Video: Tenn. cops disciplined in beating probe
An internal affairs report claims cops beat a hogtied, bleeding, mentally-ill homeless man in view of at least four in-car video cameras
By Jamie Satterfield
The Knoxville News-Sentinel, Tenn.
KNOXVILLE — Michael Allen Mallicoat was drunk and rowdy. But his real crime?
"(Expletive) with the wrong people today."
That's what former Knoxville Police Department Officer Jeremy Jinnett told Mallicoat as the hogtied, bleeding, mentally ill homeless man asked about all that blood on the grass — Mallicoat's blood — at the intersection of Grainger and Luttrell avenues at midday and in view of at least seven witnesses and at least four in-cruiser video cameras.
An internal affairs report shows Jinnett hadn't sated his blood thirst quite yet.
"Let me tell you something, you (expletive), you're lucky there's people out here or I'd (expletive) you up right now. I'd absolutely whoop (sic) your ass if there weren't people out here," Jinnett says on a video of the Feb. 9 beating.
Police Chief David Rausch visibly flinched as much at the repeated threats of violence as he did the violence itself when on Monday he revealed for the first time not only what the in-cruiser videos captured of the attack on Mallicoat but also the entirety of Internal Affairs Unit Capt. Kenny Miller's findings.
Jinnett and former officers Ty Compton and Chris Whitfield earlier Monday pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and felony official oppression for their respective roles in the beating, stomping and kicking of Mallicoat after he was already handcuffed and shackled. They face an Aug. 8 sentencing hearing at which they will seek to serve their one-year sentences on probation.
But the trio were not alone in the attack. Two other officers — Richard Derrick White and Nicholas Ferro — also were found at fault in Miller's probe of excessive force against Mallicoat, while the original two responding officers to the scene that day — Haley Starr and Cynthia LeeAnn DeMarcus — were labeled in Miller's report as willfully blind and deceitful.
At an afternoon news conference at KPD's Moses Center training facility, Rausch announced disciplinary action taken against those four officers as well as against three supervisors — Capt. Eve Thomas, Lt. Brad Anders and Sgt. John Shelton — who approved what turned out to be deceitful use of force reports without having viewed what Rausch deemed the most incriminating video of at least four cameras rolling that day.
Thomas received an oral reprimand, while Anders and Shelton received written reprimands.
"It's just completely inappropriate," Rausch said. "I feel sorry it happened. We're sorry to Mr. Mallicoat this happened. I tell people all the time, unfortunately we have to recruit from the human race."
Starr, who injured her hand by repeatedly punching Mallicoat as she and DeMarcus struggled to handcuff him before backup arrived, was suspended Monday without pay for 18 days for failing to stop the attack on Mallicoat after he was cuffed, shackled and no longer a threat, for lying in a report about the actions of her male counterparts and for threatening to "break" Mallicoat's head the "next time I see you."
DeMarcus was suspended without pay for 12 days and demoted a pay grade for covering up the male officers' violence in her report and for turning a blind eye to the beating Mallicoat suffered as she watched.
Ferro was suspended without pay for 12 days for pouncing on Mallicoat's hogtied legs, cursing and threatening him "when such action was not warranted," Miller wrote. White was suspended without pay for six days for a similar "knee drop" and for intentionally turning off his microphone as Jinnett hurled profanity-laced threats at Mallicoat. Whitfield's microphone, however, still recorded the comments.
Mallicoat was drunk and yelling as he wandered through a North Knoxville neighborhood, prompting the initial call for police. Rausch said Starr and DeMarcus used the appropriate force necessary to get him handcuffed. But once he was cuffed, the beating began in earnest, with Compton slamming his head on the hood of a cruiser, Jinnett jumping on his back and Whitfield kicking him eight times.
Rausch acknowledged Mallicoat was not taken to a hospital initially, even though he suffered broken ribs and a punctured lung in the attack. Once at the jail, Mallicoat began experiencing trouble breathing from his injuries, and jailers turned KPD's prisoner away. He was then taken to a hospital, where he stayed for two days.
Rausch said he learned of the attack later that afternoon when a resident whose son was one of the witnesses to the beating complained in an email. The chief said he immediately launched an internal affairs probe and a criminal investigation.
Mallicoat's attorney, Cullen Wojcik, is planning to sue if a settlement over the beating is not reached. He attended the news conference, as did attorneys with the city law department.
Mayor Madeline Rogero also attended. She praised the efforts of the city's law enforcers who, she said, do their jobs well on a day-to-day basis but added, "the behavior (in the Mallicoat attack) was simply inexcusable. We cannot and will not condone any violation of the rule of law."
Miller's internal investigation showed all seven officers at the scene tried to justify their actions as "necessary." Miller found claims by Starr and DeMarcus that they did not notice the blows delivered to Mallicoat particularly incredible.
"Officer DeMarcus was in a position to clearly see During this time frame, she was not performing a demanding or captivating task that would cause her to experience inattentional blindness," Miller wrote — adding so, too, was Starr. "These lay witnesses (in the neighborhood) observed force and indicators of force from distances that were much further away than those of officers Starr and DeMarcus. It is notable that these officers failed to see or discern force which was clearly visible to witnesses in the area."
Miller characterized Ferro, who arrived on the scene after Mallicoat was already hogtied, as inexplicably aggressive. He cited an instance on video in which Ferro "grabs" the hogtied Mallicoat "in an aggressive manner and shouts, 'Did we tell you to move? Then, don't (expletive) move, got it?'"
Rausch said supervisors will use the incident and the damning video evidence as a training tool, not only to prevent brutality by the city's officers but also to divest them of the notion it is OK to protect rogue officers, something often referred to as the "thin blue line."
"The stepping in and stopping it is so important, and unfortunately that didn't happen here," Rausch said.
Copyright 2013 the Knoxville News-Sentinel