CHATTANOOGA, Tenn.—An Atlanta-area resident comes to Chattanooga to tell the city of an abusive encounter Oct. 14 with Chattanooga police, her story punctuated by a plea for city council to be more responsive to the people.
The tale by Tiffani Howard, of Conyers, Ga., is another blot on the faded integrity of the department overseen by Mayor Andy Berke and his chief, David Roddy. Mrs. Howard called 911 in what she described as a medical emergency, and ended up arrested, physically injured and handcuffed in a police cruiser.
By David Tulis / NoogaRadio 92.7
Her story supports the observation that bad cop stories — like deaths in three’s of aged actors and actresses—clump together in an outbreak, a point made at the same meeting by police sunset proponent Marie Mott, an activist and 92.7 radio station rabble rouser. Chattanoogans have been regaled recently with fresh reports of police gangsterism, from a sexual assault case against Benjamin Dessalines, deeper background of on-duty rape investigatee Desmond Logan, and tipsy doings and insider favoritism of Lt. Craig Joel.
Mrs. Howard, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, had called 911 for emergency assistance, “and the officers blatantly refused me medical care, intimidated and humiliated me through abuse of force in which I sustained injuries of a broken rib and nerve damage to my left hand on top of the pre-existing illnesses and disabilities,” she says.
They acted “in their haste to undermine my rights and inflict unnecessary harm,” she says. Meanwhile, they left themselves exposed by not searching her handbag for a weapon.
They misused what she calls “a good Tennessee law” that allows officers to detain a person against that person’s will if a threat to him- or herself.
Mrs. Howard says she has filed an internal affairs complaint and is demanding a copy of the 911 call and the body came for details about the two cops’ “gross incompetence.”
A 15-minute psychiatric evaluation indicated she was not a danger to herself.
The officers, she says, undermine Chief Roddy’s goal of protecting the public and maintaining its confidence, and acted insubordinately.
Mrs. Howard says Chief Roddy has given the officers good training, is seeking more minority officers to improve cop-citizen relations. “He gets it. He’s connected to what’s going on,” she says.The cops’ actions that Saturday night make Chief Roddy “look incompetent,” she says. That’s a shame, because such cops’ actions “are loud, and true, and too prominent,” making rival good cops appear few in number.
Mrs. Howard cast her doleful story in a geopolitical context, that of the River City, the Gig City, with its reputation for enlightenment and grace blighted by warlordism and the financial loss in tourism revenues caused by stories like hers.
Mrs. Howard, a former chamber of commerce official who also worked in Sallie Mae, says she “is just a regular person” who runs a nonprofit organization called Stimulate America.
Council members unmoved
Two council members see stellar work by cops. Asked if the city might become a just city, council member Erskine Oglesby says he has no grievance with the status quo.
“I think we are a just city now. Of course, we have some concerns, just like other cities. But I think Chattanooga is a great city, is a just city, from my perspective.”
Might not rules be changed to make Mayor Berke’s cops more accountable?
“I can’t speak for Mayor Berke, but I can speak to you as Erskine Oglesby on the city council, and I think we are going to continue to try to improve everything we do. You know, we just keeping working on it.”
Asked about 10 reforms of the police department short of abolition, Mr. Oglesby offers an 11th. “Well, I just think more one-on-one interactions in the community would help. Personal relationships is what changes everything, so the more personal relationships that can be established between our police department and our communities — it improves.”
Signs of reform
Council member Chip Henderson is more or less comfortable with the status quo regarding the police department.
The chief is the right person at the top, there since August 2017. “I think policies are solid. I don’t think you judge a whole department based upon a couple of individuals.”
Mayor Berke named Chief Roddy amid strong hints that he favors police reforms, with the direction since the Ferguson uproar in 2014 away from militarization and violence in favor of de-escalation, assistance, negotiation and helpfulness. Mr. Henderson says reforms are “absolutely” in evidence. “In fact, I just recently had a conversation with Chief Roddy and he suggested some of his officers that are more trained in the de-escalation [concept] be available in some instances, and that was his recommendation — instead of using force. I think that’s his philosophy, that’s the way he would like to see the police force being handled. And I think it will begin to make a difference.”
Cops in the U.S. average about 150 hours of training in weapons (shooting, hitting, gassing, electrocuting) and about 15 in de-escalation and negotiation, according to a report about a national study. Is this a good balance?
“That’s an interesting question,” Mr. Henderson says. “The life of that police officer is also at risk. And protecting the police officer is always a top priority with us, as well. To make sure that there’s a balance, that’s the best response I would have — making sure there’s a balance between training in de-escalation and making sure that officer has the skills that he needs to be able to stay alive.”
“I would say that’s not a fair balance. I would trust Chief Roddy to determine what that balance might look like.”