What’s behind Eric Hall’s threat to sue Cookeville?

Editor of The Putnam Pit

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (June 29, 2003) – Police Officer Eric Hall is not acting like someone who’s angry, afraid and traumatized that personal information about him has been released to the public.

Mr. Hall would be a key witness in a lawsuit likely to be filed against the City of Cookeville by the Smoak family of North Carolina, whose pet was executed gangland-style by Mr. Hall.

Mr. Hall interpreted the pet’s wagging tail in such a way that blowing its head off with a shotgun was deemed “reasonable” by the “independent police chief” hired by the city to “investigate” Mr. Hall on the basis of documents presented to her by the Cookeville government.

While inquiring minds wonder whether videotape in Mr. Hall’s squad car during the Jan. 1, 2003 stop of the Smoaks was illegally erased, there’s no question about the Tennessee Highway Patrol tapes, not in Cookeville’s custody, that document the tail-wagging victim seconds before his head was blown off by a threatened-for-his-safety Mr. Hall.

Whether the tape was altered is certainly a question those seeking justice for the Smoaks may ask, but it is also a problem for Cookeville taxpayers who may have to compensate the Smoaks as well as plaintiffs in several other cases stemming from the alleged incompetence, criminal behavior or corruption of government officials.

Mr. Ward writes that his client, Mr. Hall, is in such danger and has been so violated by this release of his social security number the he will sue for “several million dollars” unless the City responds by July 5 and is “willing to negotiate in good faith” and pay him “a more reasonable amount.” 

Mr. Hall’s attorney is apparently acknowledging that a request for “several million dollars” is an unreasonable amount.

Mr. Ward says the city refuses to cooperate with the FBI, which has learned unnamed rich people will pay $100,000 for someone to kill Mr. Hall, which also seems like an unreasonable amount. From the tone of some letters received by the City, many people would probably do it for much less.

“It is doubtful that the released information caused Eric Hall significant damage,” says Cookeville lawyer Samuel J. Harris, “but Hall was a willing participant in the media circus in his attempt to convey to the public the spin as to how the Smoaks caused him so much anguish by his shooting their dog.

 “If Eric Hall has suffered so much from this event, one can only imagine the trauma suffered by the Smoak family.  Yet, ironically, Eric Hall's callous acts toward the Smoaks is typical of the culture of the City of Cookeville governmental apparatus -- an arrogant, uncaring culture that Eric Hall acknowledges exists in his attorney's demand letter.”

Mr. Harris, the Putnam Pit's chief counsel and a constitutional law advocate, said that "when the Fascist treatment of the innocent family from North Carolina occurred on January 1, 2003, I heard many people say, 'What are their damages?'  Eric Hall's attorney makes clear that the stress and anguish one suffers as the result of constitutional violations are arguably worth millions.  Hall however does not have a very good civil rights case.” 

According to his attorney’s assertions, Mr. Hall is in the care of a psychiatrist, on the verge of needing workers comp, disability pay or hospitalization. Yet today, Mr. Hall was scheduled to report for duty at 2 p.m., according to a police dispatcher.  Inquiring minds wonder why he is still armed and roaming the streets, protecting the public from the criminal and insane element, when his own lawyer puts him partially within that category. Inquiring minds also wonder what is really behind the release three weeks after its delivery of the shake-down letter – unless it is to prepare taxpayers for a secret payoff arranged to keep money from the real victims – the out-of-town Smoaks.

But that is beyond this column. Let’s stick to what we know.

Charles Ward, Mr. Hall’s Murfreesboro lawyer, argues in a June 5, 2003 letter to Mayor Charles Womack that Mr. Hall was placed in “special danger” when the City of Cookeville “failed to ‘black out’ all of the social security and driver’s license numbers of Officer Hall and the name and date of birth of one child” when the City sold Mr. Hall’s personnel records to The Putnam Pit.

Mr. Hall is in such danger and has been so violated by this release of information, Mr. Ward writes, that he will sue for “several million dollars” unless the City responds by July 5 and is “willing to negotiate in good faith” and pay him “a more reasonable amount.”

From the letter we learn that people come around Mr. Hall’s home, “knocking on windows, and absolutely frightening his wife and children to the point of hysteria.” In addition, “Officer Hall’s wife is suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, and his entire family has consulted the professional help of a psychiatrist due to the death threats.”

So beyond the City’s alleged release of confidential information about Mr. Hall’s social security number, we now learn from Mr. Hall's agent even more confidential, personal and sensitive information, such as:

  • Mr. Hall is seeing a psychiatrist;

  • Mr. Hall’s wife is hysterical and has post-traumatic stress disorder;

  • Mr. Hall’s daughter cannot play outside;

  • The Halls do not feel safe in their home.

Imagine if one more incident occurs involving Mr. Hall. If it does, can it be argued that the city didn’t know he was about to blow up after Mr. Hall’s own lawyer reveals that he is under the care of a psychiatrist? Some have argued after watching the Tennessee Highway Patrol tape of Mr. Hall shooting a dog Jan. 1, 2003, that he was unbalanced back then. After his Social Security number has been released, who knows what might snap.

Imagine if Mr. Hall is killed by a $100,000 hit man after the city refuses to cooperate with the FBI in a death threat investigation. Imagine the payout there.

In fact, Mr. Hall may be worth more dead than alive to his family.

Worse yet for Mr. Hall: Imagine if he is not killed or attacked by a $100,000 hit man; as long as he’s alive it looks like the only threat comes from his own thoughts, which is why he is visiting a psychiatrist, one must assume. Otherwise, he should call a home alarm company and spend the money there.

Let’s also look at the revelations from Mr. Hall’s attorney who wants to sue for “several million dollars” over Mr. Hall’s social security number.

According to the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which was created within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in 1989 by Congressional mandate,

“[PTSD] is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or violent personal assaults like rape. People who suffer from PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged, and these symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair the person's daily life.”

To obtain the compensation, Mr. Hall has retained an attorney to negotiate with the City following the alleged breach of confidentiality regarding his Social Security number and daughter’s birth date and name. Yet, the Halls may have to divulge even more personal information, such as how frequently they have sex. The reason they will have to address their sexuality is because the city should be certain that Mrs. Hall actually has PTSD before paying damages, and one of the symptoms of PTSD is loss of interest in social or sexual activities. Does she get aroused? Does she initiate foreplay? Has she had an affair? Has Mr. Hall? The jury will want to know.

According to the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder’s information for victims, located online at PTSD and Relationships, “Trauma survivors with PTSD often experience problems in their intimate and family relationships or close friendships.”

“PTSD involves symptoms that interfere with trust, emotional closeness, communication, responsible assertiveness, and effective problem solving.

  • Survivors may experience a loss of interest in social or sexual activities, they may feel distant from others, and they may be emotionally numb.

  • Partners, friends, or family members may feel hurt, alienated, or discouraged because the survivor has not been able to overcome the effects of the trauma, and they may become angry or distant toward the survivor.

  • Feeling irritable, on guard, easily startled, worried, or anxious may lead survivors to be unable to relax, socialize, or be intimate without being tense or demanding. Significant others may feel pressured, tense, and controlled as a result.”

As Mr. Hall’s attorney has described this dark psychological hole that is the Hall home, does the City have any choice but to take him off the streets?

In a short telephone interview with Mayor Womack, The Putnam Pit asked whether Eric Hall – a traumatized man living on the edge; a man seeing a psychiatrist following the trauma of his social security number being released; a man whose wife is suffering from PTSD; a man who is afraid there is a contract out on him and who is getting no protection from the police department – should such a man still be riding around with a shotgun in a city car?

Mayor Womack said he would not discuss anything that might be related to a possible lawsuit, on the advice of City Attorney Thomas M. (T. Michael) “Mike” O’Mara.

Mayor Womack said that he understood that his name is on this administration, but “I’m one vote out of five.”

“I’ll try to do the best I can,” he said.

The mayor did not respond to questions regarding why he and Councilman Sam Sallee received Mr. Ward’s letter rather than the city attorney or City Manager Jimmy Dale Shipley. Nor did he know why the other members of the council were not copied with the letter.

In short, Mr. Womack said only that he was working to make Cookeville a better place than it was a few years ago, and pointed to the city-sponsored citizen satisfaction survey as a snapshot of public opinion, which he said was on the Internet.