Concurrent Grand Jury Hears Testimony Of What Police Officers Face

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Members of the Concurrent Hamilton County Grand Jury said in a final report they have seen first hand many of the turmoils that police officers undergo.

The report says, "We heard testimony  of them being spat on, cursed at, threatened, and even testimony of criminals rigging their vehicles so that officers could get stuck with dirty needles upon searching said vehicle. These are the men and women that we expect to be there for us, whether it is a vehicle crash, an assault, a robbery, taking down the drug dealers or being there front and center to deal with our gang problem; and how do we keep their morale up, keep them wearing their badges with the pride they had the very first day they put it on? We leave them to wonder whether their retirement and pension plans will be worth having. To that, we say shame on us!"

The report from the panel headed by DeAnna Anderson states that the County Jail is "an out-dated, over-crowded, and understaffed facility."

It says it may take a lawsuit after some calamitous incident to really draw attention to the situation at the jail.

Here is the full report:

The Honorable Rebecca Stern

Judge, Criminal Court, Division II

Hamilton County, Tennessee

Judge Stern:

The Concurrent Grand Jury for the January-April 2014 term presents the following report:

For the members of this Grand Jury this has been a “real experience”. They feel it has been interesting, eye opening, informative, positive and educational, just to use a few of their own words. They feel it an honor to give back to their community in this way.

The education they were given into Law Enforcement and the Criminal Justice System, they count as invaluable. Though the average citizen thinks they know so much pertaining to these things, after having served their four month term, they realize this simply isn't so.

They wish to give praise to to the Law Enforcement Officers that testified before them. They found them to be courteous and knowledgeable. They appreciate the effort  they put forth in keeping our streets safe and understand their frustration in dealing with repeat offenders. They leave their term with a renewed respect for them.

Hearing from our three Criminal Court Judges, as well as a Sessions Court Judge left them with many positive things to say. As usual they showed a high level of professionalism and integrity while leaving these Jurors the impression that they are members of their community with families and everyday issues just like them.

As part of their service, they received an “education” from a Sessions Court Judge who took the time to explain why some cases are bound over to us. To help them better understand the cases involving drugs and alcohol, they were shown by a DUI officer how a field sobriety test is administered , given a overview of many types of drugs by two of our County Officers and sat in on Judge Stern's Drug Court.

This Grand Jury is made up of employees of TVA, BCBS, Unum, McKee Bakery, Southern Mgmt. and Standifer Place. We also have a physical therapist, a mail carrier, an artist and our group is rounded out by our retirees and homemakers.

During this term the Grand Jury heard 550 cases. They came from all walks of life, worked together as a group to be a “filter” for our Criminal Court Judges and made the necessary decisions in these cases.

It was in their charge to tour the facilities of Silverdale CCA, Juvenile Detention and Court and the County Jail. We have been asked to give our thoughts on Juvenile Detention and Court and the County Jail.

HAMILTON COUNTY JAIL

For those in the position to make things “happen”, we know of no other way to say that the jail is an out-dated, over-crowded, and understaffed facility. The leaders within the facility are hard working and dedicated individuals who have a true heart for this part of our society. The YEARS that many of them have served in their positions is a testament to that.

As with prior Grand Juries we are left to wonder what will have to happen to bring changes to this situation. Perhaps, one wrong decision made by an over-worked, burned out corrections officer or a major fire in this linear style building may bring forth a legitimate lawsuit leaving no other choice.

Having said these things, we would be remiss if we did not report to you the positive things we encountered.

Captain Swope was an excellent tour guide. He was knowledgeable, forth-coming and entertaining. He made sure that we were safe at all times. We found the jail to be clean and well run and as usual they were doing the best they could with what they have.

Lt. Coppinger taught us about safety and contraband in the jail. It only takes a few minutes with him to see his dedication to the job.

Kitchen director, Jim Hughes left us with the impression that he runs a “tight ship”. He gives inmates the opportunity to work in the kitchen providing them with skills and work habits that could help them get back into mainstream society. He provides them with low-cost nutritious meals.

Chaplain John Waters told us of the many spiritual programs that are available to the inmates. He showed that he has a true concern for their spiritual needs and were we pleasantly surprised when he asked if he could pray with us.

JUVENILE DETENTION

The facility was found to be clean and managed by competent and caring individuals. Everyone from the Court Administrator to the Teacher seemed to have the juvenile's best interest at heart. Even though they are in need of more beds and other resources, they do with what they have and always display a positive attitude for us. 

As Court Administrator Sam Mairs shared with us Judge Phillyaw's vision for a Youth Drug Court and Youth Peer Court, we could clearly see the passion he has for seeing that these things come to fruition despite budget restraints. As Grand Jurors, we see that many juvenile offenders continue criminal activity into their adult lives. If these new courts can keep even a small number of juveniles from continuing into the adult system,  we see this as a positive thing and wish funds could be made available to support them.

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS

This Grand Jury was very impressed to hear about and actually observe Judge Stern's Drug Court. We could clearly see her passion for this program when she spoke to us about it. We feel the government funds that this program receives is  money well spent. We appreciate her Drug Court Director Elaine Kelly and all the case managers for what they do. This Grand Jury, as those in the past, are left to wonder why there is never any media coverage of this proactive program.

Knowing that  a Drug Court is vital to our community, after serving on the grand Jury for four months it is clear to these Jurors that we need a Mental Health Court as well. Just as offenders who have substance abuse issues need to be in treatment and supervised by case managers, we feel that offenders with mental health issues could be kept out of the system if they received the same.

A FINAL THOUGHT

As Grand Jurors we sat through hours of testimony concerning criminal activity in our community. One thing that we learned is that we have many fine Law Enforcement Officers who took an oath to serve and protect. We heard testimony  of them being spat on, cursed at, threatened, and even testimony of criminals rigging their vehicles so that officers could get stuck with dirty needles upon searching said vehicle. These are the men and women that we expect to be there for us, whether it is a vehicle crash, an assault, a robbery, taking down the drug dealers or being there front and center to deal with our gang problem; and how do we keep their morale up, keep them wearing their badges with the pride they had the very first day they put it on? We leave them to wonder whether their retirement and pension plans will be worth having. To that, we say shame on us!

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

We wish to thank the following people:

·        Judges Poole, Stern and Steelman for sharing their wisdom and  passion for the Criminal Justice System.

·        Sessions Court Judge Christie Sell, for educating us on how some of our cases come to us from Sessions Court.

·         Assistant D.A. Bill West for his legal assistance. It was of the utmost importance that we had your knowledge of the law to make necessary decisions in our cases. As always your patience and kindness were appreciated.

·        Court Liaison Officer SGT. Kevin Akin and SGT. Jeff Rearden of the Chattanooga Police Department and Deputy Mark Stockman for getting our witnesses in and organized. You are appreciated.

·        Sheriff’s Deputy Kelly Burnette for escorting us on our facility tours.

·        Paula Thompson and staff of the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office; Aaliyah Hakeem of the Criminal Court Clerk’s Office and Jury Clerk Stormi Rogers. We appreciate everything you do for us.

·        The administration and staff who conducted our tours through Silverdale, County Jail and Juvenile Detention Center.

·        Narcotics Investigator Sgt. Mark Yeargan for educating us on the many drugs that we hear about in our cases. We were given a great deal of information. We appreciate all the investigators for the work they do to fight what sometimes must seem like a losing battle.

·        Lt. Coppinger for his interesting class on safety in the jail.

·        Jim Hughes and his staff for the lunch served to us in the County Jail. As always it was tasty and much appreciated.

·        Paula Thompson for providing in her budget, our lunch at Cracker Barrel while touring the facilities. This is much appreciated and not taken for granted.

·        Gay Arthur for serving as our official note taker.

·        Our sub Jill Ethridge

 

 



 


 

 

 

 




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