Chattanooga Clergy for Justice slams HCSO use of force policies

In a letter sent last week to Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond and other county and state leaders, Chattanooga Clergy for Justice condemned the sheriff’s office use of force policies.

“Based on national best practice standards on use of force, it is our contention the current HCSO (Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office) use of force policies are too broad, giving deputies wide latitude to decide whether and how much force is appropriate and necessary,” the March 24 letter reads.

The Rev. Dr. William Terry Ladd III, pastor of Chattanooga’s historic First Baptist Church at 506 East 8th St., noted that too many HCSO policies are ambigious and left up to individual discretion–which can make it difficult to determine when deputies can use force and at what level. 

“The way it’s written right now, the deputy may or may not have to do a certain thing or follow certain protocol as it relates to use of force,” Rev. Ladd said. 

Ladd, as well as more than 40 other local clergy and six organizations, signed a Feb.14 letter addressed to Hammond. The letter pointed out 19 incidents of alleged misconduct by HCSO deputies, and highlighted concerns centered around the department’s lack of transparency and willingness to work with community members. 

Responding to the criticism, Hammond defended his department in a February 17 letter to which he attached 110 pages of department policies–including policies around use of force, internal investigations and deputy code of conduct.

“Throughout my career, I have developed numerous, longstanding relationships with members of our local clergy and value the insight they have offered regarding community relations,” Hammond said in the letter. “Through this insight and our own proactive measures, the HCSO has made improvements to our policies and procedures and enhanced our training in certain areas.”

The 75-year-old Hammond has declined previous community-wide calls for his resignation, following several local high-profile use of force incidents that erupted in widespread outrage and protests.

Hammond has said he will not seek reelection when his current term ends in 2022. He was first elected in 2008.

At press time, Hammond has not  commented on the March 24 Chattanooga Clergy for Justice letter–which was also sent to Gov. Bill Lee, Hamilton County Board of Commissioners, Hamilton County Chief Deputy Austin Garrett, Hamilton County District Attorney General Neil Pinkston, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger and Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Reggie Smith.

According to the Chattanooga Clergy for Justice website, “Our supporters are formed from numerous groups across Chattanooga and surrounding areas in Georgia. We aspire to advocate for those who have been continuously brutalized by the officers charged with protecting them. It is time that law enforcement take accountability for their crimes against the people of Chattanooga.”