A case unfolding in Chattanooga, Tennessee involving a Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office Deputy who has been indicted on 44 charges, including a whopping 25 felonies, is stirring tensions among the city’s black leaders, many of whom are demanding that Sheriff Jim Hammond step down.
Deputy Daniel Wilkey, 26, has been on paid administrative leave since July and is at the center of an extensive criminal investigation that also involves four lawsuits, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. The lawsuits stem from traffic stops in which it’s alleged that he engaged in misconduct that included illegal drug searches, groping of female minors, and a roadside body cavity search. Incredibly, one lawsuit also alleged that he engaged in a forced baptism.
Wilkey, arrested on December 10, is charged with six counts of sexual battery (a felony), two counts of rape (also a felony), nine counts of official oppression, extortion, stalking, assault, and a number of other charges. He was booked at the Hamilton County Jail and later released on a $25,000 bond.
Dash camera footage released in July by Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston allegedly shows Wilkey and fellow deputy Bobby Brewer kicking and punching and then stripping the pants off a handcuffed black man. Then they allegedly performed a body cavity search.
The shocking incident has outraged some of Chattanooga’s most prominent black leaders and the NAACP has called the body cavity search aggravated rape. The organization is calling for increased criminal accountability from law enforcement and calling for citizens to unite against police brutality involving people of color.
Robin Flores, the victim’s attorney, has also filed a $17 million lawsuit against Wilkey, Brewer, and the county, as well as three other lawsuits against Wilkey. Two of the lawsuits allege minor females were groped during a routine traffic stop, while the other involves the alleged baptism.
Hammond is steadfastly refusing to step down, despite increased calls from prominent black leaders, including 50 black pastors, who are demanding that he resign. Hammond also said he refuses to fire his deputies, citing due process. The sheriff also said he will “stand by his men in terms of their ability and their training.”
“Throughout this process, my staff and I will continue to cooperate with the District Attorney’s Office and provide any evidence or records necessary to aid in their investigation,” Hammond said in a statement earlier this week.
Due process gives public employees facing termination some rights that private-sector employees don’t have. Local governments aren’t prohibited from firing these employees, but the employees, in turn, have the right to sue for monetary purposes.
Wilkey began working at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office in February 2018 after leaving the Rhea County Sheriff’s Office in 2017 where he settled a federal lawsuit. The lawsuit alleged Wilkey, employed as a deputy at the time, fatally shot Steven Lee “Buddy” Howell. There have also been at least eight internal affairs investigations launched against Wilkey during his employment at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office. Out of that number, two cases were absolved but the court disposition in regards to the other cases has not been listed.
Three other instances allege that Brewer and two other deputies, Jacob Goforth, and Tyler McRae did nothing as they watched Wilkey repeatedly violated people’s civil rights. Brewer was placed on desk duty in October, but Goforth returned to active duty on October 17. McRae was not placed under investigation and is still patrolling.