The fall term of the Regular Grand Jury ended on Tuesday and it reported respect for the judicial process and those involved.
The Grand Jury had recommendations that CIT training be provided for all officers, due to the large number of mental health cases. It also recommended that concessions be made to efficiently hear testimony from busy police officers, perhaps by Zoom or a video chat.
Here is the full report:
On the day of grand jury selection, the Jury Foreman Jimmy Anderson informed those gathered for the selection process that to serve on the Grand Jury would be an honor and an experience like no other. Truer words have rarely been spoken. Our session happened to occur during a time of transition in Hamilton County - a new district attorney general, new judges, and a new sheriff.
Though our term was unusual and shortened due to the holidays, we came away with a newfound respect for the judicial process and all the individuals involved. Serving on the Grand Jury has been an incredible learning experience. We are all more enlightened having been given this opportunity. While we respect those working within the criminal justice system, we know that any program is not without its shortcomings. It is our intent that this report and our service be of benefit to the citizens of Hamilton County.
We realize that our officers are busy, and it may be hard to find time to come in and provide us with their statements. The goal is to use our time, and our officer’s time, efficiently. The amount of down time in the Grand Jury has been noted in multiple previous Grand Jury reports and continued to be an issue for this Grand Jury. We all agree that hearing fewer than 10 presentments in an eight-hour period is not the best use of anyone’s time, thus seeking more favorable options for the officers will increase productivity and not hinder the process of justice.
Some officers who came in the morning were coming off third shifts, with one memorable officer presenting after being on duty for 14 hours. We would like to suggest that selected officers per department be made available to provide the grand jury with presentments on days that the jury is in session.
Another feasible option is to hear the officers’ reports via a video chat service, such as Zoom. This would allow the officer to be able to provide their statement from locations that are more accommodating for them.
The total elapsed time for some cases we were presented with seemed excessive, with some of them dating back to 2019, and though we understand that COVID had a major impact on our judicial system, we also believe that a large contributing factor is the inability to get officers in to present. By providing more convenient options for the officers, or simply organizing liaisons per police department, we can also prevent back log cases within the courts.
The Grand Jury is very impressed with the changes that have been implemented thus far regarding Vertical Prosecution, Mental Health Court, and Drug Court. Separate Drug and Mental Health courts are of great value for those with special needs and who can be rehabilitated in preparation for return as a productive community citizen. It is our understanding that approximately 60 percent of those incarcerated in Silverdale Detention Center currently have known Mental Health issues, but only approximately 30 percent of our officers in Hamilton County have CIT training, and there is only one Crisis Co-Response Team in the Chattanooga Police Department.
We applaud Hamilton County and the Chattanooga Police Department for the efforts made to continue educating on mental illness and providing officers with the additional training, but we also believe CIT should be a requirement for all officers as we move into a new era of understanding and community relationship building. We understand based on the information we have been provided that Licensed Clinical Social Workers in the CCRU position would be employed by the state, not the county, but funding has been allocated to further this department.
After hearing multiple mental health cases ourselves and being able to speak to officers directly who work with mental health calls, we believe there should be a greater focus and better communication from the county on trauma informed care when addressing human issues. We would like to see continued movement with the allocated funding to better support not only our officers, but also the citizens of Hamilton County who are afflicted with mental illness.
In Jury proceedings before the COVID-19 pandemic, the jurors would tour the Hamilton County Jail and the Silverdale Detention Center to gain better understanding of the justice process. However, due to the County jail closing, the construction at Silverdale that is currently underway to expand the facility, and of course the ever-present threat of COVID-19, we were not permitted those additional resources. We hope these opportunities will be made available again to jurors in the future as the insights gained are invaluable to the juror experience.
We had many wonderful county representatives come to the juror room and speak to us, who were all more than willing to answer the many questions we had. Among these visiting officials, was the new Sheriff, Austin Garrett, and the group of advisors supporting him. Sheriff Garret discussed his vision for the police department and the community perception he hopes to obtain through honesty and transparency. We hope that he continues to support our community with a presence of candor and consideration, as he had pledged to do.
We were also honored to speak to Judges Patterson, Dunn and Steelman, as well, who took valuable times out of their day to share their experiences and insights with us. This was of great value and should be a practice that is continued with future jurors.
Being able to visit criminal court rooms during judicial proceedings was interesting. However, the delays, resetting of hearings/motions and resetting of trial dates needs improvements. All citizens have the right to a speedy trial, and any delays at the hands of the court should be evaluated.
District Attorney General Wamp has made strides since her election to lessen the burden on the court of minor marijuana infractions, but it is the opinion of this Grand Jury that the TN Legislature should legalize marijuana for its medicinal purposes and eliminate it as an administrative burden from the police and judicial system all together. Many cases and charges of marijuana possession are still clogging the judicial system as TBI has ceased to test marijuana. We hope to see continued movement with marijuana being decriminalized and the weight of these cases removed from our judicial process.
We would also like to address the Silverdale Detention Center, which is overcrowded and understaffed. Hiring more correctional officers, along with more competitive pay are both recommended.
There are a few minor recommendations the Jury would like to make regarding the provided accommodations, general convenience, and personal comfort of being a juror:
• We would like to suggest a better system be implemented regarding the parking garage and the sticker that is needed twice per day to exit. A parking pass that is issued per juror at the start of our term and then returned at the end of the term would be a more convenient option.
• We suggest there be a white board made available for the jurors to use while discussing the final report and what should be included.
• The temperature in the Jury room was often cold and uncomfortable, with many of us wearing our jackets throughout the day. It was often colder in the Jury room than anywhere else in the court that we visited as well. There is a significant draft coming in around the windows, so seeking more energy efficient window treatments would be favorable.
• We understand that serving jury duty is our civil obligation, but for many jurors the pay is not enough to cover the personal loss of income, cost of gas, or needed meals during jury time. It is the opinion of this Jury that $13/day needs to be increased. Grand Jury pay evaluations should be done periodically (maybe on 5-year intervals) and compared to perhaps the SSA COLA and adjusted accordingly. It is a significant burden for self-employed jurors.
• Many of us were selected for Jury Duty with no knowledge of what would be expected of us, what the process is, or what the legal terms meant for many of the crimes we were presented with. There were several times when proceedings had to be stopped to explain what charges were and how they differed from others. It is our suggestion that a generalized pamphlet or print out be provided with the jury summons that is mailed out explaining what the Grand Jury is, as well as a comprehensive list of charge definitions be made available to newly selected jurors.
During the term, 197 cases were presented to the Regular Grand Jury.
The 2022 Hamilton County Grand Jury wishes to acknowledge and thank the following individuals for their support, guidance, and professional assistance, all of whom made our Jury Duty experience rewarding and successful:
• District Attorney Coty Wamp
• Assistant District Attorney Tom Landis
• Jimmy Anderson
• Don Ledford
• Sgt. April Bolton
• Officer Watson, CPD, CCRU
• Sheriff Austin Garrett and advisors
• The Honorable Judge Patterson
• The Honorable Judge Dunn
• The Honorable Judge Steelman