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Bodycam video shows violent arrest that leads to FBI investigation

dog bite investigation
Posted at 4:32 PM, Jul 14, 2020

SPARTA, Tenn. (WTVF) — The FBI is investigating circumstances surrounding the arrest of a woman in White County.

The woman was repeatedly bitten by a police dog as she was taken into custody on April 3.

Tonya Qualls, 40, suffered wounds to her arms and legs.

Qualls has a history of non-violent drug offenses and was wanted on probation violation.

After District Attorney Bryant Dunaway viewed body camera video of the arrest, he asked the FBI to investigate, and his office withdrew the resisting arrest guilty plea Ms. Qualls made days after her arrest.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates obtained the body camera video which shows the moment deputies entered the apartment where Tonya Qualls ran to hide.

White County Sheriff's Deputy Brandon Young announced that his dog would bite Qualls if she didn't come out.

"Sheriff's Office. Come out or you will be bit," Young said.

When Young released the dog, it began searching each room in the apartment.

They eventually found Qualls hunched down in a bathroom closet - unarmed.

Young seemed to command his dog to attack Qualls several times.

She yelled, "Okay I'm coming out."

The next few violent moments became the focus of an Internal Affairs Report by the White County Sheriff's Department which was obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

The Internal Affairs Report stated Brandon Young told his dog to "engage Qualls 12 times."

NewsChannel 5 Investigates showed the body camera video to attorney Richard Brooks, who has sued White County in the past, but is not involved in this case.

"That's what he kept saying. Get her buddy. Get her buddy. Get her buddy," Brooks said

Qualls screamed the deputy's first name as he ordered the dog to keep attacking.

"I surrender. I surrender. What else could she have done?" Brooks asked as he watched the video.

The dog continued biting Qualls' leg - even as the handcuffs were being put on.

Young kept demanding to see Qualls' hands.

In his report, Young claimed Qualls "began to resist the dog by trying to shove him away."

He wrote it was "unknown if Qualls had any weapons" - she didn't.

He charged her with resisting arrest, and days later Qualls pleaded guilty.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Is she resisting in your opinion?"

Richard Brooks responded, "No. She's not resisting. What's she done to resist? How is she going to resist that dog?"

District Attorney Bryant Dunaway agreed.

In court documents dated May 27 he wrote, "After review of the body camera video the State of Tennessee does not believe that all elements of the offense of Resisting Arrest were committed by Defendant Tonya Qualls."

He further stated it would be an "injustice for that conviction to stand."

Other charges against Qualls remained, but the Resisting Arrest conviction was withdrawn.

Dunaway said he then asked the FBI to investigate.

"I think that was definitely an excessive use of force," Richard Brooks said.

That's what White County's own Internal Affairs investigation found.

It stated, "possible criminal charges could arise against the deputies."

But according to the Internal Affairs report, White County Sheriff Steve Page did not want the case to go outside his department.

Investigators quote the sheriff as saying "He (Brandon) is getting suspended for four days, being sent for more training and is getting a write up in his file and that's the end of it! It is not going any further! Does everyone understand?"

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Why do you think the Sheriff didn't want this go any further?"

Richard Brooks responded, "Because they protect themselves."

But White County investigators pushed back against the Sheriff and "suggested if we do not involve another agency in the in the investigation it may give the appearance the Sheriff's Department is not willing or able to police itself."

The man who oversaw that Internal Affairs report was fired shortly after it came out.

Captain John Ford was an 18 year veteran of the White County Sheriff's Department.

He believes he was fired because he wanted to take the case outside the sheriff's department to the District Attorney.

Ford has hired an attorney and declined to comment to NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

Sheriff Steve Page sent a long statement which stated, "The Internal Affairs investigation from John Ford and Scott Muncy on April 8 was incomplete."

He stated, "The case file did not obtain significant material information that pertained to allegations of misconduct."

He said he did not want "subject an employee to an external investigation without first gathering critical evidence."

The Sheriff said John Ford was terminated because he was "habitually insubordinate."

He said "Any interpretation of his termination that suggests otherwise is inaccurate."

The body cam video shows Qualls in an ambulance after her arrest with wounds to her arms and legs.

"She's going to have scars and plastic surgery is going to have to be done," Richard Brooks said as he looked at the video.

It's the result of a violent arrest that some say went way too far.

District Attorney Bryant Dunaway told NewsChannel 5 Investigates the FBI investigation goes beyond the arrest.

"In an unusual move, District Attorney Bryant Dunaway dismissed 25 cases brought by deputy Brandon Young in June."

Sheriff Steve Page stated, "As of July 1, 2020, the deputy involved in the incident has resigned from his position."

Here is the entire statement from the White County Sheriff's Office: