Alex Teach on the beatalex teach on the beat
Stop the presses—Officer Alex defends a bicyclist
Over the years in the Chattanooga area, particularly as a columnist, I have come to be known as a leader in many areas.
I am a voice of reason. A voice of clarity above the din of hypocrisy, bureaucracy, and idiocrasy. These are titles I did not bestow upon myself, but rather ones I’ve been burdened with since they mandate I become a rallying point for all that is just in this community, if not world. And at the top of that list? My unrepentant and most well acknowledged passion is of all that is bicycling in the Chattanooga community.
Disinclined as I am to brag, such have my endeavors been recognized that my name has been sent forth to the likes of sitting U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a former mayor of Chattanooga, and the then-sitting city council for recognition for various bicycling issues (by the Scenic City Velo group, to name one) and it is with this welcomed burden that I proceed forward with this column.
My good friend and fellow columnist David Cooke of the Chattanooga Times Free Press launched a local story onto the national stage this last week regarding the events of a fellow cyclist, Anders Swanson, and his travails atop Raccoon Mountain. The long and short of it? A group of redneck kids harassed the living shit out of Mr. Swanson by nearly running him off the road while he was navigating the Raccoon Mountain reservoir area, close enough for the cyclist to reach out and touch the rear bumper of the Chevrolet pick-up as it passed by in an attempt to at least simulate running him off the road, leading to words at the next intersection between the cyclist in the occupants of the truck.
According to Sheriff Bo Burnett of Marion County and Detective Gene Hargis of the same, so terror-stricken were the teens that they were apparently forced to return in greater numbers in a separate vehicle (now a Toyota Forerunner), and spray this man with liquid pepper spray from a squirt gun as he attempted to load his bicycle back into his personal vehicle in a parking lot area.
Swanson originally called 9-1-1 and this call was routed to the Chattanooga Police Department, from which Officer Amanda Morgan was dispatched. In the course of her investigation she identified and soon thereafter obtained a confession from the young men in question that they did, in fact, spray Mr. Swanson with pepper spray from squirt guns from their vehicles. In the state of Tennessee, this is called aggravated assault, very appropriately a felony charge. None of this was shattering news—not news, that is, until Marion County was identified as the place in which this alleged assault allegedly took place and that county’s the investigating officer felt compelled to disregard the confessions, facts at hand, and any semblance of an investigation and make it a “he said/he said” type of argument, on which they could not pass judgment. (The word “judgment” will come into play in the next paragraph.)
Rather than exhibit any common sense or investigative fortitude, much less take seriously the facts potentially determined by another sworn officer from a neighboring jurisdiction (who could easily be subpoenaed), Marion County decided to ignore the inconsistent statements between the two interviews and not make a decision at all, citing impartiality, which is actually the purview of the judiciary, not law enforcement.
So on the one hand, an outside agency made the Chattanooga Police Department look good, fair, and reasonable, while on the other making cops in general look like complete assholes yet again. Well done, boys.
These kids were harassing a bicyclist, which the bicyclist captured on video. While they later contradicted their initial statement and stated they were acting in fear, they returned to his location in greater numbers and physically assaulted him with a chemical agent, which, since he was an asthmatic, could have cost him his life. An investigating law enforcement agency interviewed the suspects in question and determined them to be criminally at fault, but when jurisdictional issues arose and it was handed over to the appropriate primary jurisdiction, all this went out the window, making that agency look completely inept, and worse yet, victimizing a victim in the eyes of the local citizenry, the state, the country, and potentially the world. All the while feeling comfortable, apparently, saying the parties simply disagree and in effect, these authorities are simply unable to make a decision despite the responsibility handed to them by their constituency.
In a word? Pathetic. But as an avid cyclist and hero to such in general, I admit my bias. The facts are the facts, though, and I hope for the sake of justice as well as for Mr. Swanson that this is resolved fairly, and resolved fairly soon.
Take it from me: Hell hath NO fury like a cyclist scorned.