Federal Lawsuit Filed In Prater Case Charges Excessive Force

Monday, December 13, 2004

A federal lawsuit has been filed in connection with the death of Leslie Vaughn Prater during an incident with police last Jan. 2.

The suit says Mr. Prater was beaten and suffocated in an incident involving a group of Chattanooga Police officers.

The complaint, brought by Mr. Prater's parents and brother, asks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Here is the complaint:

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE

LORETTA PRATER, Individually and *
as Natural Mother and Administratrix *
of the Estate of LESLIE VAUGHN * Case No.________
PRATER, Deceased; DWIGHT PRATER, *
and STEFAN PRATER, * COMPLAINT FOR VIOLATION
* OF CIVIL RIGHTS, WRONGFUL
Plaintiffs, * DEATH, NEGLIGENCE,
* VIOLATION OF THE TENNESEE
vs. * HUMAN RIGHTS ACT, ASSAULT
* AND BATTERY, AND
DOUGLAS RAWSON, JUSTIN * LOSS OF CONSORTIUM
MCCOMMON; JOHNATHAN MANCE * (Jury Demand Endorsed Hereon)
CHRISTOPHER INDICO; KEITH *
HUDGINS; VINCE DEAN; DANIEL *
ANDERSON; MIKE TILLEY; STEVE *
ANGEL; TIM CARROLL; GREGORY *
CHAMBERS; KEITH FREEMAN; JOHN *
CARTER; MIKE MATHIS; KEN NEBLETTE; *
JOHN DOES, supervisory police officers *
whose identity is currently unknown; POLICE *
CHIEF STEVE PARKS, individually and in his *
official capacity; FORMER POLICE CHIEF *
JIMMY DOTSON, individually and in his official *
capacity; and CITY OF CHATTANOOGA, *
a Tennessee Municipal Corporation, *
*
Defendants. *


COMPLAINT
____________________________________________________________________________________

JURISDICTION AND VENUE

1. This action is being filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 42 U.S.C. § 1985 to address injuries suffered by Leslie Vaughn Prater for deprivation under color of law of rights secured by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. This Court has supplemental jurisdiction of the state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.
2. Venue is proper in the United States District Court, Eastern District of Tennessee, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391.
3. Additionally, Plaintiffs bring state statutory and tort claims against the Defendants for wrongful death, loss of consortium, negligence, negligent hiring, training and supervision, assault and battery, and malicious harassment.
PARTIES
4. Plaintiff Loretta Prater is a resident of Cape Girardeau County, Missouri, and the Administratrix of the Estate of Leslie Vaughn Prater and the natural mother of Leslie Vaughn Prater. She brings this action on behalf of herself and on behalf of Leslie Vaughn Prater and the Estate of Leslie Vaughn Prater.
5. Plaintiff Dwight Prater is a resident of Cape Girardeau County, Missouri and is the father of Leslie Vaughn Prater.
6. Plaintiff Stefan Prater is a resident of DuPage County, Illinois and is the brother of Leslie Vaughn Prater.
7. Defendant Douglas Rawson is a City of Chattanooga Police Officer, who was a police officer employed the Defendant City of Chattanooga at the time of the death of Leslie Vaughn Prater and remains as such. At all times relevant to this action, Defendant Rawson acted under color of law.
8. Defendant Justin McCommon is a City of Chattanooga Police Officer, who was a police officer employed the Defendant City of Chattanooga at the time of the death of Leslie Vaughn Prater and remains as such. At all times relevant to this action, Defendant McCommon acted under color of law.
9. Defendant Johnathan Mance is a City of Chattanooga Police Officer, who was a police officer employed the Defendant City of Chattanooga at the time of the death of Leslie Vaughn Prater and remains as such. At all times relevant to this action, Defendant Mance acted under color of law.
10. Defendant Christopher Indico is a City of Chattanooga Police Officer, who was a police officer employed the Defendant City of Chattanooga at the time of the death of Leslie Vaughn Prater and remains as such. At all times relevant to this action, Defendant Indico acted under color of law.
11. Defendant Keith Hudgins is a City of Chattanooga Police Officer, who was a police officer employed the Defendant City of Chattanooga at the time of the death of Leslie Vaughn Prater and remains as such. At all times relevant to this action, Defendant Hudgins acted under color of law.
12. Defendant Vince Dean is a City of Chattanooga Police Officer, who was a police officer employed the Defendant City of Chattanooga at the time of the death of Leslie Vaughn Prater and remains as such. At all times relevant to this action, Defendant Dean acted under color of law.
13. Defendant Daniel Anderson is a City of Chattanooga Police Officer, who was a police officer employed the Defendant City of Chattanooga at the time of the death of Leslie Vaughn Prater and remains as such. At all times relevant to this action, Defendant Anderson acted under color of law.
14. Defendant Mike Tilley is a City of Chattanooga Police Officer, who was a police officer employed the Defendant City of Chattanooga at the time of the death of Leslie Vaughn Prater and remains as such. At all times relevant to this action, Defendant Tilley acted under color of law.
15. Defendant Steve Angel is a City of Chattanooga Police Officer, who was a police officer employed the Defendant City of Chattanooga at the time of the death of Leslie Vaughn Prater and remains as such. At all times relevant to this action, Defendant Angel acted under color of law.
16. Defendant Tim Carroll is a City of Chattanooga Police Officer, who was a police officer employed the Defendant City of Chattanooga at the time of the death of Leslie Vaughn Prater and remains as such. At all times relevant to this action, Defendant Carroll acted under color of law.
17. Defendant Keith Freeman is a City of Chattanooga Police Officer, who was a police officer employed the Defendant City of Chattanooga at the time of the death of Leslie Vaughn Prater and remains as such. At all times relevant to this action, Defendant Freeman acted under color of law.
18. Defendant John Carter is a City of Chattanooga Police Officer, who was a police officer employed the Defendant City of Chattanooga at the time of the death of Leslie Vaughn Prater and remains as such. At all times relevant to this action, Defendant Carter acted under color of law.
19. Defendant Mike Mathis is a City of Chattanooga Police Officer, who was a police officer employed the Defendant City of Chattanooga at the time of the death of Leslie Vaughn Prater and remains as such. At all times relevant to this action, Defendant Mathis acted under color of law.
20. Defendant Ken Neblette is a City of Chattanooga Police Officer, who was a police officer employed the Defendant City of Chattanooga at the time of the death of Leslie Vaughn Prater and remains as such. At all times relevant to this action, Defendant Neblette acted under color of law.
21. Defendant Gregory Chambers is a City of Chattanooga Police Officer, who was a police officer employed the Defendant City of Chattanooga at the time of the death of Leslie Vaughn Prater and remains as such. At all times relevant to this action, Defendant Chambers acted under color of law.
22. Defendants John Does, were, at all times relevant hereto, supervisory personnel with the Chattanooga Police Department with oversight responsibility for the Defendant officers named herein. They were responsible for hiring, screening, instruction, supervision, and discipline of the officers who failed to properly protect and assist Leslie Vaughn Prater as an individual identified as an emotionally disturbed person and who killed Leslie Vaughn Prater.
23. Defendant Steve Parks is the Chief of Police of the City of Chattanooga Police Department, and was employed by the Defendant City of Chattanooga at the time of the death of Leslie Vaughn Prater. Defendant Parks is sued in his official capacity. At all times relevant to this action, Defendant Parks acted under color of law.
24. Defendant Jimmy Dotson is the former City of Chattanooga Chief of Police, who was employed by the Defendant City of Chattanooga as the Chief of Police at the time of the killing of Leslie Vaughn Prater and until February, 2004. Defendant Dotson is sued in his individual and official capacity. At all times relevant to this action, Defendant Dotson acted under color of law.
25. Defendant City of Chattanooga is a municipal corporation, organized and existing under the laws of the State of Tennessee. At all times throughout this Complaint, it is alleged and reincorporated that the individual police officers’ actions of assaulting, asphyxiating and killing Leslie Vaughn Prater is part of a continuing pattern of civil rights abuses by City of Chattanooga Police Officers against citizens, that result from the Defendant City’s deliberate conduct in establishing a policy and custom that encourages, acquiesces, ratifies and conceals Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment civil rights violations. In addition, the individual officers’ actions of assaulting, asphyxiating, and killing Mr. Prater was a direct result of the City’s deliberate indifference in its screening and hiring of its police officers and in failing to train and discipline its police officers. As a result of the Defendant City’s policies, customs, deliberate indifference, and deliberate conduct as described above, the City is the “moving force” behind the individual officer Defendants’ actions in killing Mr. Prater.

FACTS
Facts Relating to Excessive Force

26. Paragraphs 1-25 are respectfully alleged and reincorporated throughout this entire Complaint.
27. Leslie Vaughn Prater was a 37 year-old black male who was a native of Chattanooga, Tennessee. At the time he was killed, Mr. Prater did temporary labor and was looking for steady work. On January 2, 2004, he did not have a job for the day. During the afternoon, Mr. Prater spoke with his cousin who told Mr. Prater the good news that he had secured a job interview for Mr. Prater for full-time work with Coca-Cola.
28. At approximately 6:25 P.M., a citizen telephoned police dispatch to report that a man without his clothing and was standing outside near his vehicle.
29. Upon information and belief, Plaintiffs state that when police were dispatched to the scene they were informed that they were likely dealing with an emotionally disturbed person (“EDP”). Upon information and belief, Mr. Prater had been drinking and had consumed a small amount of cocaine at some point on the afternoon or evening of January 2, 2004.
30. At approximately 6:30 p.m., the Defendants Mance and Chambers arrived on the scene first and found Leslie Vaughn Prater standing about fifty (50) feet away from his vehicle without his clothing as reported by the call to police dispatch.
31. The Defendants approached Mr. Prater and began talking to him. Mr. Prater had no weapon on his person, which was readily ascertainable by the Defendants as he was not wearing any clothing. Mr. Prater showed no signs of aggression toward the officers. Around this time, Defendant Anderson arrived on the scene. Around the time of Defendant Anderson’s arrival, the Defendants physically confronted Mr. Prater without justification when they, without warning, aggressively approached him. As Mr. Prater began to back away, the officers jumped onto Mr. Prater and threw him down on the ground, placing their knees into his shoulders and back.
32. Any minimally competent, reasonable, trained police officers understand that in responding to a call concerning an emotionally disturbed person, that the officer is not to touch that person and not to arrest the person for behavioral manifestations of mental illness until properly trained and equipped police officers and supervisors are present at the scene unless that person poses an immediate physical threat to himself or others.
33. As Defendants assaulted Mr. Prater, Defendant Chambers, without justification, “maced” him in the face with a pepper-spray. The spraying of the pepper-spray injured Leslie Prater, blinded him, and caused him severe pain, fear, mental anguish and difficulty breathing.
34. As Mr. Prater overtly demonstrated his inability to breathe by moving his head from side to side, one of the Defendants grabbed Mr. Prater’s head and held it face-down, into the ground.
35. While Mr. Prater was being held down on the ground, Defendants Rawson, McCommon, Indico, Hudgins, and Dean arrived on the scene and joined in the ‘pile-up’ and assault on Mr. Prater.
36. The various Defendants continued to put their knees into Mr. Prater’s shoulders and back and continued to push his head into the ground as Mr. Prater continued overtly to struggle to breathe.
37. The Defendants then handcuffed Mr. Prater’s hands behind his back.
38. As Leslie Prater struggled to breathe, several Defendants grabbed his legs and pulled them over his buttocks, holding him in what is commonly referred to as the “hog-tie” restraint. Mr. Prater was held face-down for as long as ten (10) minutes as he struggled to breathe.
39. Upon information and belief, Plaintiffs state that Leslie Vaughn Prater was beaten by the various Defendant officers and at least one Defendant violently kicked Mr. Prater in the groin, causing severe hemorrhaging.

40. At no time did any officer act to stop the beating and asphyxiation of Leslie Prater.
41. Any minimally competent, reasonable, trained police officer understands that holding a person in a “hog-tie” restraint and/or holding a person face-down and applying pressure to his arms, legs, or torso can result in positional (or restraint) asphyxia, in which the person’s ability to move his or her chest, abdomen, and diaphragm are restricted and thus, the person cannot get enough oxygen to breathe and sustain his or her organs.
42. Further, minimally competent, reasonable and trained police officers know the risk of asphyxia is particularly acute for persons of Mr. Prater’s size, as Mr. Prater weighed two-hundred thirty-two (232) pounds and had a protruding abdomen.
43. It is also commonly understood by any competent, reasonable and trained police officer that these well-known risks of asphyxia are exacerbated by mace.
44. Because of the well-known dangers and high risk involved with face-down restraint, minimally accepted police practices prohibit this practice. On February 3, 1993, the Chattanooga Police Department banned use of the “hog-tie” method of restraint. Officers were instructed that, “[e]ffective this date the use of any “hog-tie” restraints should be discontinued” because a “medical condition called asphyxia occurs in persons who have their hands and feet bound while they are in a prone position . . . This position can impede the airway of the suspect and cause him/her to suffocate and expire.”
45. As many as eight (8) Defendants were sitting upon, kicking, shoving and hitting Mr. Prater, as he suffocated to death while desperately moving his head from side to side in an obvious effort to breathe. During the approximately ten (10) or more minutes of the unjustified and unreasonable assault upon Mr. Prater, the Defendants gave Mr. Prater twenty-one (21) rib fractures on sixteen (16) of his ribs and dislocated and broke his left shoulder. The Defendants bruised Mr. Prater’s right upper chest, right lower chest, right arm and forearm, left shoulder, left arm and forearm, left thigh and both his wrists. The Defendants cut Mr. Prater’s lower back, right leg, and cut his wrists with handcuffs. The Defendants struck Mr. Prater’s groin, causing acute hemorrhaging. A true and exact copy of autopsy reports are attached hereto as Exhibit ‘A’ and Exhibit ‘B’.
46. After approximately ten (10) minutes of Defendants’ assault and restraint upon Mr. Prater, and long after Mr. Prater was no longer struggling or moving at all, the Defendants stopped their assault.
47. The Defendants turned Mr. Prater over and cleared dirt and grass from his face, his nose and his mouth. The Defendants then confirmed Mr. Prater was not breathing. Upon information and belief, emergency medical services (“EMS”) did not arrive until approximately five (5) to ten (10) minutes after Mr. Prater had stopped breathing.
48. EMS arrived, conducted CPR and transported Mr. Prater to Erlanger Medical Center, where resuscitation efforts continued until Mr. Prater was pronounced dead at approximately 10:05 p.m. Reports of Leslie Vaughn Prater’s death were aired on the late local news. While family members were known by police to be in the waiting area of the hospital, not one was told of Leslie Vaughn Prater’s death until near midnight.
49. The defendant police officers ignored the CPD’s policies and minimally acceptable police practices concerning face-down and “hog-tie” restraints, the handling and protection of EDP’s and the appropriate use of force. Instead, they used excessive force, and were otherwise grossly negligent and wantonly reckless in the manner in which they treated Leslie Vaughn Prater, in complete disregard for the preservation of his life, and in doing so they assaulted and killed him by asphyxiation.

Facts Relating to Conspiracy to Cover-up Facts Surrounding the Killing of Mr. Prater
50. After the fatal assault and asphyxiation of Mr. Prater, the defendant officers were seen huddling at the scene. Upon information and belief, it was at this time when these officers began the conspiracy to cover-up their unconstitutional and illegal acts by making deceitful claims that the attack and killing of Leslie Vaughn Prater was in self-defense and to prevent Mr. Prater, and subsequently his family, from uncovering and seeking redress for these misdeeds.
51. In furtherance of this conspiracy, Defendants did not take or document the full statements of civilian witnesses whose account of events was not favorable to the police.
52. Other witnesses were taken away from the scene to a police facility where they were interrogated by officers and peppered with leading questions regarding the incident in order to suggest the officers acted appropriately.
53. One Defendant, Tim Carroll, assigned to investigate the killing, went to Erlanger Medical Center to view Mr. Prater’s body. Defendant Carroll looked at Mr. Prater’s body. He saw the dislocated shoulder, the numerous abrasions and contusions and was told by a nurse of the (21) rib fractures over sixteen (16) ribs and the broken left shoulder. He also witnessed hemorrhaging from Mr. Prater’s scrotum, eyes and ears. Yet, after viewing Mr. Prater’s body, Defendant Carroll concluded in his investigative report that “there were no obvious traumatic injuries.”
54. According to the Hamilton County Medical Examiner and State Medical Examiner, after conducting two separate autopsy investigations, Mr. Prater’s death was ruled a homicide by positional asphyxia.
55. The next day, a statement was made by a police spokesperson that ratified, furthered and/or evidenced the conspiracy to cover-up the Defendants actions by stating misleading facts designed to vilify Mr. Prater and absolve the defendant officers. Upon information and belief, the misleading and/or false information came directly from the Defendant officers. For example, the spokesperson stated that Leslie Prater was over six feet (6’) tall and weighed over three-hundred (300) pounds. In reality, Leslie Prater was five feet eleven-inches (5’ 11”) tall and weighed only two-hundred thirty two (232) pounds. Also that day, Police Spokesperson Ed Buice sent out a press release stating that no pepper spray was used on Mr. Prater.
56. That same day, Defendant Dotson, then Chief of the Chattanooga Police Department, held a press conference wherein he ratified, furthered and/or evidenced the conspiracy to cover-up the Defendants actions, as he made the following statements:
“Officers retrieved Mr. Prater’s pants and asked him to put them on. He refused to be cooperative and resisted being taken into custody.”

“Two officers did use pepper spray on Mr. Prater, but to no effect. During the scuffle, officers made the decision to call for an ambulance to respond to the scene. This was before Mr. Prater lost consciousness. I commend the officers for their foresight.”

“The decision to call the ambulance was due to the fact that something was obviously wrong with Mr. Prater, from either a medical or mental standpoint.”

“Also, because of his size, it was going to be difficult to transport him in the back of a patrol car; an ambulance is much larger and would make transport much easier. Thirdly, officers recognized that given all the factors in this incident, having medical personnel on the scene would be prudent.”

“When Mr. Prater lost consciousness, one of the officers on the scene got an AED—an Automatic External Defibrillator—out of his patrol car but before it could be used, paramedics were on the scene.”

57. A press release was issued on January 5, 2004 by Police Department Spokesperson, Edward Buice, that ratified, furthered and/or evidenced the conspiracy to cover-up the Defendants actions, in stating that there was “NO physical evidence whatsoever which would indicate any excessive force being used by the arresting officers” (emphasis in original).
58. All of the statements listed in the foregoing paragraphs were made by Defendants prior to the completion of any official investigation into the assault and in contrast to the physical evidence and what the witnesses at the scene actually observed. Plaintiff avers that the statements made by Defendant Dotson and Ed Buice were made just hours after any investigation had even commenced. Furthermore, Defendants subsequently released to the media Mr. Prater’s past criminal record in an effort to smear and marginalize him and released incorrect statements that Mr. Prater died primarily from ingestion of cocaine. Such statements were made intentionally or recklessly, in furtherance of the conspiracy to cover-up the Defendants’ actions; were in tacit authorization of Defendants’ actions; and intended to conceal the true nature of Defendants’ actions. These statements were made in furtherance of the attempted cover-up, and negligently, intentionally, recklessly and/or in bad faith made to inflict extreme emotional distress upon the Plaintiffs and to prevent plaintiffs from seeking redress for the defendants’ illegal and unconstitutional conduct.
Facts Relating to Supervisory Liability and Monell Claims
59. The City of Chattanooga had written policies, procedures and/or guidelines concerning the appropriate use of force during arrests as well as a written policy specifically barring the use of “hog-tie” restraints due to the likelihood of death in using this method. Upon information and belief, the City also had policies concerning the handling of EDP’s.
60. Upon information and belief, prior and subsequent to January 2, 2004 and despite these written directives, Chattanooga police officers, including, without limitation, the defendant officers, routinely utilized excessive force in effectuating arrests including the use of face-down and hog-tie restraints. Upon information and belief, many of these acts of excessive force involved suspects classified as EDP’s. Upon information and belief, these unconstitutional practices of utilizing excessive force including face-down and hog-tie restraints were known to their supervisors and the City of Chattanooga, yet the supervisors and the City of Chattanooga took no, or grossly inadequate, action to train, supervise or control said officers.
61. For example, in 2002, Defendant McCommon was the arresting officer in the stop and arrest of Torris Harris, who died during that arrest from positional asphyxia. His death was ruled a homicide and was the subject of a civil lawsuit filed by the Harris family. Defendant McCommon was a defendant in that action based upon his involvement in the death of Torris Harris.
62. Upon information and belief, the other individual Defendants herein have had numerous complaints of excessive force by citizens prior to January 2, 2004.
63. From 1990 to January 2, 2004, there were at least seventeen (17) citizens killed as a result of excessive force used by the Chattanooga Police Department. These citizens include:
(a) John Henderson, who was shot to death on May 29, 2003 during a routine traffic stop;
(b) Torris Harris, who was beaten and asphyxiated on December 27, 2001 during a routine traffic stop;
(c) Jam es Brooks, who was shot and killed in his home on December 15, 2000;
(d) Samuel Held, who was shot 49 times by two (2) Chattanooga Police officers on April 10, 2000;
(e) Samuel Petty, who was shot and killed by a Chattanooga Police Officer on October 28, 1999;
(f) Kevin McCullough, who was shot and killed at work by a CPD officer on May 6, 1998;
(g) Montrail Collins, who was shot seventeen (17) times by CPD officers on May 6, 1998;
(h) John Emmons, who was shot nineteen (19) times by CPD officers who fired forty-three (43) times on February 28, 1997;
(i) Bennie Lewis, an eighty-five (85) year-old man shot and killed by a CPD officer who shot him twenty-two (22) times in March of 1996;
(j) George Weathers, who was shot by police on January 21, 1994;
(k) Tabron Ball, who was killed on September 26, 1994 while being chased onto a highway by police;
(l) Crawford Watkins, who was shot thirty-seven (37) times by CPD officers on June 5, 1994;
(m) Larry Powell, who was beaten and choked to death by CPD officers in 1993 – one of the officers involved, Martin Penny, was also involved in the beating and asphyxiation of Torris Harris;
(n) Clarence Hatcher, who was shot and killed by a police sniper at a nursing home on September 15, 1992;
(o) Tony Swain, who was shot and killed by CPD officers in 1992;
(p) Hayden Price, who died from an unlawful choke hold and being ‘maced’ by CPD officers on January 31, 1991;
(q) Michael Earls, who was shot and killed on December 25, 1990, while being pursued for allegedly stealing cigarettes; and
(r) Richard Elms, who was beaten to death by CPD officers on June 9, 1990.

64. Despite these written policies, commonly accepted police standards, and actual or constructive notice that these policies were being routinely ignored, these supervisors, the City and its final policymakers provided grossly inadequate training and supervision of officers, including, without limitation, the individual defendants in this case, to ensure compliance with the Department’s guidelines and minimally accepted police practices concerning such policies as the appropriate use of force generally, the handling of emotionally disturbed persons, and specific prohibitions against the use of face-down and hog-tie restraints.
65. In furtherance of and/or in addition to this custom and practice of failing to train and supervise officers, the city and supervisory defendants failed to adequately investigate, discipline or otherwise remediate officers who used excessive force and thereby further condoned, acquiesced and ratified this misconduct. Upon information and belief, it was the custom of the City to conclude, without genuine investigation and/or in contradiction to the clear evidence, that officers accused of utilizing excessive force were acting appropriately and/or acting in justifiable self-defense.
66. For example, the City of Chattanooga, upon information and belief, failed to conduct a proper and thorough investigation of the death of Leslie Vaughn Prater and despite clear violations of rules and regulations and other clear evidence of police misconduct, failed to discipline or otherwise remediate the offending officers.
67. In June of 2004, Defendant Parks publicly announced the Chattanooga Police Department’s finding that the death of Mr. Prater was determined by the Major Crimes Division of the CPD to be “an accident”.
68. After this announcement by Defendant Parks, on June 29, 2004, Plaintiffs attended the City council meeting to voice their concerns about the death of their son and the findings of the CPD. At the meeting, three councilpersons, Councilman Yusef Hakeem, Councilman Leamon Pierce and Councilman John Franklin, all made statements to the effect that they were aware that there was and “always” had been a problem with the City of Chattanooga Police Department in terms of violence toward citizens and that the Prater case and other previous cases should have been thoroughly investigated, but were not.
69. Since 1990, there has only been one (1) criminal charge against a CPD officer involving the death of a citizen at the hands of that officer. Meanwhile, upon information and belief, there was little to no investigation, and no criminal charges, brought in relation to the deaths of Torris Harris, James Brooks, Samuel Held, Samuel Petty, Kevin McCullough, Montrail Collins, John Emmons, Bennie Lewis, George Weathers, Crawford Watkins, Larry Powell, Clarence Hatcher, Tony Swain, Hayden Price, Michael Earls, and Richard Elms. Furthermore, upon information and belief, there were no criminal charges or discipline of any kind in relation to these deaths. Additionally, upon information and belief, there are hundreds of citizens who have been non-fatally assaulted for which there was minimal or no investigation and no criminal charges against the involved officers.
70. Upon information and belief, the supervisory defendants inadequately screened and/or received complaints about the conduct of the defendant police officers, and knew about past complaints, aberrant behavior, and disciplinary infractions, or, in the exercise of due diligence, would have perceived that these officers had disciplinary problems that posed a pervasive and unreasonable risk of harm to citizens, including Leslie Vaughn Prater.
71. Upon information and belief, the City’s final policy-makers had actual or constructive notices that officers accused of utilizing excessive force were not being properly investigated, disciplined or otherwise remediated, yet failed to take minimally adequate steps to address this unconstitutional custom and practice.
72. In furtherance of this custom and practice of failing to adequately investigate and discipline officers utilizing excessive force and engaging in other serious police misconduct, these supervisory defendants and the City’s final policy-makers have been deliberately indifferent to the need for more or different training, rules and regulations and supervision relating to police officers who witness or have information regarding misconduct by fellow officers, despite the obvious risk that such deliberate lapses would lead to unconstitutional and lethal use of force by CPD officers against citizens in the future.
73. In furtherance of this custom and practice of failing to adequately investigate and discipline officers utilizing excessive force and engaging in other serious police misconduct, these supervisory defendants and the City’s final policy-makers have failed to properly investigate, sanction, or discipline officers who are aware of and subsequently conceal and/or aid and abet violations of constitutional rights by other police officers, thereby causing and encouraging police officers, including the individual defendants in this case, to violate the rights of citizens such as Leslie Prater.
74. Upon information and belief, the defendant City of Chattanooga maintains an inadequate system of reviewing officers who withhold knowledge or give false information regarding misconduct by fellow officers. This failure to identify and track officers, including the defendant officers, or to discipline, more closely supervise, or retrain officers who engage in a “code of silence,” causes police officers to believe that they can engage in misconduct, secure in the knowledge that their fellow officers will neither intervene, nor give evidence against them. Upon information and belief, these systemic deficiencies include, but are not limited to:
a. Preparation of investigative reports designed to vindicate the conduct of officers who gave false information about the misconduct of other officers, or who falsely deny knowledge about misconduct which they were in a position to observe;
b. Preparation of investigative reports that uncritically rely solely on the word of officers and systematically fail to credit testimony of non-police officer witnesses;
c. Preparation of investigative reports which omit or ignore factual information and physical evidence which contradict the accounts of police officers;
d. Issuance of public statements exonerating officers involved in such incidents prior to the completion of investigation;
e. Failure to have meaningful review of investigative reports by responsible superior officers for accuracy or completeness, including consideration of the conduct of officers who were not actively engaged in the misconduct which was the subject of the investigation, and acceptance of conclusions which are not supported by the evidence or which contradict such evidence;
f. Failure to identify potential “code of silence” violations and maintain accurate records of allegations of such misconduct;
g. Withholding of facts and evidence;
h. Practice investigation methods of leading witnesses during questioning in order to form a story favorable to police officers and by failing to document witness statements that cast police officers’ actions in a negative light; and
i. Repeated attempts to improperly and falsely demonize innocent victims such as Leslie Prater in order to influence public opinion and justify the assaults.
75. For example, in this case, upon information and belief, the police officers involved in the assault and killing of Leslie Vaughn Prater, were permitted, if not encouraged, to converse and consult among themselves where they set upon a course of action or conduct to cover-up the truth and to obstruct the due course of justice relative to the assault and death of Mr. Prater. Further, the defendant City of Chattanooga knew or should have known that this cover-up and/or obstruction of the due course of justice was going to take place. Despite this knowledge, the defendant, City of Chattanooga intentionally and knowingly failed to take steps to prevent this cover-up and obstruction of the due course of justice.
76. The City’s final policy-makers had actual and/or constructive knowledge, prior to and at the time of this incident, of the need for more or different training, rules, regulations, investigation and discipline relating to officers who practice the “code of silence,” and was deliberately indifferent to that need.
77. The “code of silence” is a so deeply ingrained in the members of the Police Department of the City of Chattanooga so as to constitute the actual custom, practice, and policy of the City of Chattanooga and have caused police officers, including the defendants in this case, to believe that they can violate the rights of citizens with impunity, and that their fellow officers would conceal such conduct, including swearing falsely and committing perjury.
78. In addition to their failure to train and supervise officers concerning the above areas, upon information and belief, the City failed to adequately screen candidates and subsequently hired officers, including, without limitation, at least some of the individual defendant officers in this case, who had previously demonstrated their propensities for violence, excessive force, lack of truthfulness, and bias against people with a race or ethnicity that may be different than their own. The City’s failure permitted the defendant officers herein to be in a position to unlawfully assault and kill Leslie Prater, to cover it up and to otherwise violate his state and constitutional rights.
79. For example, prior to the City hiring Defendant Hudgins, Defendant Hudgins was arrested for aggravated assault. The defendant had actual or constructive notice of this incident, yet, upon information and belief, failed to conduct a minimally adequate pre-hire investigations which would have uncovered that Hudgins was unfit for duty and prone to just the type of excessive force he utilized against Mr. Prater in this case.
80. As a result of a conscious policy, practice, custom or usage, the CPD has permitted and allowed the employment and retention of individuals who place the public or segments thereof at substantial risk of being the victims of an officer’s violent behavior. The City’s final policy-makers had actual or constructive notice of the City’s persistent and widespread practices of failing to screen and hiring violence prone officers.
81. The foregoing acts, omissions and systemic deficiencies concerning training, supervision, screening, hiring, investigation and discipline, were done in a negligent, or wanton, reckless, deliberately indifferent and malicious manner and constitute deliberate indifference by the City of Chattanooga and were the moving force behind and directly and proximately caused the constitutional violations suffered by Leslie Vaughn Prater.
82. As a direct and proximate result of the Defendants’ actions and omissions taken under color of state law, Leslie Vaughn Prater has been deprived of rights secured by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.
83. As a direct and proximate result of the Defendants’ actions and omissions taken under color of state law, Plaintiffs have been denied meaningful access to the courts to seek redress for their civil rights and state law claims.
84. As a direct and proximate result of the Defendants’ actions, Leslie Vaughn Prater suffered serious anguish and emotional distress, physical injuries, pain and suffering, and was wrongfully deprived of his life.

FIRST CLAIM FOR RELIEF : 42 U.S.C §1983
(Individual Defendants)

85. Paragraphs 1-84 are respectfully alleged and reincorporated throughout this entire Complaint.
86. At all times mentioned herein, Defendant City of Chattanooga employed the individual defendants herein.
87. During all times mentioned herein, the individual defendants acted under color and pretense of law, under color of the statutes, ordinances, regulations, policies, processes, customs and usages of the Defendant City of Chattanooga. The individual defendants herein deprived Leslie Vaughn Prater and Plaintiffs of the rights, privileges, and immunities secured to them by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and the laws of the United States.
88. On January 2, 2004, Defendants, without justification, provocation or warning assaulted and asphyxiated Leslie Vaughn Prater, as previously described above. The individual, uniformed, City defendants’ actions in improperly restraining, beating and suffocating Mr. Prater were objectively unreasonable, were taken under color of state law, and constituted excessive force in violation of Mr. Prater’s rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
89. As a direct and proximate result of said violations, Mr. Prater was killed and plaintiffs suffered the damages as described herein.

SECOND CLAIM FOR RELIEF: 42 U.S.C §1983
(Substantive Due Process)

90. Paragraphs 1-89 are respectfully alleged and reincorporated throughout this entire Complaint.
91. The conduct of the defendant officers in assaulting and asphyxiating Leslie Vaughn Prater violated Mr. Prater’s Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process right to life and the conduct of the defendant officers was shocking to the conscience.
92. As a direct and proximate result of said violations, Leslie Vaughn Prater suffered serious anguish and emotional distress, physical injuries, pain and suffering, and was wrongfully deprived of his life.
THIRD CLAIM FOR RELIEF : 42 U.S.C §1983
(Conspiracy to violate)

93. Paragraphs 1-92 are respectfully alleged and reincorporated throughout this entire Complaint.
94. The individual defendants, under color of law, further conspired with each other, reached a mutual understanding, and acted to undertake a course of conduct to deny Mr. Prater’s family access to the courts to redress the constitutional violations suffered by Mr. Prater.
95. Defendants did conspire and act in furtherance of said conspiracy to directly and indirectly deprive Plaintiff of his rights under the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
96. In furtherance of the conspiracy to cover up the unlawful assault and killing, defendants engaged inter alia in the following:
a. defendants, in furtherance of the conspiracy, the defendant officers met right after the incident and created a false story as to what transpired in their treatment of Leslie Vaughn Prater. The defendants agreed and acted to intentionally submit false police reports, statements and testimony of support, to corroborate the fabricated version of events, and to omit civilian eyewitnesses from said reports;
b. In furtherance of the conspiracy, the defendants agreed and acted to provide false and misleading statements to their superiors which were repeated to the public regarding said events and about Leslie Prater and recklessly violated his rights to privacy, in an effort to influence public opinion, demonize the decedent victim, and justify the assault. These misleading statement included (i) a story claiming that the Defendants were acting in self-defense; (ii) a story that Leslie Prater was much larger and imposing than he actually was; (iii) a story that medical help was summoned before Leslie Prater stopped breathing; (iv) a story that there were no injuries to Leslie Prater that would have been from excessive force; (v) a story that Mr. Prater was not kicked in the groin and otherwise assaulted; and (vi) that Mr. Prater’s death was due to drug use; and
c. defendant officers and detectives, in furtherance of the conspiracy, failed to properly investigate the incident in order to protect the defendants who assaulted and killed Leslie Vaughn Prater and in order to deny the Plaintiffs access to the courts.
97. All of these stories created by the Defendants were created in order to hide the true nature of the Defendants’ actions.
98. Furthermore, Defendants did conspire and act in furtherance of said conspiracy to improperly investigate the circumstances surrounding the Defendants involved in the assault and killing of Leslie Vaughn Prater and protect the Defendants from both criminal and civil liability.
99. As a direct and proximate result of the aforesaid acts and omissions, Plaintiffs have been forced to incur substantial amounts for attorney’s fees, investigations, expenses, and other costs in the prosecution of the above-articulated Constitutional violations and have been denied meaningful access to the Courts in violation of their First Amendment rights.
100. As a consequence Plaintiffs suffered damages in an amount to be determined at trial.

FOURTH CLAIM FOR RELIEF : 42 U.S.C §1983
(Supervisory Liability)

101. Paragraphs 1-100 are respectfully alleged and reincorporated throughout this entire Complaint.
102. By reason of the foregoing, the named and as yet unnamed John Doe supervisory personnel who had direct oversight responsibility for the individual officers involved in the suffocation of Mr. Prater acted with reckless disregard and deliberate indifference in the training, supervision, investigation and discipline of the defendant officers thereby causing the assault, injury and death of Leslie Prater in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
103. As a direct and proximate result of said violations, plaintiffs suffered the damages described above in an amount to be determined at trial.

FIFTH CLAIM FOR RELIEF : 42 U.S.C §1983
(First, Fourth, Fourteenth Amendments and Privacy Violations)

104. Paragraphs 1-103 are respectfully alleged and reincorporated throughout this entire Complaint.
105. The Defendants’ conduct interfered with the federally protected liberty and privacy interest of the plaintiffs to maintain a stable family relationship free of intervention from the State thereby violating their rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
106. As a direct and proximate result, plaintiffs suffered the injuries and damages described above and in amount to be determined at trial.
SIXTH CLAIM FOR RELIEF : 42 U.S.C §1983
(Monell Claim)

107. Paragraphs 1-106 are respectfully alleged and reincorporated throughout this entire Complaint.
108. The City of Chattanooga, by and through its final policymakers, provided grossly inadequate screening, training and supervision to its employees regarding the proper use of force, the prohibitions against hog-ties and face-down restraints and the proper use of methods to avoid asphyxia and the proper response to handling EDPs.
109. The City, by and through its final policymakers, had actual or constructive notice that the failure to adequately screen, train and supervise its employees as described above would foreseeably result in the violation of the constitutional rights of its citizens, such as Mr. Prater and failed to take reasonable steps to remedy them.

110. The City has been deliberately indifferent in screening, training and supervising its employees regarding, among other subjects, (a) the proper use of force; (b) the prohibitions against hog-tie restraints and face-down restraints; (c) the proper use of methods to avoid asphyxia; and (d) the proper response to and handling of EDPs .
111. Although the City has a written policy prohibiting the use of “hog-tie” restraints, the City’s officers, including, without limitation the defendant officers on this case, violated this policy and the defendant supervisors and the City’s final policy-makers failed to enforce these prohibitions through training, supervision, investigation and discipline.
112. The City’s deliberate indifference as demonstrated through the foregoing acts, omissions, and systemic deficiencies were the moving force behind the violation of Mr. Prater’s constitutional rights, and proximately and directly caused the injuries and damages set forth above.
113. Notwithstanding written policies and contrary to minimally accepted police practices, the Defendant City of Chattanooga has a long-standing custom, pattern and practice of using excessive force with suspects, including the use of “hog-tie” and face-down restrains and as part of that custom and practice, the Defendant City and its Police Department conducts little or no investigation and fails to properly discipline and supervise those officers as to their use of excessive force. Notwithstanding written CPD policies, and minimally accepted police practices, it was the custom, pattern and/or practice of the City to use excessive force in situations involving EDPs, or potential EDPs.

114. In furtherance of this custom, pattern and practice, the defendant City of Chattanooga knowingly, recklessly or with deliberate indifference failed to expeditiously and vigorously investigate and interrogate police officers who used excessive force and otherwise abused their authority thus enabling said officers to engage in a cover-up.
115. The City’s final policy-makers had actual and/or constructive notice that CPD officers, including, without limitation, Defendant McCommon, had histories of utilizing excessive force under color of law, yet failed to take minimally adequate steps to supervise, investigate and discipline officers thereby acquiescing and ratifying their misconduct and promoting a code of silence where, as in this case, officers were pressured and permitted to cover-up even the most serious misconduct.
116. Defendants’ assault and asphyxiation of Leslie Vaughn Prater was an unconstitutional display of unreasonable and excessive force that violated Leslie Vaughn Prater’s right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Plaintiffs are informed and believe, and thereupon allege, that the details of this incident have been revealed to the authorized policymakers of the Defendant City of Chattanooga and such policymakers have direct knowledge that the assault and killing of Leslie Vaughn Prater was an unconstitutional display of unreasonable and excessive force. Notwithstanding this knowledge, the authorized policymakers of the Defendant City of Chattanooga made a deliberate choice to approve and ratify Defendants’ unjustified assault and killing of Leslie Vaughn Prater, and made statements to that effect as described in the foregoing paragraphs. These statements show lax discipline as well as agreement with Defendants’ actions and ratification of the unconstitutional acts of Defendant. In addition, the statements ratifying Defendants’ conduct made by the agents and policymakers of the Defendant City of Chattanooga concealed the true nature of Defendants’ actions in the assault and killing of Leslie Vaughn Prater thereby denying Plaintiffs their Constitutional right of access to the courts.
117. Further, the Defendant City of Chattanooga has a long-standing custom, pattern and practice of hiring unqualified officers, including, without limitation, Defendant Hudgins, who had previously demonstrated violent propensities and where the Defendant City knew or should have known that officers, including Defendant Hudgins, were prone to use excessive force.
118. Minimally adequate scrutiny of the backgrounds of such violence-prone candidates, including without limitation Defendant Hudgins, would have led reasonable supervisors and final-policymakers within the Defendant City of Chattanooga and its Police Department to conclude that the inevitable consequence of the decision to hire these candidates would be the deprivation of a third party’s Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable and excessive force.
119. The above acts or omissions were undertaken while under color of state law and resulted in a violation of Leslie Vaughn Prater’s and Plaintiffs’ Constitutional rights, as stated herein. Likewise, the policies, customs, practices and decisions of Defendant City of Chattanooga alleged herein and as applied to Leslie Vaughn Prater and Plaintiffs, resulted in a violation of Leslie Vaughn Prater’s and Plaintiffs’ Constitutional rights.
120. The City’s deliberate indifference, as demonstrated through the foregoing customs, policies and practices, was the moving force behind the violation of Mr. Prater’s constitutional rights, and proximately and directly caused the injuries and damages set forth above.

SEVENTH CLAIM FOR RELIEF : 42 U.S.C §1983
(Failure to Provide Medical Treatment)

121. Paragraphs 1-120 are respectfully alleged and reincorporated throughout this entire Complaint.
122. The Defendants herein, without justification, assaulted and improperly restrained Mr. Prater causing severe physical injuries and eventually death.
123. Because Mr. Prater was in the Defendants’ custody, care and control, they had a duty to render medical assistance to him.
124. The Defendants withheld such medical assistance to Mr. Prater for their assault and asphyxia of him, and as a direct and proximate result thereof, Leslie Vaughn Prater suffered severe physical and mental anguish until his ultimate death from the assault.

EIGHTH CLAIM FOR RELIEF : 42 U.S.C §1983
(Failure to Intercede)

125. Paragraphs 1-124 are respectfully alleged and reincorporated throughout this entire Complaint.
126. The Defendants, without justification, assaulted and improperly restrained Mr. Prater causing severe physical injuries and death.
127. After the assault began, numerous other officers, including, without limitation, Defendants Rawson, McCommon, Indico, Hudgins and Dean arrived on the scene.
128. Upon arrival, these Defendant officers witnessed the unlawful assault and asphyxiation of Leslie Prater, and failed to intercede to halt the deadly attack. Instead, these officers joined in the attack and all contributed to Mr. Prater’s death.
129. As a direct and proximate result of the Defendants’ failure to intercede, Leslie Vaughn Prater suffered severe physical and mental anguish until his ultimate death from the assault.

NINTH CLAIM FOR RELIEF: WRONGFUL DEATH

130. Paragraphs 1-129 are respectfully alleged and reincorporated throughout this entire Complaint.
131. The unreasonable and/or wanton and reckless or negligent or intentional or bad faith acts or omissions of Defendants Rawson, McCommon, Mance, Indico, Hudgins, Chambers, Dean and Anderson directly and proximately caused the death of Leslie Vaughn Prater, and Leslie Vaughn Prater’s death resulted in the loss of support, society, services, and in mental anguish to his parents, Loretta and Dwight Prater, and brother, Stefan Prater.

TENTH CLAIM FOR RELIEF: LOSS OF CONSORTIUM

132. Paragraphs 1-131 are respectfully alleged and reincorporated throughout this entire Complaint.
133. The unreasonable and/or wanton and reckless or negligent or intentional or bad faith acts or omissions of Defendants directly and proximately caused injury and death to Leslie Vaughn Prater.
134. As a direct and proximate cause of Defendants’ wanton and reckless or negligent or intentional acts or omissions which resulted in causing fatal injury to Leslie Vaughn Prater, he is no longer capable of giving love, affection, society, comfort and support to his parents, Loretta and Dwight Prater and his brother Stefan Prater.
ELEVENTH CLAIM FOR RELIEF: NEGLIGENCE

135. Paragraphs 1-134 are respectfully alleged and reincorporated throughout this entire Complaint.
136. Defendants stopped Leslie Vaughn Prater for being in public without clothing. Mr. Prater talked calmly to the Defendants, then the Defendants escalated the encounter and lunged for Mr. Prater, taking him to the ground where they violently assaulted and killed him. The Defendants did not use less violent methods of restraint, nor did they wait for medical assistance although they knew this was likely the case of a emotionally disturbed individual.
137. As a direct and proximate result of Defendants’ failure to conform to the appropriate standard of care for dealing with emotionally disturbed persons, Mr. Prater suffered severe physical and emotional anguish and eventually died.

TWELFTH CLAIM FOR RELIEF:
NEGLIGENT TRAINING AND SUPERVISION

138. Paragraphs 1-137 are respectfully alleged and reincorporated throughout this entire Complaint.
139. The Defendant City of Chattanooga has a duty to all citizens to properly train, supervise and retain its police officers.
140. In 2002, Defendant McCommon was the arresting officer in the stop and arrest of Torris Harris, who died during that arrest from positional asphyxia. His death was ruled a homicide and was the subject of a civil lawsuit filed by the Harris family. Defendant McCommon was a defendant in that action based upon his involvement in the death of Torris Harris.
141. Prior to the Defendant City of Chattanooga hiring Defendant Hudgins, Defendant Hudgins was arrested for aggravated assault. Defendant City of Chattanooga knew or should have been aware of his arrest for a violent felony.
142. The Defendant City of Chattanooga was aware or should have been aware of Defendant McCommon’s involvement in the death of Torris Harris and was aware or should have been aware of Defendant Hudgins violent criminal background.
143. The Defendant City of Chattanooga did not properly train Defendants before placing them on patrol , and as a result these officers harmed citizens in the performance of their duties.
144. Defendant City has a standing written policy barring the use of the “hog-tie” restraint.
145. Defendant City has a written policy for dealing with emotionally disturbed persons in order to prevent harm to the emotionally disturbed persons.
146. Defendant City has a written policy barring the use of excessive force on suspects.
147. The Defendant City of Chattanooga failed to properly train and supervise its officers on the policies listed in the foregoing paragraphs and acted negligently or willfully and wantonly in its hiring, training, and supervision of Defendants.
148. As a direct and proximate result of Defendant City of Chattanooga’s negligent, willful and wanton behavior, Leslie Vaughn Prater was assaulted and killed by Defendants and suffered severe physical and emotional anguish, and as a direct and proximate result of Defendant City of Chattanooga’s negligent, willful and wanton behavior, Plaintiffs herein have suffered damages, including, but not limited to loss of love, support and society from Leslie Vaughn Prater.


THIRTEENTH CLAIM FOR RELIEF: ASSAULT AND BATTERY

149. Paragraphs 1-148 are respectfully alleged and reincorporated throughout this entire Complaint.
150. The actions of Defendants constitute an assault and battery upon the person of Leslie Vaughn Prater.
151. The act of Defendants in assaulting Mr. Prater resulted in physical and mental anguish, and ultimately resulted in the death of Mr. Prater.

PRAYER FOR RELIEF
WHEREFORE, Plaintiffs pray that the Court:
A. Award Plaintiffs compensatory damages against Defendants in an amount to be determined at trial, including but not limited to pain and suffering of the deceased;
B. Award Plaintiffs punitive damages for their civil rights claim against individual Defendants an amount to be determined at trial;
C. Award Plaintiffs the reasonable funeral and burial expenses incurred as a result of this wrongful death;
D. Award Plaintiffs damages for their loss of consortium, pain and suffering;
E. Award reasonable attorney fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988 and T.C.A. 4-21-701;
F. Declare Defendants actions unconstitutional and enjoin Defendants from the unconstitutional violations complained of herein;

G. Grant the Plaintiffs a trial by jury; and
H. Grant such other relief as may be just and equitable.

Respectfully Submitted,

__/s/ John M. Wolfe, Jr.________
John M. Wolfe, Jr. (BPR # 010319)
Amelia C. Roberts (BPR # 022555)
707 Georgia Avenue, Suite 401
Chattanooga, TN 37402
(423) 266-8400

___/s/ Peter Neufeld__________
Peter Neufeld (NY license # PN2746)
Nick Brustin (NY license # NB0605)
Debi Cornwall(NY license # DC2186)
Cochran Neufeld & Scheck, LLP
99 Hudson St., 8th Floor
New York, NY 10013
Telephone (212) 965-9081


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