KNOXVILLE — A Knoxville attorney is taking law enforcement in Alcoa and Blount County to federal court for a combined $8.25 million, claiming his clients were victims of excessive force and policy brutality when they were arrested within two weeks of one another last June.
Attorney Lance K. Baker has filed two separate lawsuits in Knoxville’s U.S. District Court, one over the arrest of a 67-year-old former businessman who was a hit-and-run suspect; the other on behalf of a 36-year-old single mother booked on charges of DUI, assaulting an officer, resisting arrest and felony reckless endangerment.
The two Maryville residents suffered from mental or cognitive disorders and were victims of law enforcement brutality, according to the lawsuits.
The first lawsuit, filed June 10, stems from the arrest a year earlier of Larry Glen Hodge at the hands of BCSO deputies. The Blount County government, Blount County Sheriff James Lee Berrong and several deputies are defendants in the $6.25 million suit.
As Hodge died in December, the litigation was filed on behalf of Hodge’s widow, Judy R. Hodge.
Deputy Accused of Going ‘Rogue’
Hodge, who suffered from advanced vascular dementia, was arrested after the side mirror of his pickup collided with the side mirror of another vehicle on a narrow section of Russell Hollow Road, the suit states. About 45 minutes later, he was pulled over and arrested by BCSO Deputy Henry Vaughn, a property and evidence technician who had not been a patrol deputy since 2006, according to the suit.
t the time of the stop, Vaughn was driving an unmarked vehicle and dressed in green camouflage pants and a “Polo-type shirt,” according to the suit. Vaughn parked his unmarked truck alongside Hodge’s, the suit states, before going “rogue,” pulling a gun on Hodge and demanding he exit the vehicle.
Vaughn is then accused of pulling Hodge out of the vehicle when the 67-year-old was slow to react, throwing him to the ground and assaulting him.
“Vaughn suddenly grabbed Mr. Hodge by the wrist and shirt collar, violently jerked him out of his truck and flung Mr. Hodge hard and face-first to the pavement,” the complaint reads. “(Vaughn) punched at Mr. Hodge, twisted Mr. Hodge’s arms behind his back and cuffed his wrists behind his back, all while Mr. Hodge lay in a prone position, bleeding profusely from his head, face and nose.”
The suit states Vaughn had a history of using excessive force, and in 2005 was convicted of assaulting a female neighbor while off duty. The suit also states Blount County government attorney Craig Garrett confirmed Vaughn, as an evidence technician, does not normally respond to patrol calls.
The BCSO, including several supervisors named in the suit, are accused of conducting a sham investigation and failing to discipline Vaughn.
In addition to Vaughn, Berrong and Blount County, the following BCSO personnel are also defendants in the suit: Deputy Kevin Clendenen, Detective Doug Davis, Lt. Doug Moore, Capt. Jeff Clark, Deputy Chief Ron Talbott and Deputy Chief James Long.
Blount County General Sessions Court records show Hodge was facing charges of leaving the scene of an accident and resisting arrest. They were dismissed in January following his death, court records show.
The lawsuit states Hodge’s physical and mental condition declined following the arrest, and contributed to his death six months later.
The second lawsuit, filed June 23, is also targeting Blount County and Berrong, along with several BCSO corrections officers, the City of Alcoa, Alcoa Police Chief Philip Potter and several Alcoa officers.
Stemming from the June 23, 2015, arrest of then 36-year-old Annissa Mary Lee Colson, the $2 million suit alleges Colson was brutalized and tormented by Alcoa officers BCSO jailers.
Colson was arrested on charges of assaulting an officer, resisting arrest, DUI and felony reckless endangerment, in addition to being cited on charges of violating the implied consent law, violation of the due care law and registration violation.
Her case is still pending in Blount County General Sessions Court, with another hearing currently scheduled for July 7. She remains free on bonds totaling $5,5000.
Colson’s arrest came after her then 10-year-old son fled from her vehicle in the area of Springbrook Road and North Wright Road around 7:30 p.m., according to the lawsuit and a prior police report.
The 10-year-old told officers his mother had been drinking at Springbrook Pool and began speeding down the road when they left, according to the police report.
The child said he got scared and pulled the emergency brake, causing the vehicle to stop, police said. He told officers he jumped out of the vehicle, a black Toyota RAV4, and took off running.
The first officer to arrive reported seeing Colson’s vehicle driving through the field toward the wood line where her son was standing. Colson then lost control and ran into a ditch line, where the SUV came to rest on an embankment, the report said.
The lawsuit states Colson wrecked her vehicle into a ditch while trying to retrieve her son.
Police said Colson smelled of alcohol and refused to perform field sobriety tests. When officers placed her under arrest, she reportedly refused to follow commands, but eventually stood up and put her hands behind her back.
Two officers — Dustin Cook and Arik Wilson — transported Colson to Blount Memorial Hospital for a blood alcohol test, but once they arrived she refused to take the test, the lawsuit and police report state.
Police contend Colson became “extremely belligerent and combative” when instructed to get back into the cruiser. However the lawsuit states Colson suffers from severe anxiety and had “a severe panic attack” when told police were going to obtain a search warrant for a blood draw.
Cook and Wilson are accused in the lawsuit of ignoring Colson’s obvious signs of mental distress and refusing to giver her time to catch her breath.
According to the police report, officers heard Colson’s right knee “pop” as they struggled to get her back into the cruiser. Colson complained briefly about her knee, the report said, but continued resisting. During the struggle, she kicked one of the officers in the left knee, the report said.
The lawsuit, however, states Colson’s knee was injured when Wilson “violently kicked/kneed (Colson).” The lawsuit states this fractured Colson’s right leg and caused tears to her ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and LCL (lateral collateral ligament).
Officers said they were eventually able to get Colson back inside the cruiser and across to the jail, where a jail nurse examined the 36-year-old’s knee. The nurse said Colson’s knee appeared fine, and there was no swelling or visible injury to the area, the report said.
The lawsuit accuses the nurse, Jennifer Russell, of performing a “slipshod” and “abbreviated” examination which failed to identify Colson’s injuries.
According to the police report, Colson became combative with corrections officers and had to be placed in a restraint chair. Officers obtained a search warrant to perform a mandatory blood draw, at which point Colson reportedly caused more problems.
Corrections officers restrained Colson, however she still became combative, the report said. She also bit or tried to bite Mandy England, a BCSO corrections officer, police said.
Further Abuse Alleged
The lawsuit rebuffs that assertion as well, stating that Colson was trying to “nudge” England’s hand away with her chin. England and several other corrections officers are also accused of tormenting Colson.
The abuse reportedly included placing a helmet on the claustrophobic Colson while she was strapped in the restraint chair. Corrections officers also denied Colson the opportunity to use a toilet, leading to her urinating on herself “in front of a cadre of laughing” officers, according to the lawsuit.
For about five hours, “Colson remained alone in a cell, arms and legs restrained, in a helmet, with a fractured leg, torn ACL, torn LCL, with contusions, abrasions and bruises all over her body,” the lawsuit states.
Colson was released on bond about 7 1/2 hours after Wilson injured her knee, according to the lawsuit.
The officers named in the suit are accused of ignoring what is described as a “severe mental disorder” and “disability” for Colson.
The Blount County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on either piece of pending litigation. County attorney Craig Garrett could not immediately be reached for comment.
Alcoa Police Chief Philip Potter said he had not yet been served with the Colson lawsuit, and had not yet read the complaint.
“I would just say that the (Alcoa) Police Department intends to vigorously defend our officers’ actions and our actions in this, and we will defend ourselves in court when it’s the appropriate time,” Potter told The Daily Times. “But other than that, we really couldn’t comment on the pending litigation.”
A request from The Daily Times for body camera footage from the arrest has been received, said Alcoa Police Capt. Phillip Dunn. Due to the pending litigation, Dunn said they are waiting for approval from Blount County District Attorney General Mike Flynn to release the video.
O’Briant said any video the BCSO might have would need to be requested from Garrett, who could not immediately be reached.
Wilson, Cook, Russell and England are all listed as defendants in the Colson suit. Alcoa Police Lt. Keith Fletcher is also a defendant.