Having finished their finals, students of the University of Tennessee on Saturday engaged in the time-honored tradition of throwing huge, drunken parties. One block party that had an estimated 800 attendees spilling into the street would have probably gone down in student lore as particularly awesome, except the cops showed up. Knox County sheriff's deputy Frank Phillips stole the show by getting particularly gung-ho about protecting and serving the community: He choked out a student who was already handcuffed. The act was caught by a photographer and Phillips was promptly fired on Sunday for "gross incompetence, inefficiency and negligence on duty."
Jarod Dotson, a 21-year-old student, was being arrested for public intoxication and resisting arrest when John Messner, a freelance photographer with the Knoxville News Sentinel pulled out his camera. He claims that Dotson did not actually resist arrest at any point.
"There is a … picture of the victim being walked up the block.... He's compliant. When they get to the paddy wagon they swap cuffs. The arresting officer takes his personal cuffs off and they put on 'paddy wagon' cuffs to take him to jail," Messner told the New York Daily News. While two officers handcuffed Dotson, Phillips "choked him till he went unconscious" and then "smacked him once on the back of his head or shoulder area."
His photographs were incentive enough for Sheriff Jimmy Jones to launch an investigation the morning after the incident. By the end of the day, he determined that Phillips, a 22-year veteran, had to be removed from the force:
In my 34 years of law enforcement experience, excessive force has never been tolerated. After an investigation by the Office of Professional Standards, I believe excessive force was used in this incident. Therefore, Officer Phillips' employment with the Knox County Sheriff's Office is terminated immediately. The investigation will now be turned over to the Knox County Attorney General's Office to determine any further action.
He also noted that the department is taking steps to make sure similar incidents don't occur.
This incident provides a perfect example of why we are in the process of purchasing officer worn body cameras (video and audio recordings) so incidents like this will be fully documented.
The two other officers photographed, Brandon Gilliam and Ronald Chaperon, were put on paid leave.
Law enforcement officials, who arrived at the party with dogs and apparently shotguns, said that students were throwing beer bottles at them. There are no reports that Dotson paticipated in the bottle throwing.