Military and Police

Chattanooga City Councilwoman Gets Schooled by Police Chief, Officers Receive Positive Remarks for Unbiased Professional Conduct

 

Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod is a convicted felon with a rap sheet including  child abuse and neglect charges, assault and disorderly conduct and theft, and the conspiracy to commit armed robbery conviction in federal court.

The advent of police officers outfitting themselves with body-worn cameras (BWC) helped put another X in the win column. On June 25, 2017, two Chattanooga police officers stopped a car regarding an “expired vehicle registration.” That car was occupied by a male driver and a female front passenger. Besides the “expired registration,” the traffic stop investigation determined the driver did not have a driver’s license and that proof of auto insurance was not available.

That stop also culminated in the front seat passenger, Chattanooga city councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod, demanding to speak with the Chattanooga police chief: “I’m asking you as a council representative to get in touch with Chief Fletcher.”

The female police officer respectfully declined, saying, “I can’t do that,” to which Councilwoman Coonrod retorted, “Are you sure about that?” Holding on to her integrity and maintaining control of her traffic stop, the policewoman says, “I’m sure.”

The councilwoman did not get her way, so she stalled the entire stop (blocking the roadway needlessly). She then adds, “I’ll reach out to him myself. Thank you.”

Appropriately, the female cop followed through with chain-of-command principles by contacting her immediate street supervisor as to being in contact with a city elected official.

The 11-minute video footage shows the prelude to the traffic stop as well as all content, including the councilwoman delaying vacating the roadway once the police concluded the traffic investigation. Perhaps the largest highlight was when the female officer asked for the passenger’s ID. The response was a title and a name: “Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod.” That was the tell that someone in that car felt it necessary to boast her credentials—more than once. In an unbiased situation, a person’s title has no bearing whatsoever.

Credibly, the female officer primarily handling the stop follows through without a trace of being intimidated or a hint of backing down, despite the self-importance sitting in the front seat.

Once tickets were issued to the male driver, the councilwoman was directed to take the driver’s wheel (since the driver had no license), at which time she requests to “speak to the chief” several times. Rightly, the female officer declines requests to involve the police chief. (The body camera time happens to project the time of “01:31:30.”) Councilwoman Coonrod asks the officer for her name and appears to be recording it in her cell phone. More delay, more asking for the police chief ensued.

At the outset of the traffic stop, the female cop appropriately reminds Councilwoman Coonrod that she is blocking the roadway (another ticket-able offense). More stubbornness, more delay from the city official. Eventually, she mutters something to which the female cop replies “Ok” just to get the councilwoman mobile again.

According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Chattanooga Police Department’s assistant chief of neighborhood policing, Eric Tucker, said, “The Chattanooga Police Department has a chain of command and the officer who made this stop followed proper procedure by notifying her supervisor of the request to speak with Chief Fletcher.”

For her part, Councilwoman Coonrod said, “I felt that the officer did not give me a proper opportunity to show my insurance and it was appropriate to notify the department administration in case proper procedure was not being followed. Even though I hold elected office, I expect to be treated like all other Chattanoogans.” Exactly. All Chattanoogans have neither direct contact to the police chief nor the exercise of any special interests.

Councilwoman Coonrod’s philosophy of “In case proper procedure was not being followed” defaults to ensuring everyone on each and every stop is checked and double-checked by “department administration.” In my career, it implied an elected official or some dignitary was reaching for a life-line (department head) where one should not be. Special access has no place. Equality is equality. Her logic equates to having only round-the-clock chiefs and no Indians whatsoever.

Body-Worn and In-Car Cameras

Rhetoric aside, this serves as another example of police work, what goes on during interactions between police/citizens, and how some violators think they can control the entire event. In this particular incident, a passenger seemingly indicated that her elected official capacity carried some weight and threw it around like it was kryptonite, hoping to repel police.

More and more we see examples of police-recorded footage being released by police executives and sheriffs across the nation, the purpose of which is to refute falsified statements against street cops. Even in-car video footage captures the zaniness of drunken celebrities who lost their bananas and took it out on duty-bound police officials. Take it a step further, where in-car recorders also nab violators in custody in the rear seat of a police cruiser committing additional crimes. Cops having a front-row seat to the greatest show on earth means something may be happening in the seats behind, so video cameras got their back.

Although some law enforcement officers may feel tethered by BWC technology, evolving examples exonerating would-be misconduct underscores the importance of recording interactions so as to have integrity and proof-positive evidence.

Of course, it goes both ways; any cop going off the rails regarding conduct ought to be met with equal measure of scrutiny and decidedly disciplined. The middle ground is for all parties involved in any encounter to behave accordingly or, as one of my former police chiefs always reminded the troops, “Do the right thing, even when no one is watching.”

Schooled by Police Chief

Thanks to the officer’s BWC footage in Chattanooga, police chief Fred Fletcher replied in support of his officer’s handling of this particular traffic stop: “I am very proud of the way a young officer responded to a difficult and intimidating situation. I am certain newly elected CW Coonrod appreciates now that it is inappropriate to attempt to skip six levels of supervision/command and how this made an officer’s difficult job even more difficult.”

Intriguing History

Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod “has worked along with the community for improvements to Wilcox Tunnel, pushed leadership to support Ban the Box, and a voice for restoration of rights for convicted felons.” Why that very last part having to do with convicted felons? She is a convicted felon herself, per a Chattanooga Times Free Press article, which reported the following:

Her rap sheet includes child abuse and neglect charges, assault and disorderly conduct and theft, and the conspiracy to commit armed robbery conviction in federal court. But activists and local political leaders pointed to an attitude shift among local voters against the status quo that led to her win in the election.

I’m all for anyone overcoming obstacles, hardships, and dire circumstances. However, seemingly flexing the muscle of elected office approaches abuse—the very same ingredient she fought against throughout much of her life.

Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is a Senior OpsLens Contributor and retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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