"Corrupt culture:" Local clergy members call for Hamilton Co. Sheriff Hammond to step down
About 50 members of Chattanooga's clergy community held a news conference Monday morning to call for Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond to step down.
The clergy members cited the recent alleged excessive force case involving James Mitchell, who was arrested two weeks ago. His strip search by the side of the road caught on dashcam resulted in the two arresting deputies being placed on paid administrative leave. Sheriff Hammond says his department will conduct an internal affairs investigation, and Hamilton Co. District Attorney Neal Pinkston says he's calling on the TBI & FBI to investigate as well. While the investigation will look into whether the deputies conducted a "body cavity search," as Mitchell's attorney Robin Flores alleges, Sheriff Hammond later said he personally didn't think a body cavity search was conducted.
The pastors used three words to describe actions from the Sheriff’s Office: Illegal, unethical and immoral. They say Sheriff Hammond is responsible.
"The department under this sheriff continues to deny the basic humanity of the black citizens that it should be protecting. If he doesn’t represent us, he cannot protect us," said Pastor Timothy Careathers.
The clergy members say Sheriff Hammond has fostered a "corrupt culture" that targets the local black community, and cited other recent high-profile cases in the county involving excessive force investigations.
They also point to other allegations involving white deputies and black suspects, including the viral video involving Charles Toney.
Careathers also questions potential neglect of another black man, Devonte Allison. He died while in custody with HCSO in December. For the first time today, we learn from the Medical Examiner that Allison died of complications with sickle cell disease. His death is ruled natural.
Watch the news conference below:
Shortly after that news conference, we interviewed Sheriff Hammond, who told us he plans to serve out the remainder of his term.
“I’m not here to try this case. As sheriff of this county, I have a responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of every citizen regardless of their color, race or creed. I swore to do that when I came into office. I still swear to do that and following that procedure with the present case," Sheriff Hammond told us.
This is a developing story and will be updated.