Chattanooga Fire Sued for Civil Rights Violation Following Wrongful Arrest

A Tennessee man who was arrested last January in New Orleans, Louisiana as he was boarding a cruise ship for a vacation, is suing the Chattanooga Fire Department, Fire Chief Kelvin Lamar Flint, Lieutenant Henry McElvain and the City of Chattanooga among others claiming they were responsible for instituting the charges that led to his wrongful arrest.

Samuel Lamar Davis was arrested on January 11, 2015 in New Orleans as he was preparing to board a Carnival Cruise ship along with friends and family. The charges stemmed from an incident in Chattanooga, Tennessee that involved domestic assault and arson of an automobile.

According to the complaint:

  • Although Samuel Lamar Davis was completely innocent of these crimes, he was unlawfully placed under arrest against his will and as a direct and proximate result thereof suffered economic and noneconomic damages.
  • As he learned on and after January 11, 2015, Samuel Lamar Davis had been falsely accused of violating the laws of the State of Tennessee relating to an alleged stabbing incident and an allegation of setting fire to personal property, both of which allegedly occurred on October 26, 2014 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
  • The alleged victim of the stabbing, defendant Wesley Davis, in one version of his story, told officers that he was driving around Erlanger Hospital, located at 975 E. 3rd Street, Chattanooga, Tennessee, when a white male came up to his car and punched him 8-10 times, pulled him out of the vehicle and stabbed him twice. The assailant then took Wesley Davis’ vehicle and fled the scene. Wesley Davis’ vehicle was found engulfed in flames on 1295 Hooker Road in Chattanooga.
  • After additional questioning, and after changing his story several times, Wesley Davis stated that it was his father, Samuel Davis, who stabbed him after the two got into an argument.
  • However, Samuel Lamar Davis is not the father of Wesley Davis.
  • Additionally, [Samuel Lamar Davis] goes by and is known as “Lamar Davis” and not “Samuel Davis”, even though his full name is “Samuel Lamar Davis”.
  • Despite knowledge that [Wesley Davis] changed his story several times, the Chattanooga Police Department and the Chattanooga Fire Department, including defendants Buckman and McElvain, intentionally, negligently and/or carelessly relied on the false and misleading information from defendant Wesley Davis, and set in motion the series of events that resulted in the violations of Samuel Lamar Davis’ civil rights and other damages.
  • Despite the fact that defendants Buckman and McElvain knew, or should have known through the exercise of reasonable care through employing good police and investigative practices that Samuel Lamar Davis had committed no crime, they submitted false and defamatory information in affidavits of complaint and arrest warrants were issued for Samuel Lamar Davis.
  • After being removed from the Carnival cruise ship based on the false and defamatory accusations, Samuel Lamar Davis was detained by the New Orleans Police Department and placed in jail against his will. He was allowed and made a phone call and made arrangements for being bonded out of jail.

Samuel Lamar Davis was eventually cleared of the charges. He filed suit in US District Court in Chattanooga last week naming the city, the fire department, Fire Chief Flint, Lt. McElvain, Police Chief Fred Fletcher, Officer Edward Buckman, and Wesley Davis. The complaint alleges seven separate counts of Civil Rights violations under 42 U.S.C. §1983.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Davis v Chattanooga

Attendees of the Fire Department Administrative Investigations and Discipline program will note the role that the failure to properly consider exculpatory evidence (inconsistent statements by the complainant) can play in any type of investigation.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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