Chattanooga, TN — A man’s call to 911 for help turned into a nightmare last month after police showed up and nearly killed him. On October 21, a 27-year-old maintenance worker, Christopher Penn was handcuffed, choked, tasered on his testicles, and beaten until he fell unconscious.
That night, Penn was in need of mental health help. Clearly delusional, he had called 911 telling police that he had taken some pills and said a friend let some people into his home who wanted to kill him. Six officers showed up.
As police enter the man’s bedroom, he is on the phone, not resisting and allows officers to place him in handcuffs—despite not having committed a crime. As officers put the handcuffs on him, he is peaceful but now scared that police are trying to set him up.
“Why y’all trying to set me up?” he asked.
“Hey, Dad! I’m handcuffed now, and they’re going to put a gun on me,” he said talking to the phone on his bed. “You heard me?”
“Dad!” he repeated.
“Nobody’s on the phone,” one of the officers said.
Obviously scared and still fairly delusional, Penn repeatedly asked the officers if he could sit down, a request officers repeatedly denied.
According to the police report, Penn was violent, tried grabbing a child as police escorted him out of the home, and beat up officers. However, the police report is not backed up by video of the incident.
As the Times Free Press reports:
The body camera footage doesn’t entirely match up with the report.
As he entered the living room, Penn, who is black, repeatedly asked why the police wanted to kill him, the footage shows. He panicked, tried to run and fell onto a couch beside a child, bringing an officer down with him.
Later, inside the patrol car, Penn tried to run out but never kicked the door open. Officers grabbed him from the door area and wrestled him to the ground. Face pressed to the asphalt, Penn promised to cooperate, and they lifted him up. But he bucked and thrashed, pulling officers across the street to another car.
The bodycam footage doesn’t show police trying to put him in the car feet-first.
When Penn kicked at one of them, an officer pressed a Taser to his groin and held down the trigger for about five seconds. Though use of a Taser is marked on the report, there’s no mention of it in the narrative section of the use-of-force report.
At the end of the interaction, after police had repeatedly choked and tasered the handcuffed man, his body finally gave out and Penn fell unconscious.
“Is he breathing?” one of the officers asked.
The body camera then shows an officer walk up to Penn and slap him on his face and get no response. He then confirms Penn is breathing and police do not bring Penn to jail. Instead, they dump him at the hospital and that was that.
As the Times notes, no officers were waiting when Penn was released from the hospital and went home. Penn only found out later East Ridge police had taken out warrants against him for assaulting two of them and misusing the 911 system, and he has yet to be served.
“One of the nurses told me I ought to be glad to be here, that they thought I was going to die,” Penn said to the Times. “The police choked me. They tased me.”
Chattanooga attorney Robin Flores, who is also a former police officer agrees. In an interview with the Times, Flores days he does not believe the force used was justified.
“That’s excessive force,” he said. “Period.”
Indeed. Penn is lucky to be alive as many folks in need of mental health help are not so fortunate and are routinely killed by police responding to their calls for help.