By Jamie Satterfield, Tennessee Lookout
Allegations against East Ridge, Tenn., police officers of excessive force, retaliatory arrests of bystanders and filing false charges–buttressed by body camera and bystander footage–are mounting, a review of police and court records by the Tennessee Lookout shows.
When a 70-year-old bystander questioned East Ridge police officers about their treatment of a black man in July 2021, records allege, he was knocked to the ground and arrested on a false charge of obstruction of justice.
A bystander who recorded East Ridge police shooting an unarmed woman with a stun gun and handcuffing her two daughters for expressing upset over the use of force in December 2021 was pushed face first onto a police cruiser and arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct, according to court records.
An East Ridge police supervisor ordered a bystander’s cellular phone seized without legal cause in another December 2021 incident in which the sergeant had threatened to use his stun gun on a man falsely accused by an off-duty cop of a crime, court records state.
East Ridge officers in recent months also have been captured at least twice on camera using stun guns on unarmed citizens within minutes of encountering them.
East Ridge Police Chief Stan Allen has largely defended officers’ actions in public comments and, in at least once instance, publicly criticized a bystander who filmed officers tasing a black motorist and posted the footage on YouTube. Allen did not return a call for comment by the Tennessee Lookout.
The city, which has a population of less than 22,000 and a police force of 47 officers, is now facing at least three civil-rights lawsuits in U.S. District Court, all of which allege a pattern of unchecked bad behavior by law enforcers.
“In events where city police officers made unreasonable seizures of citizens and brought false criminal charges–all of which resulted in the dismissal of criminal charges brought against the citizens–no one in a supervisory or internal affairs role from the city ever contacted the victims to conduct any form of internal affairs investigation,” attorney Robin Flores wrote in the litigation.
“The city had a … duty to ensure that it properly trained and supervised officers to ensure they refrain from using their police powers to retaliate against citizens who are lawfully allowed to question police actions,” Flores continued. “The lack of oversight of the city and (Chief) Allen’s public comments created and helped to maintain an atmosphere that (officers) could act in the manner (described) and thus not be punished in any significant way, if at all.”
Ronald Alan Cummins, a 70-year-old resident of Hamilton County, contends he was brutalized and falsely accused when he questioned East Ridge Police Officers Teddy Dyer and Candice Miller about their treatment of a black motorist in July 2021.
The two officers were finishing up a traffic stop of Gerado Benitez when the encounter with Cummins began. Dyer was behind the wheel of the cruiser, and Miller was seated in the passenger seat. Benitez was standing outside the cruiser, talking to the officers through the open passenger side window.
Cummins, court records state, walked up to the cruiser and asked the officers “what they were doing with Benitez.” It’s not clear from the litigation if Cummins knew Benitez.
What happened next was captured on the officers’ body camera footage, although attorneys for the city contend Cummins’ account “mischaracterizes or misquotes” some of what the video shows.
“The city avers the body camera speaks for itself and is the best evidence as to what occurred,” attorney Philip Wells wrote on behalf of city leaders in an answer to Cummins’ lawsuit.
In the video, Dyer can be heard telling Cummins the traffic stop of Benitez was “none of your business” and instructing Cummins to leave.
“(Cummins) then stated, ‘I remember what happened to George Floyd,’” his lawsuit states. “Dyer retorted, ‘I don’t care.’”
A bystander captured footage of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck as Floyd, unarmed and facedown on the street with his hands behind his back, struggled to breathe. Floyd died in the May 2020 encounter, and his death sparked nationwide protests over policing and spurred the Black Lives Matter movement.
As Cummins began walking away from the cruiser, Dyer got out of the vehicle, pointed at Cummins and “angrily yelled” at Cummins, the litigation states.
“Dyer continued his abusive comments to (Cummins), coming within inches of (his) face and pointing his index finger at (Cummins) while stating in his angry and confrontational way, ‘You go take care of your business and stay away from my traffic stop or you’re going to jail,’” the lawsuit continues.
“(Cummins) told Dyer that (he) did not appreciate Dyer speaking to him in that manner,” according to the lawsuit. “Without warning and in a fit of rage, Dyer grabbed (Cummins) and threw (him) onto the pavement by a ‘leg sweep’ (maneuver) … Miller (exited the cruiser but) did nothing to stop Dyer’s attack.”
The city acknowledges Dyer took Cummins to the ground and arrested him but denies Dyer’s actions constituted excessive force. The city concedes Cummins had to be temporarily hospitalized for chest pains after his encounter with Dyer.
Dyer charged Cummins with obstruction of justice, but the case was later dismissed without a hearing after Cummins’ criminal defense attorney obtained body camera footage of the arrest, records show.
Hamilton County resident Devin Lee Sherrard contends in litigation that he, too, was arrested on false charges after he filmed the actions of Dyer, Miller, Officer Anna Simmons and Sgt. David Myrick a few months later.
In that case, Devin Sherrard and Angel Sherrard were seated in a car parked outside the home of Angel Sherrard’s adult daughter when the four East Ridge officers arrived without warning.
Dyer approached the car and told Angel Sherrard that officers were there to check a report that a child was being endangered. The city concedes the encounter, but court records don’t make clear if there is any evidence to back up Dyer’s claim of an endangerment report.
Dyer also claimed he smelled marijuana inside the car, but a later search of the vehicle yielded no evidence to back up the assertion, court records show.
When Dyer told Angel Sherrard that he planned to search her car, she objected.
“You’re not going to search anything,” she told Dyer. “You’re not going to break my rights right now.”
The city admits in response to the Sherrard litigation that Dyer responded, “You’re about to get your rights in the back of my car.”
“Dyer then grabbed Angel, slammed her face onto the partially opened window of her vehicle, manhandled Angel toward his police vehicle and, while Angel cried out that he had hurt her by banging her head onto the vehicle, he responded, ‘Shut up,’” the litigation states.
Devin Sherrard began recording the encounter with his cellular phone as Angel Sherrard’s adult daughter and her 15-year-old daughter emerged from the house, both of whom were complaining about the treatment of their mother, according to records.
That video footage, bolstered by police body cam footage, shows Myrick used a stun gun on a handcuffed Angel Sherrard as officers sought to force her into the back of a police cruiser and Simmons handcuffed the complaining daughters, forced them to the ground and threatened to jail them for interfering.
The city admits in its response to the Sherrard litigation that Angel Sherrard was taken to a local hospital for treatment after she was shot with a taser and later charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Those charges have since been dismissed.
The city also acknowledges Dyer seized Devin Sherrard’s cellular phone as he was recording the encounter, handcuffed him and charged him with disorderly conduct. That charge, too, was later dismissed.
The officers ultimately uncuffed the two daughters and did not file any charges against them, court records show.
Kadron Marquez Locklin alleges East Ridge Officer Samuel Roistacher threatened to shoot him with a stun gun in an encounter a day after the Sherrard incident and ordered the cellular phone of a recording bystander seized. The city has not yet responded to the Locklin litigation.
Locklin and two teenagers had walked onto the property of off-duty East Ridge Officer Andrew Carter to retrieve a neighbor’s dog and were heading back to the neighbor’s house with the dog when Carter emerged from his home, the litigation states.
“(Carter) yelled … that if they set foot on his property again that he had ‘something for you,’” the lawsuit alleges. “At no time did (Locklin) or the minors do or say anything to Carter to provoke Carter’s threat. (Locklin) saw Carter place his hand on a firearm Carter carried on his person … (Locklin) responded to Carter that he had something for Carter, too.”
Locklin, who was not armed at the time, and the teenagers continued on to the neighbor’s house. A short time later, Roistacher showed up at the neighbor’s house.
“Roistacher was immediately and without any justification verbally abusive toward (Locklin),” court records state. “While pointing a taser at (Locklin) … Roistacher (threatened Locklin, saying, ‘You think I’m going to argue with you? I’m going to tase your (expletive).’”
When Roistacher saw a bystander recording the encounter with a cellular phone, he “pointed toward the person (and ordered fellow officers to) ‘get that man’s cell phone right there. I’m going to seize that cell phone,’” Lockin’s lawsuit states.
Citing body camera footage, attorney Flores alleges Carter falsely accused Locklin of threatening him with a gun without cause and insisted Roistacher arrest him.
“(Carter) added, ‘Between me and you, I would not have said I have something in the house for him because’ … (and then) lifted his jacket and revealed a firearm,” the litigation states.
Roistacher wound up charging Locklin with aggravated assault, a felony, for allegedly threatening Carter and two counts of reckless endangerment for having a firearm inside his own vehicle, which was parked outside Carter’s neighbor’s home.
“Locklin had a constitutional right to bear and possess a firearm, and he was not prohibited by state or federal law to possess a firearm,” the lawsuit states.
Prosecutors later dismissed all three charges, court records show.
“Although video of the incident existed for months, Chief Stan Allen failed to discipline Roistacher until nearly five months later and then only with a one-day suspension and remedial training,” the lawsuit states.
A bystander in April posted a video on YouTube that showed East Ridge officers shooting Anthony Wright with a stun gun while he was unarmed and on his knees after a traffic stop. Allen held a press conference after the video captured media attention and insisted officers were forced to “drive stun” Wright for “flailing his arms and legs” as police sought to arrest him.
Allen not only defended the use of force against Wright but accused bystander Matthew Gilbride of “making things worse” by videotaping the encounter.
“People are absolutely allowed to video police officers just doing their jobs as long as they don’t interfere,” Allen said at the press conference.
A week after Gilbride posted his video and accused officers of using excessive force on Wright, body camera footage of another questionable tasing of a motorist emerged. In that case, East Ridge officers shot unarmed motorist William Cody Bell with a stun gun within one minute of stopping him. In the body camera footage, one officer can be seen placing her hands around Bell’s neck as she tried to pull him out of the car and another can be seen striking him with a baton.
Allen publicly defended those officers, too.
“We’re not going to tase somebody a bunch of times just to be hitting them with a taser,” Allen said in a public statement. “We’re trying to get control … and, really, using the taser is the best way to prevent injury to the driver.”