By Camm Ashford
A disturbing video released last week by the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office showing the forceful arrest of 18-year-old East Ridge student Tauris Sledge has sparked widespread outrage and protests.
HCSO made the controversial hour-long body camera footage public after a 15-second clip of the encounter between Sledge–who is black– and East Ridge High School Resource Officer Tyler McRae–who is white–went viral. In the video, McRae can be seen grabbing Sledge by the neck, pulling on his hair and his backpack and slamming him down against the bleacher seats.
The incident unfolded last week when SRO McRae was brought to the East Ridge High School gym after an encounter led to a verbal argument between Sledge and a coach.
Earlier in the day, Sledge said that he did not want to join a kickball game because he wasn’t feeling well. However, when free time came around, he was spotted playing basketball by the coach who then confronted him. After being called out, Sledge accused the coach of racism, “puffed out his chest” and allegedly started to “loudly and aggressively” curse and argue with the coach.
When SRO McRae showed up to the gym after being called by the coach, he attempted to defuse the situation and placed his hand on Sledge who then responded, “You have five seconds to get your hands off me.” McRae then attempted to place Sledge in handcuffs for disorderly conduct. The footage shows at one point McRae grabbing Sledge by the neck, and pulling on his hair following a brief struggle. When Sledge refused to let go of his book bag, he was pepper sprayed.
A nearby adult can be seen and heard saying, “Don’t resist!” Sledge responds, “Ya’ll see what he’s doing? I’m not resisting.”
Sledge’s father soon appears and is brought outside to have a one-on-one conversation with SRO McRae, who says he could have tased the student to restrain him, but didn’t want to, opting for pepper spray instead.
Sledge was eventually handcuffed, escorted into the back of a police car and brought to Hamilton County Jail. He was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and assault.
Last week, HCSO approved McRae’s request to be removed from his SRO position and be placed back on patrol duty. McRae was named in a 2019 lawsuit that claims students were frisked, and one of them strip-searched, at a traffic stop.
Sledge’s arrest has drawn condemnation from many groups, including Chattanooga’s chapter of the NAACP and the Chattanooga Clergy for Justice. And in a show of protest of the SRO’s use of force, students at East Ridge High School–led by Jatasia Fuqua and Jada Pettaway–walked out of class and gathered on the football field last Friday morning.
And on Monday evening, around 50 community members, Hamilton County students and their families gathered at the Kingdom Center on East M.L. King Boulevard to voice their concerns about the presence of police officers in schools following the arrest of Sledge.
The meeting was organized by a partnership of community activist groups and facilitated by former County Commissioner Katherlyn Geter.
“The HCSO is officially releasing the School Resource Deputy body worn camera (BWC) footage relative to the incident on September 20, 2022 at East Ridge High School,” Hamilton County Sheriff Austin Garrett said in a statement. “I believe the contents of the video will show the incident in its entirety as it occurred that day surrounding this deputy’s use of force at East Ridge High School.This incident remains an ongoing internal review by HCSO and HCDE personnel.”
Link to view the complete video: https://youtu.be/h40f5sjJsvA