NewsNewsChannel 5 Investigates

Actions

Police officer resigns amid questions about work history

Work History Image.jpg
Posted at 9:39 PM, Jul 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-22 23:19:04-04

MT. PLEASANT, Tenn. (WTVF)  — A NewsChannel 5 investigation is raising questions about how a jailer with a troubled work history was able to get hired as a police officer.

We examined the career path of former Lewisburg police officer Christopher Stallings who is one of the officers being sued in connection with an inmate's death in Marshall County last year.

Before becoming a police officer in Lewisburg, Stallings worked as a corrections officer in both Davidson and Bedford Counties.

In Davidson County in 2011, a fellow officer complained about Stallings and told supervisors that "I am in fear. I feel threatened. I don't feel safe in that hallway with him." The department separated the two and Stallings received a written reprimand.

In 2012, the Davidson County Sheriff's Office suspended Stallings for five days after he "intentionally poked holes in coffee cups and placed them on the table for inmates to use" allowing hot coffee to pour through the holes.

In 2013, Stallings was suspended for 24 hours - two full shifts - after admitting to losing his temper and taunting and cursing an unruly inmate. His supervisor blasted his behavior, writing that he potentially caused "the incident to escalate."

A few months later Stallings resigned from the Davidson County Sheriff's Office "effective immediately" after yet another suspension - for sleeping on duty.

Stallings wrote, "Due to recent circumstances and situations, partly beyond my control ... I feel it is necessary to terminate my employment."

The Davidson County Sheriff's Office accepted his resignation and noted in his file that he is "Not eligible for rehire."

But even though Stallings could no longer work as a jailer in Davidson County, one of his supervisors gave him a glowing letter of recommendation, which Stallings used to get a job as a jailer in Bedford County in 2014.

He did not work in Bedford County for long.

In 2015, a fellow Bedford County officer reported that Stallings was "cussing and yelling" at an unruly inmate and "pushed him down to the ground" while he was handcuffed.

After that incident, a supervisor told Stallings "his employment at the jail was not working."

The supervisor wrote, "At that time Officer Stallings stated that he would resign. He did not want his separation to read that he was terminated for an unsatisfactory job performance."

Despite all that Stallings applied to the Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy in 2017 and became certified as a police officer.

Duke University Associate Law Professor Ben Grunwald has published articles calling for a national database listing disciplinary issues for people in law enforcement.

"Police officers wield an enormous amount of power over the lives of everyday Americans," Grunwald said.

He said states should track the disciplinary histories of corrections officers too.

"I think it's just as important to be tracking this kind of stuff with corrections officers as well as police," Grunwald said.

"If we are hiring officers who have done bad things in the past, that's one of the easiest predictors to know if they are going to do bad things in the future," Grunwald said.

Last year, the Lewisburg Police Department suspended officer Stallings for two days after he handcuffed a ten-year-old girl.

The department found that Stallings "escalated the situation" and got into an "argument with a ten-year-old."

Just three weeks later, he was the first Lewisburg Police Officer to respond to a call at the Marshall County jail - involving William Jennette, who was detoxing and refused to get into a restraint chair.

After Jennette was handcuffed, on his stomach, with leg restraints, he repeatedly stated that he could not breathe.

But video from that night showed Stallings appeared to stay on Jennette's back.

In response to a civil lawsuit, Stallings' attorney stated "Mr. Jennette's drug abuse caused him to behave erratically dangerously" and that "all force deployed" was "lawful and reasonable under the circumstances."

Jennette's last words were "I'm good."

Stallings responded by telling Jennette, "No you ain't good. You're going to lay right there for another f*****g minute."

Jeanette's autopsy listed "Asphyxia" as a "contributory cause of death" and listed homicide as the manner of death.

The day after Jennette's death, Stallings and another police officer were put on administrative leave with pay.

A week later Stallings resigned - writing because of "unforeseen circumstances ... employment with the department is no longer possible."

Jennette's family is suing the city of Lewisburg as well as Marshall County and several officers, including Stallings.

Duke law professor Ben Grunwald said every state has its own laws regarding what is reported about the disciplinary histories of police officers.

In Tennessee, the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission or POST serves as the primary regulatory body for law enforcement.

Departments must notify POST when police officers are suspended 15 days or longer or if they resign in lieu of termination.

"There's no reason to arbitrarily say if a suspension is below 15 days then we don't track it," Grunwald said.

And sheriffs must report those things about deputies but they do not have to report them about jailers.

So when Lewisburg hired Christopher Stallings there was no state record of his history as a corrections officer.

And when Stallings was hired in late 2020, by the Mt. Pleasant Police Department, his POST Commission records did not reflect that he had any disciplinary issues as a police officer in Lewisburg.

Records obtained by NewsChannel 5 show the Mt. Pleasant Police Department called Stallings their "top applicant."

Stallings resigned from the Mt. Pleasant Police Department last week in an agreement that gave him two weeks severance and overtime pay.

In his resignation letter, he wrote he is leaving because of the current political climate and the continuing NewsChannel 5 coverage, adding that he did not want to damage the department's reputation.

The city manager called Stallings an "exemplary" employee during his time with the city.

Stallings ended his letter saying he will seek future employment in law enforcement or elsewhere.