No Criminal Prosecution In Death Of Leslie Vaughn Prater

Tuesday, June 29, 2004
Parents of Leslie Vaughn Prater with attorney John Wolfe. Click to enlarge.
Parents of Leslie Vaughn Prater with attorney John Wolfe. Click to enlarge.
- photo by John Wilson

There will be no criminal prosecution in the death of a black man in the custody of four white Chattanooga Police officers, Police Chief Steve Parks said Tuesday morning.

He said an investigation by city police and the TBI determined it to be an accidental death, and he said District Attorney Bill Cox agreed with that assessment.

Chief Parks said there will be a followup internal affairs investigation.

The death of Leslie Vaughn Prater had been ruled a homicide in an autopsy report from the Hamilton County Medical Examiner.

Dr. Frank King said Mr. Prater died from positional asphyxiation. He said he had numerous bruises and abrasions, broken ribs, a dislocated left arm, a fractured left shoulder and bruisers to the scrotial wall.

Dr. Loretta Prater, mother of the victim, called the accidental death ruling "unbelievable." She said her son was "brutally murdered" by the four police officers.

Dr. Prater, dean at a college in Missouri, said she was "totally shocked" when told the finding by Chief Parks at 10 a.m. prior to an 11:30 p.m. press conference.

She said, "We are not giving up until we get justice."

Dr. Prater said, "All you have to do is put on a blue uniform and you can go out and kill somebody. All you get is a week's vacation and maybe a promotion."

She said she was meeting with Mayor Bob Corker later Tuesday. Her husband, Dwight Prater, said City Council members had declined to get involved.

John Wolfe, attorney for the Prater family, said the autopsy did not indicate that the victim struggled.

He said, "Dr. King has not backed down from his ruling that this is a homicide."

Police said the 37-uear-old Prater was naked and yelling in the 800 block of Central Avenue in the bizarre incident.

The autopsy report said use of cocaine and alcohol, a heart problem and mild obesity all played a part in the death.

Officers involved are Daniel Anderson, Jonathan Mance, Gregory Chambers and Keith Hudgins.

Chief Parks said, "For our fine men and women who devote themselves to protecting life, it is an especially tragic day when someone dies during an encounter.

"On the second day of January this year, in an unfortunate and tragic incident, Leslie Prater died while being taken into custody.

"Our thoughts go out to the Prater family as they have mourned his loss and sought answers to the cause of his death.

"The case was investigated by the Chattanooga Police Department's Major Crimes Division and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Both investigations were reviewed by Hamilton County District Attorney Bill Cox. Leslie Prater's death is being classified as accidental. District Attorney Cox agrees that the case findings do not support a criminal prosecution.

"There was no criminal intent by the officers. Our findings are that Chattanooga Police Department officers did not knowingly jeopardize Mr. Prater's health. The officers' attempts to hold Mr. Prater down and Mr. Prater's physical condition each contributed to the outcome.

"A secondary investigation by the Internal Affairs Division which will focus on department policy issues has yet to be reviewed by the Citizens Review Committee."


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