By Camm Ashford
Chattanooga Clergy for Justice held a virtual news conference Monday to demand an investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ) into violent crimes being committed at the Silverdale Detention Center.
“In June of 2021, we submitted a formal request to the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate a pattern and practice of misconduct by the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office,” the Rev. Dr. William Terry Ladd III read from a letter delivered to the Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office on Monday. “Included in the report was a request that the U.S. Department of Justice look into conditions in the Silverdale Detention Center, which is under the control of the HCSO, that have led to deaths and reports of severe neglect, abuse, and excessive use of force.”
Since the first of the year, there have been three rapes inside Silverdale, as well as a stabbing, an alleged severe beating, and reports of multiple drug overdoses. More than a year after the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office took over the privately-run detention center, violent attacks within the facility are continuing unabated, lawsuits filed last week allege.
Three former detainees at Silverdale filed suit April 18 in U.S. District Court against Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond and county government.
In each case, the detainees contend the sheriff has done little or nothing to address the violence that preceded the county’s takeover of the detention facility in December 2020, and blame correctional officers there for putting them in harm’s way.
Christopher Lamond Bell says in his civil rights lawsuit that he was stabbed 17 times in April 2021, after jailers forced him into a cell where a throng of masked inmates were waiting to attack him as part of an initiation for new detainees.
Luster Dewayne Deloney says in a separate lawsuit he, too, was forced by jailers to go inside the same cell on the night of Bell’s attack. Like Bell, Deloney says inmates wearing towels around their faces to mask their identities attacked him within minutes of his placement there. He was stabbed six times, the lawsuit states.
A third Silverdale detainee, Michael Brinkley, alleges in his lawsuit that jailers in September 2021 moved him–without cause or warning–into a new cell block and left his cell door open.
“Brinkley pounded on his door to try to get the attention of three correctional officers, but they carried on about their business. Then, five inmates entered Brinkley’s cell and attacked Brinkley, stabbing him nine times–including once in the face.”
Bell and Brinkley required emergency treatment at a nearby hospital after their respective attacks. Deloney’s lawsuit does not make clear whether he received emergency medical care.
The Chattanooga Clergy for Justice letter also asked for Pinkston’s assistance in requesting that the DOJ investigate what the organization believes is an excessive use of force when black DoorDash driver Delane Gordon was tased by a white Collegedale police officer during a traffic stop and arrest on March 10. Citing 19 instances of abuse since 2008 by HCSO deputies, the Clergy said it doesn’t trust HCSO to complete an unbiased investigation in the case.
Pinkston issued a statement Monday to address the concerns expressed by the Chattanooga Clergy for Justice.
“Right now, it appears that Silverdale is one of the most dangerous places to be in our county, and that is unacceptable” he said. “Individuals at Silverdale have the right to be protected and that right should be taken very seriously by every member of our justice system. Therefore, I will formally request that the DOJ investigate the conditions and operation of Silverdale.”
Pinkston added that he is withdrawing his request for the sheriff’s office to investigate the traffic stop in Collegedale and instead ask the DOJ to investigate that incident as well. His request will be sent to the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C., as well as to the acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
This all comes in the middle of a primary election for district attorney where Pinkston faces challengers in a close race, and where police support is a key issue.