by Emily Engle
Knox County, Tennessee, police officer Frank Phillips was fired on Sunday, April 27, for use of excessive force in an arrest the night before. The arrest was documented by a photographer, John Messner, from the online British newspaper Daily Mail, which later published Messner’s photos of the occurrence. The 61 sequential photos captured Phillips choking a handcuffed college student until the student sank to his knees, unconscious. Phillips then yanked the student back to his feet, slapping him several times. Both Messner’s statements and other witnesses’ accounts corroborate the story, though Phillips himself denies fault.
The college student was later identified as 21-year-old Jarod Dotson, one of 15 students arrested late Saturday night at a party near the University of Tennessee in Knoxville that had gotten out of hand and moved into the streets. When the police were contacted by neighbors, more than 60 officers responded to clear the streets, but when they arrived on the scene, partygoers began to throw beer bottles. The arrested students were charged with public intoxication and resisting arrest. After being taken to jail Saturday night, Dotson was released Sunday morning on $500 bond.
Despite the statements in the police report, both Messner and multiple witnesses gave statements that Dotson had not resisted while being handcuffed. Messner wrote, “He never resisted, flinched, jerked, or even said anything. He was going with the flow.” The officers, though, claim that Dotson repeatedly ignored instructions to go inside. Because of this, two officers handcuffed Dotson as the third (Phillips) choked him.
Phillips was terminated from his job early on Sunday with “immediate effect,” while the two other officers that assisted in Dotson’s arrest, Ronald Chaperon Jr and Brandon Gilliam, were placed on paid administrative leave. After Phillips’s termination, the case was passed along to the Knox County attorney general’s office to decide if charges should be filed.
Knox County sheriff Jimmy “JJ” Jones said in writing that Phillips was found to have excessive force used and that he would not tolerate it. Jones described Phillips as having “gross incompetence, inefficiency, and negligence on duty.” Also in his written statement, the sheriff added that incidents such as this one exemplify why cameras are being invested for officers; if officers wore cameras, cases of abuse of power would be more easily documented.