04/28/2006

Tenn. police brutality suits combined

Copyright 2006 Chattanooga Publishing Company

By BRIAN LAZENBY
Chattanooga Times Free Press

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — A federal judge on Tuesday consolidated two lawsuits filed against the city and multiple Chattanooga police officers by Georgia men who claim they were beaten and shocked with a Taser while in handcuffs in September 2004.

Jason Aaron McCollum, 27, and Matthew Trent Jones, 23, claim officers violated their civil rights and used excessive force when they were arrested at Kanku's Market on Market Street after leading police on a chase from Georgia to Tennessee.

Robin Flores, who represents Mr. McCollum, said combining the cases would prevent duplicate investigative services for cases that involve identical facts.

"It makes more sense to put all the issues together because all the issues are the same," he said.

Chattanooga City Attorney Phil Noblett said combining the cases does not affect the city's position.

"It matters very little to us one way or the other," he said. "The judge wants to try them together, so that's what we'll do."

Mr. Noblett said a September trial date likely will be postponed.

In an incident report, Chattanooga officers said Mr. Jones jumped from his truck and charged toward police, motioning with his hands. He challenged police, yelling "C'mon, bring it," and once in custody, became unruly.

According to complaints filed by Mr. McCollum and Mr. Jones, officers began "kicking and stomping" them, used pepper spray and administered an electrical shock after they were placed in handcuffs.

Steve Campbell and Shane Webb were fired from the Police Department for their roles in the incident, although police Chief Steve Parks later rehired Mr. Campbell.

Several other officers also were disciplined for the incident, which was recorded on a security surveillance video of Kanku's parking lot.

Mr. Flores said he has added several police officers to the lawsuit bringing the total number of individual officers named in the lawsuit to 23.

Mr. Flores said he gave city officials a $3 million settlement offer, but he expects his client will not accept any offer.

Officials said now that the cases have been consolidated, a hearing will be scheduled to select a new settlement deadline and trial date.

Chattanooga lawyer Michael Raulston, who represents Mr. Jones, could not be reached for comment.

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