As far as killing animals goes,

Eric Hall is a slacker by Cookeville standards

All photos © 2003 Allen Fredrickson

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 Eric Hall supportersthe 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

Jimmy Dale Shipley
Cookeville City Manager  Shipley

 and shot fellow Officer Brad Sperry during a fist fight after a drinking contest with other Cookeville cops.

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.

Charles Womack
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 video.

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.