By GEOFF DAVIDIAN Putnam Pit editor COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (Jan. 17, 2003) – Dozens of Cookeville residents
– many affiliated with the city and its police department – turned out for
Thursday’s City Council meeting to show support for Police Officer Eric
Hall, who on New Year’s Day turned his shotgun on
pet dog of a North Carolina family falsely arrested, handcuffed and
detained alongside I-40 as they passed through town.
It was a show of support and praise for the professionalism of Chief Bob
Terry’s department far different from the chilling silence that
characterized the same department and officers less than a year ago when
drunken former Cookeville Officer Zac Birdwell pulled a gun
Cookeville City Manager Shipley
and shot fellow Officer
Brad Sperry during a fist fight after a drinking contest with other
But bygones were
bygones Thursday as carloads of cops braved snow-packed and slippery
roads to attend, one group having even painted “My family supports
Eric Hall” on the windows of their vehicle.
Mayor Charles Womack accepted City
Manager Jimmy Dale Shipley’s explanation that the shooting of the family
pet was “understandable” and Shipley’s concurrence with Chief Terry that
Hall should not be disciplined.
Mayor Charles Womack
Shipley did not mention the
possibility that the dog’s owners, the Smoak family of Saluda, N.C.,
might bring a federal civil rights complaint against the State of
Tennessee, Hall and the city for a series of errors that led to the
so-called felony stop that was captured by Tennessee Highway Patrol
That video has been shown on
television around the world and triggered such an outpouring of disgust
and horror that E-mail to the city overwhelmed the government computers,
with even some Tennesseans hoping the family wins huge damages, according
to the E-mail.
Shipley has repeatedly shown understanding for police officers whose
actions raise questions from the public. For example, former Police
Captain Wayne Bandy was only “horse playing” when he held a gun to Police
Officee Reno Martin’s head on several occasions, Shipley explained before
firing the chief who disciplined Bandy. Former Police Chief Richard Holt
was fired because he was bad for morale, too progressive for the
department and because he took evidence of department corruption to the
FBI, according to a federal civil rights suit Holt filed but lost.
After firing Holt, the city nevertheless paid Reno Martin tens of
thousands of dollars to settle his federal civil rights suit arising out
of the Bandy incident.
Yet, despite the thousands of messages since Jan. 1, 2003 demanding Hall be fired or
subjected to psychological testing, it would be difficult for Terry and
Shipley to discipline Hall for shooting Patton, the Smoaks’ pet, and just
two other dogs during his seven years on the force when last year alone
the city’s animal control officer racked up 10,368 miles hunting down and
killing 465 animals without being disciplined. In fact,
since 1999, the
city has killed 1,511 animals. By contrast, Hall is a slacker, averaging
just .4 dead animals per year compared to an annual average of 503.6 dead
critters by the animal control officer.