’ve heard that there was a mixup in his schedule. But it’s nothing that would create any incident about his caliber of training.

Attending the meeting is his PR official, Matt Lea, and Gino Bennett, his longtime operations chief.

The David Tulis show is 1 p.m. weekdays, live and lococentric.

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