y Camm Ashford
Chattanooga Clergy for Justice has notified officials after a video showing an alercation with East Ridge student Tauris Sledge and School Resource Officer (SRO) Tyler McRae was uncovered Tuesday.
The letter from the group of faith leaders, dated Sept. 21, 2022, was sent electronically to Hamilton County Sheriff Austin Garrett, Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp, the
Hamilton County Board of Commissioners, Hamilton County District Attorney Coty Wamp and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee.
It says in part, “We have heard from multiple victims about abuse at the hands of HCS (Hamilton County Sheriff’s) Officers, and now we see that Officer Tyler McRae, who has a history of accusations and lawsuits against him for participating or standing silently by as women, children, and other populations were sexually assaulted by your department’s officers, is involved in an incident of excessive force against a child. He was removed from the streets and put over the care of our children. Why was this officer ever placed as an SRO at a school?”
In Tuesday’s video–which has since gone viral on social media–SRO
McRae is seen grabbing Sledge by the hair, and forcing him to the stairs of the school bleachers. The 18-year-old
student was eventually taken into custody on charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest or obstruction of legal process, and assault.
According to the arrest affidavit, SRO McRae and other school officials were called to the East Ridge High School gymnasium by the gym coach to assist with an “issue” he was having with Sledge Tuesday morning.
The report said Sledge had told the gym coach he wasn’t feeling well and refused to participate in kickball for class, but later played basketball during free time. When the coach confronted Sledge about being apparently well enough to play basketball, he reportedly became aggressive and loud, cursing and calling the coach racist and other names.
During an ensuing altercation, Sledge reportedly “stepped up” to SRO McRae and allegedly ignored several of McRae’s commands, including to remove his backpack so he could be handcuffed, prompting the SRO to pepper spray Sledge in the face to “gain pain compliance.”
In the video, Sledge is heard saying “I’m not resisting” several times during the altercation.
Sheriff Garrett said in a statement, “I understand this is a sensitive issue to many in our community. Once we ensure we are in compliance with state law and have adequately removed the identity of uninvolved minors, which includes ensuring their faces are not identifiable, I intend to make this body worn camera video available to the public. The contents of the video will show the complete picture of the events that occurred that day surrounding this deputy’s use of force at East Ridge High School.”
Letter from Chattanooga Clergy for Justice:
Dear Sheriff Garrett:
Since 2018, members of the clergy have made multiple attempts to host a meeting between community members and the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office regarding excessive use of force and hiring policies as well as conditions within Silverdale Detention Center. A representative from the Department of Justice has reached out to you and your department multiple times to mediate, with full transparency, a conversation between Chattanooga Clergy for Justice and the HCSO regarding these policies, including most recently, this summer, when both you and DA Coty Wamp responded to the DOJ request with a refusal to meet until after the election. The time has arrived.
Since our initial request to address these issues with the department, there have been multiple deaths of incarcerated individuals at Silverdale (including one this week), we have heard from multiple victims about abuse at the hands of HCS Officers, and now we see that Officer Tyler McRae, who has a history of accusations and lawsuits against him for participating or standing silently by as women, children, and other populations were sexually assaulted by your department’s officers, is involved in an incident of excessive force against a child. He was removed from the streets and put over the care of our children. Why was this officer ever placed as an SRO at a school? No child, regardless of age, should feel unsafe in school.
We call for:
● Officer Tyler McRae’s immediate removal from East Ridge High School or that of any school based on this and past incidents with women and children.
● A response by October 3, 2022, to the DOJ representative with an agreed upon date and time for a conversation mediated by the representative between you and Chattanooga Clergy for Justice regarding changes in use of force and hiring policies of HCSO, as well as, addressing feeding and medication schedules at Silverdale Detention Center.
Once again, these are not “isolated incidents” within HCSO. Excessive use of force against Hamilton County’s citizens is often perpetuated by the same officers. How many more of these videos of brutality by deputies of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department do we need to see to recognize that this is systemic, that this is a pattern and practice of its officers?
Reforms to curtail police brutality and harassment must be a collective endeavor between law enforcement, elected leaders, and the community. Change requires good faith partners, and we believe there are many good faith partners who recognize systemic racism plagues our society and that the current police methodology is inept. In order for trust to be built, and the community to trust your leadership of the HCSO, it is urgent that we meet before another woman, child, or citizen is victimized by your officers. We look forward to hearing from you by October 3.
Chattanooga Clergy for Justice
cc: (via electronic mail)
Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp
Hamilton County Board of Commissioners
Hamilton County District Attorney Coty Wamp
Governor of Tennessee Bill Lee