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In CCJ’s response to initial details of the City of Chattanooga’s settlement with fired Chattanooga Police Department officers Emmer and Cooley, we said the following:
Emmer and Cooley not walking the streets of our city as Chattanooga Police Department officers is a people’s victory that wouldn’t have been possible without pressure from the community and CCJ, but we have a long way to go when the grand jury, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, [and a Tennessee Administrative Law Judge] all see the video that we all saw and not see the actions of Emmer and Cooley as criminal. The fact that the city was forced into a position of negotiation and settlement further proves that the beating of Adam Tatum was not a case of two bad apples, but an example of policies and culture that allows police brutality to continue in our city.
Although we celebrate this measure of justice, it is now our responsibility to insure that it never happens again. We know that this case has seen this much success because it was recorded and know that there are even more instances of abuse that have occurred without the smallest measures of justice. We need a Civilian Review Board that can hold police accountable and more commitment from the city government and police department to have a dynamic change of culture that ends police brutality once and for all in Chattanooga. We still have much more work to do.
With the disclosure of additional details of the City’s settlement, we find it necessary to further respond. In an earlier statement, we criticized the City of Chattanooga for ignoring the community’s demand to appeal Administrative Judge Summers’ order to rehire Emmer and Cooley in favor of backroom negotiations. Though we certainly celebrate the fact that Emmer and Cooley won’t be back on Chattanooga’s streets, we are angered that the settlement included $15,000 each above the back pay and pension contributions ordered by a judge—they shouldn’t be paid anything.
More importantly though, we are infuriated, saddened, and frightened by the fact that the City of Chattanooga’s willingness to compromise with brutal bullies with badges left Emmer and Cooley with their “peace officers” standards and training certification intact and a requirement for the city to only disclose their dates of employment to potential employers. In other words, Emmer and Cooley are legally empowered to go terrorize some other community’s streets. If they do get another job and someone else is beaten or, God forbid, killed, the City of Chattanooga will share some of that blood on its hands. The beating of Adam Tatum was not the first time either of these officers faced complaints of excessive force. And, it won’t be the first time that officers with excessive force complaints have been hired by other agencies because of a lack of disclosure:
In one highly publicized case at the West Palm Beach Police Department, two officers had been hired despite serious problems at their previous departments. One of the officers had worked for six different police departments in Tennessee and Georgia in five years. He had worked in a police department in Chattanooga, Tennessee before joining the West Palm Beach department. The officer resigned from the Chattanooga department after two complaints of brutality were made against him and a drug problem with marijuana became known while he was serving on the undercover drug squad. He promised the police commissioner of Chattanooga that he would not apply to work in Tennessee, Alabama or Georgia but would go to South Florida. That information was not disclosed to the West Palm Beach Police Department. The other officer, while working for the Riviera Beach, Florida Police Department, arrested a suspect, beat him and blinded him in one eye. The department settled a lawsuit brought by the victim of the beating for $80,000. The Riviera Beach Department was asked by West Palm Beach, “Are you aware of any derogatory information concerning this applicant?” The Riviera Beach Department responded that it was not aware of any such information, even though the beating incident had occurred only five months earlier. The mayor of West Palm Beach later stated that neither of the officers would have been hired had the city been told about the previous misconduct.
We can only hope that any potential employers will do a quick google search and find the brutal video of the beating of Adam Tatum (trigger warning: graphic violence) and the media coverage and think twice about hiring them. The issue of police brutality in this city and this country and the work of CCJ are far from over.
We Want Justice, Not Backroom Settlements
On December 30, Concerned Citizens for Justice (CCJ) contacted the Chattanooga City Attorney’s Office via phone and email to obtain any available updates about the City’s appeal of Judge Summers’ order to reinstate former officers Sean Emmer and Adam Cooley, who were fired for the brutal beating of Adam Tatum at the Salvation Army halfway house in June 2012 (trigger warning: video contains graphic violence). Imagine our surprise when we looked at the Times Free Press news stories one daylater to find an article about how the City of Chattanooga had been quietly negotiating a settlement with Emmer and Cooley that included giving them their jobs back and dropping the City’s appeal of Judge Summers’ order in an attempt to wrap the issue up by the end of the year.
In the article, City Council Chairperson Yusuf Hakeem stated that a settlement was unlikely because Emmer and Cooley were asking for too many demands and that he thinks they probably overestimated the strength of their position. CCJ thinks that the City of Chattanooga may have underestimated citizen outrage over Adam Tatum’s beating. A petition that our organization created demanding that the City appeal the order and take whatever steps necessary to ensure that Emmer and Cooley were not placed back on the streets of Chattanooga resulted in Mayor Berke, Chief Dodd, and City Council members receiving over 1100 emails. Now-retired Chief Dodd himself stated in an October Times Free Press article that ”I’ve been amazed by the outpouring from the citizens that … demanded these officers not go back to work…If the public at large doesn’t trust the police department … we can’t effectively do our job in the community.”
CCJ also thinks that the City may have underestimated the commitment of the community and CCJ, in particular, to hold them accountable to their apparently forgotten public promises to follow through on their appeal of Judge Summers’ order.Mayor Berke, in his statement about appealing the order said he stood beside now-retired Chief Dodd’s decision to terminate Emmer and Cooley and that ”any kind of misconduct is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in the Chattanooga Police Department.” The Chattanooga City Council passed a unanimous resolution supporting Mayor Berke’s appeal of the order. Councilman Moses Freeman said it was a “travesty of justice.” Chief Dodd assured the community that ”until we’ve gone through the appeals process and a decision is made by a higher court, or by a court period…they will remain terminated.”
So why now is the City of Chattanooga speaking out of both sides of it’s mouth, especially when the Times Free Press has insisted that the Mayor’s Chattanooga Violence Reduction Initiative requires better relations between the community and police? In Mayor Berke’s statement about appealing the order he said “we must maintain the trust of our community…” The Times Free Press even held an ill-conceived forum titled “Speak No Evil” that sought to convince the community it needed to change it’s “no snitching culture” and develop better relations with the police in order to reduce violence. CCJ organizer Janelle Jackson said that “the City’s breach of trust in regards to the appeal of Judge Summers’ order makes all the talk of better community and police relations an even more bitter pill to swallow.”
“One thing is for certain,” said CCJ member Jared Story, “whatever backroom settlements may be made, CCJ is not going away until we know that Emmer and Cooley will remain terminated. Ultimately, we aren’t going away until police brutality ends.”
On January 2, 2004, Leslie Vaughn Prater died in police custody, another casualty of police brutality in Chattanooga. Prater had broken ribs, numerous bruises and abrasions, a dislocated left arm, a fractured left shoulder and bruisers to the scrotial wall, and ultimately died from positional asphyxiation. Officers Daniel Anderson, Johnathan Mance, Gregory Chambers and Keith Hudgin, employed by the Chattanooga Police Department, were never criminally charged, were disciplined with paid administrative leave, then went back on the job.
Leslie Prater’s family fought faithfully for justice in their son’s case by consistently challenging racism and police brutality in the city of Chattanooga. They ultimately filed a federal lawsuit which was settled out of court. The settlement included an independent audit of the Chattanooga Police Department’s Office of Internal Affairs regarding existing and recommended policies and procedures for Internal Affairs investigations, allowing Leslie Prater’s mother, Dr. Loretta Prater, to create a video explaining the loss of her son that was to be shown to new recruits in training academies or for Ms. Prater to appear for a training session during the three training academies for new police officers (these ended when Bobby Dodd became the chief of police), and 1.5 million dollars to the Prater family.
Members of Concerned Citizens for Justice continue to walk in the legacy of the Prater family, demanding an end to police brutality. Please join us in remembering this young man who was loving and full of life and whose life ended fair too soon at the hands of local police officers who were never truly held accountable for their actions. Join the movement to stop these tragedies from happening in our city.
To learn more about the murder of Leslie Prater, check out the following articles:
Leslie Vaughn Prater Family Says His Death Unnecessary
Leslie Vaughn Prater Death Ruled Homicide
No Criminal Prosecution In Death Of Leslie Vaughn Prater