Black caught asking for directions sues for $60 million

Reginald Arrington is thrashed on the slightest pretext, that he was walking on the wrong side of the road. (Photo Hamilton County sheriff’s office)

The story of Reginald Arrington Jr.’s ruinous police encounter in Chattanooga highlights routine operations of the sort Sheriff Jim Hammond he refuses to make any study or to reform.

By David Tulis / NoogaRadio 92.7 FM

Mr. Arrington is suing Hamilton County in U.S. district court demanding at least F$60 million in damages for his arrest, beating and jailing by Sheriff Hammond, who has been under administrative notice about the limits on warrantless arrest since April 15.

The law Sheriff Hammond routinely violates, in a familiar custom and usage in Tennessee, is Tenn. Code Ann. § Tile 40-7-103, which places strict limits on on-the-spot warrantless arrests.

This account is drawn from a complaint of the Toledo, Ohio, resident who was passing through the county en route to Atlanta to meet prospective business contacts regarding music.

The complaint, by a Knoxville attorney, makes nothing of the fact that he could not have been arrested without a warrant first being issued because nothing he did is a violation of the “public offense” standard that has to be met before the officer can affect an arrest. The violation of this law is a major root in support of the key trunk of Jim Crow practice sanctioned by the courts in Tennessee, the use of the trucking and shipping law to waylay noncriminal users of the road and arrest them under pretext in so-called “traffic stops.”

After Mr. Arrington’s car broke down May 23, Mr. Arrington was arrested about 9:45 a.m. by defendants Sgt. Mickey Rountree, Cpl. Brian Killingsworth, and Deputies Nick Dewey, Todd Cook and Lori Choate.

Mr. Arrington was in Ooltewah walking in and around the area of Waverly Court and Old Lee Highway. 

Asking for directions

Mr. Arrington had been on his way from Ohio to Atlanta to meet with business contacts regarding his music career. He left the local Super 8 Motel on foot after discovering that his car was broken down. Mr. Arrington began walking with the idea of catching an Uber ride share to the nearest bus station. Plaintiff was unfamiliar with the neighborhood, so he stopped several individuals jogging/walking along Waverly Court and asked for directions. On information and belief, one of the individuals with whom he spoke contacted 911 and reported a “suspicious black man in a blue jumpsuit asking females for directions.”

Plaintiff then left Waverly Court and began walking south along Old Lee Highway.

A few minutes later, Deputy Cook and the other Defendant officers pulled up in an HCSO cruiser, approached Plaintiff and abruptly informed him that he was in violation of Tennessee’s “pedestrian on roadway” law by not walking on the left side of the road.

Fear for own life

It was a sunny Saturday morning, and Mr. Arrington had done nothing “wrong,”

aside from acting contrary to a public-safety traffic law flouted by countless weekend joggers. However, Mr. Arrington was afraid. Tamir Rice was shot and killed by law enforcement in broad daylight on a public playground, a few hours from Toledo, Ohio, where Arrington lived. Two months prior to the Plaintiff’s arrest, Breonna Taylor was shot and killed in her home, in her own bed. Sandra Bland. Philando Castile. Corey Jones. Eric Garner. These are the names, the collective experiences, that caused the Plaintiff’s pulse to quicken and for him to fear for his own safety in the presence of the Defendant Officers.

When Deputy Cook exited his cruiser, Mr. Arrington immediately put his hands into the air. Mr. Arrington gave his name as Reggie Davis. Mr. Arrington is a musician, and this is his “stage name” he goes by in daily life. Davis is also his mother and his sister’s last name. As Arrington was calm and compliant in interacting with the HCSO deputies. He explained that his car had broken down and he was walking along Old Lee Highway “trying to get an Uber [ride share].” 

At 9:58 A.M., Arrington is seen carefully removing everything from his pockets and slowly lowering his body to the ground. Arrington told the officers “I’ve got no weapons. I don’t want to get shot.” When a deputy told him it was not necessary to lay down, Arrington got to his feet. At 10:04 A.M., he calmly allowed himself to be placed into handcuffs — purportedly for his violation of the pedestrian law. He was not provided with a Miranda warning.

Mr. Arrington stood in front of Deputy Cook’s cruiser for another ten minutes while the deputies checked his person for weapons (he was not armed) and combed through his personal belongings. The deputies reviewed Plaintiff’s identification and performed an NCIC check. In the dash camera footage, the following conversation can be heard:

• First Officer: “Whatever he’s got going on must not have been reported yet … He’s not popping anything on NCIC.”

• Other Officer: “He was just walking out here?”

• First Officer: “Apparently he was approaching women in the neighborhood over there and they thought he was armed.”

Even though, at most, the deputies should have issued a citation, see T.C.A. §§ 55-10-207(a)(2), 40-1-188(b), rather than effect a custodial arrest, at 10:14 A.M. Mr. Arrington (still handcuffed in back) was escorted to a second police cruiser. When Mr. Arrington asked that he be placed into the cruiser containing his personal belongings, an officer shouted “I don’t care which one you want to get into, you’re getting into the [cruiser] I tell you to.”

The dash cam footage shows as follows: as the deputies walk Mr. Arrington to the second cruiser, Arrington turns to look back at the first vehicle carrying his belongings. Arrington turns a second time, and Deputy Dewey suddenly and forcefully strikes him using several closed-fist punches to the torso and the back of the head. 

Arrington is shoved to the ground, and Sgt. Roundtree uses his police baton to issue repeated painful lashes to Mr. Arrington’s torso, stomach, and shins. Deputy Cook, also armed with a police baton, joins in on the onslaught and assists Cpl. Killingsworth and the other officers in performing a body weight restraint measure which restricted Arrington’s airway and—through use of a baton against his back—dislocated his shoulders.

‘I didn’t do nothing. Please stop’

For five and a half minutes, Mr. Arrington writhed in a prone position on the ground as Defendants Rountree, Killingsworth, Dewey and Cook brutally beat him.

He was repeatedly struck on his shins, legs, and upper body. The combination of the bodyweight restraint measures, being cuffed in back, and having a baton twisted between his shoulder blades caused his arms to pop out of their sockets. All the while, Arrington repeatedly shouted “I didn’t do nothing! Please stop!” The HCSO deputies told him to “relax” while beating him. At 10:16 A.M., Mr. Arrington was gratuitously struck in the groin with a baton. Deputy Choate arrived a few seconds later and placed restraints on Arrington’s feet as the other four officers pressed down on his chest. At several points in the dash cam footage, Arrington can be heard exclaiming “I can’t breathe,” “You’re about to kill me,” and “Stop, stop, stop, stop! No! Ma, they’re cutting my air off!” Several officers at the

scene repeatedly call him “a piece of f**king sh**.” Having secured the leg restraints around Mr. Arrington, Deputy Choate then pulled out a baton and landed a final, gratuitous strike to his shin.

Arrington’s limp body—with both his hands and feet restrained—was placed into a third cruiser operated by Deputy Choate. At 10:26 A.M., clearly traumatized by his treatment at the hands of law enforcement, hyperventilating and anxious, Mr. Arrington begged Deputy Choate to drive away before the other officers returned, stating “y’all trying to kill me . . . y’all just had me choked.”

In response, Deputy Choate told Mr. Arrington to “shut the [expletive] up.” He was later evaluated by EMS and taken to the hospital.

Deputy perjury on form

The Affidavit of Complaint authored by Deputy Dewey contained numerous false statements, to wit—that Plaintiff “pulled away” from the officers, “grabbed” Cpl. Killingsworth’s gun and made “several attempts” to remove the gun from its holster, used his shoulder to “knock Cpl. Killingsworth to the ground, and repeatedly kicked the officers while he was on the ground.

The affidavit also erroneously stated that “Arrington displayed superhuman strength and a limited pain response”—representations belied by the video footage and Plaintiff’s screams of pain.

He is charged

Mr. Arrington was arrested on charges of resisting arrest, simple assault on police, criminal impersonation, pedestrian in roadway and four counts of aggravated assault on police.

The Plaintiff was incarcerated on these charges at Silverdale Correctional Facility.

On or about June 19, Arrington was released. 

On June 23, Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston dropped all charges against him. Citing the “troubling” dash cam footage depicting the Defendant Officers’ actions, D.A. Pinkston asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to investigate whether the officers used excessive force. Pinkston released key portions of the footage publicly on June 23; he also has referred the matter for investigation by the Department of Justice.

4 weeks in custody

Plaintiff’s Injuries. As a result of the beating at the hands of these Defendants,

Plaintiff suffered severe emotional harm (including lasting anxiety and panic attacks) and serious physical injuries, including contusions, cuts and bruises to his torso and shins, cuts to his wrists from the handcuffs, dislocated shoulders and a permanent disfigurement of one shin bone. Further, by the time Plaintiff was released from Silverdale Detention Center, he had spent four weeks in  custody.

As a result of his being confined to an overcrowded facility during a global pandemic, Plaintiff contracted COVID-19 and became ill. Accordingly, Plaintiff not only suffered the mental and physical anguish associated with unlawful deprivation of his liberty, he contracted a serious and potentially deadly virus. Plaintiff suffered lung and kidney damage as a result of his COVID diagnosis; his treatment and evaluation of the lasting damage to his health is ongoing.

This is routine and part of training

Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office: Policies/Customs. On information and belief, Mr. Arrington’s unlawful treatment at the hands of these five HCSO deputies was not unique, but rather a part of a policy and/or custom in place that encouraged, condoned and/or ratified the use of excessive force. Under Sheriff Hammond’s administration, other “controversial” videos have come to light regarding instances of police brutality by HCSO deputies. 5

Hammond OK with event

Even after Pinkston referred the matter to the TBI, Hammond refused to place the deputies on administrative leave. Hammond’s refusal to acknowledge the clearly “troubling” aspects of the dash cam footage is representative of a general policy and custom of failing to investigate and/or punish instances of excessive force within the HCSO.

Because of this policy and/or custom, the Defendant officers knew that they could act with impunity in beating Mr. Arrington, without fear of reprisal or punishment. This was the institutional atmosphere that encouraged and/or sanctioned Arrington’s assault before it even occurred.

Media reports cite violent history of department

• On May 18, 2020, Tyler Hays was shot and killed by a HCSO deputy following a brief pursuit. The deputy involved was back on duty in less than a week. That same officer was involved in another pursuit in which he fired his weapon on June 3, 2020. Prior to being hired by the HCSO, the officer was accused in a lawsuit of unlawfully assaulting a man during a traffic stop while he was a Collegedale police officer.

• On April 19, 2020, HCSO deputies fatally shot Charles Bradley Payne outside his home. In a lawsuit filed in Hamilton County Circuit Court, the decedent’s mother (who was at the scene) refutes the deputies’ claim that he was brandishing a knife and attacked the officers.

• In March 2015, HCSO corrections officer Rodney Terrell unlawfully tased Nancy Mason and used force that fractured her arm while she was in the Sheriff’s custody. Despite the fact that an administrative review concluded the officer used excessive force, the County did not suspend or terminate Terrell. Rather, he was later promoted to Lieutenant.

• In August 2015, HCSO deputy Daniel Hendrix assaulted a handcuffed and shackled inmate Leslie Hayes at the Silverdale Complex. Although criminal charges were brought against Hendrix, they were eventually dropped based upon a false claim that County authorities did not know Hayes’ whereabouts (she was being held in Sequatchie County Jail). Hendrix returned to full duties as a deputy. In March 2017, Deputy Hendrix was himself killed after he became violent at his own birthday party and threatened two female Chattanooga Police officers with his County-issued gun.

• Six HCSO deputies (one now a Detective with the HCSO) were alleged to have unlawfully killed Christopher Sexton in February 2017, see Sexton v. Hamilton County, No. 1:18-cv-18 (E.D. Tenn.). According to the federal Complaint, Sexton did not pose a threat and had his back to the officers when they fatally shot him 15 times.

• HCSO Deputy Blake Kilpatrick was also accused of brutally beating a handcuffed Charles Toney Jr. (a black man) in December 2018 without justification. Video of the Toney assault went viral on YouTube.9 Although the video footage clearly showed gratuitous violence, Sheriff Hammond did not act to suspend Kilpatrick until weeks after the video was made public, amidst growing pressure from the County Commission to act.

Defendants knew that the arrest was unconstitutional because they kept Arrington under arrest after they determined that he had no warrants, etc., by performing a National Crime Information Center (NCIC) check of his full and true name and birthdate.

As a result of the unconstitutional seizure/detention and/or arrest, Mr. Arrington was inexcusably injured, handcuffed, beaten and struggled to breathe while lying a prone position with the Defendant Officers restraining and striking him repeatedly with a police baton.

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

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