A Chattanooga police officer’s harsh treatment of a girl waiting in a car in June 2018 has spawned a federal oppression lawsuit against the city’s taxpayers.
City police department officer J. Wright’s harassing intervention on behalf of a used car lot in Rossville, Ga., injured the 14-year-old daughter of Avery Gray, who was dragged screaming from the leaky used car purchased at M&R motors, also named as a defendant in the case in U.S. district court.
The encounter between Kennedy Gray and the cop has been viewed millions of times on YouTube and exemplifies an important aspect of American policing. And that is an arbitrary and executive claim of power over individuals apart from any law.
Officer Wright serves Mayor Andy Berke. His department is repeatedly the source of violence, lawlessness, perjury and oppression against people in the city limits, with apparent approval of Darrin Ledford, Carol Berz, Russell Gilbert and other members of city council. Goaded by the incident, the council has created a weak citizen oversight committee to check on police abuse. But council makes no demands for training, performance, qualified immunity or personal officer tort liability reforms.
A complaint filed by attorney Steve Duggins tells the story. Avery Gray purchased the car April 2018, a 1999 Lexus from M&R motors sold by Ricky Gregg. The car’s check engine came on, it began pouring fluids and Mrs. Gray went to Mr. Gregg to ask to cancel the contract and its payment plan. M&R refused.
On the date of the encounter, June 25, Mrs. Gray was downtown parking in front of the county jail adjacent to the county courthouse, the seat of government. She parked the car and a designated parking space in the 600 block of Walnut Street. Kennedy kept the engine running since it was a hot day and the air conditioner was humming. Shortly after Mrs. Gray left on personal business at the jail, Walter Clay, the repossession agent for M&R, came up.
Mr. Clay did not have a writ of possession issued by sessions court, which would have allowed him to take the car any time or any place. Not having a judicial authorization for repossession, he had to go to Plan B, which would have been to take the car at night or from the owner’s employer’s parking lot while the owner is away.
Meanwhile, Officer Wright had parked his cruiser directly behind the Gray auto. Mr. Clay came up to him and asked him for “assistance” in moving Kennedy from the car and repossessing it. Officer Wright, according to the complaint, requested dispatch to send additional police cars to assist.
Officer Wright “began getting very angry at Kennedy for not exiting the car as quickly as officer Wright wanted,” the complaint says.
“Shut the car off it!” he said. “It don’t matter. You don’t get to break the law.” The filing notes the girl had not broken a law.
“Officer Wright had no legal basis or legal authority for asserting that Kennedy had broken or was breaking the law. Officer right reached into the car, unlocked the door, opened the door, and while doing so, angrily stated to Kennedy: ‘I’ll go ahead and handle that real quick. You want to be stupid about it.”
‘Lady, if I gotta put hands on you, I will’
The girl tries to explain to the cop she has possessions in the back of the car, but he angrily orders her out. She is looking into the back the car to get her belongings.
“Lady, if I gotta put hands on you, I will,” Mr. Wright says and grabs at her as he is talking. He then yanks her out of the car even as she is attempting to comply with his order.
Officer Wright acts roughly with Kennedy and inflicts pain on her as he yanks her out of the car, “causing her to scream out in pain.”
These actions are done without any legal basis, the filing says. The officer handcuffs the girl very tightly, “hurting her.”
As Kennedy is crying, a female officer tells the girl, “We’ll get your mom,” though no one had moved to get the woman before. The officer takes the girl’s keys and cellphone, saying, will get your mom. Though no one had tried to get the mother beforehand, the complaint says. The author takes the girls keys and cell phone, saying, “You need to learn how to follow instructions.”
The officer is solicitous to the repossession agent. “You got everything you need?” Mr. Wright says. “You got everything you need?” A bystander asks the officer, “She’s just a child. Why are you yelling at her like that?”
The officer says, “Because she doesn’t know how to follow instructions, ma’am.”
Mrs. Gray appears, asking, “What’s going on?”
Officer Wright says, “Well, your daughter is going to jail is what’s going on because she doesn’t know how to follow instructions.”
By the time Officer Wright takes her to juvenile court jail, the girl’s wrists, “still handcuffed unnecessarily tightly, were swollen, red and beginning to turn blue.”
The officer’s charge against the girl is false. The resisting stop, halt, frisk statute requires the use of force, and the girl did not use any force in her slow compliance. That charge is dropped. Four months later, Officer Wright adds a disorderly conduct charge against the girl, also oppressively laid against the girl as a defensive measure.
“Ms. Gray and Kennedy continue to suffer physical, emotional and psychological damage as a result of defendants’ actions,” the case filed by attorney Steve Duggins says.
The girl’s arrest by the officer assisting the repossession agent is a common law tort of breach of the peace, the complaint says, for which the officer and M&R motors are “jointly and severally liable to plaintiffs for their injuries.”
Mayor Berke’s officer’s actions “constituted unlawful seizure of private property by the government, violating the 4th amendment to the United States constitution” and is also under “the color of state law.”
These injuries and violations of due process rights under 42 U.S. Code 1983. Kennedy’s arrest is a false imprisonment and false confinement without legal cause or legal basis, according to the filing. It is also assault, which is a common law tort. Also a battery.
The claim additionally is that the officer and the repossession agent engaged in an effective conspiracy.