He is paralyzed from the waist down and can’t control his bladder or move his fingers very well following a 2004 car wreck. He uses a motorized wheelchair to get around. Despite these obstacles, a police officer still found the gall to charge Christopher Leo Hardaway with assault. On Friday, all that changed.
It seems logic prevailed in the case of the paraplegic’s assault on police. “We didn’t believe we could prove aggravated assault beyond a reasonable doubt,” Melydia Clewell, spokeswoman for Chattanooga prosecutors said on Friday in an email.
Chatty’s finest allege Hardaway pulled a knife out on an officer during an argument about whether he could charge his wheelchair outside Food City.
Hardaway countered saying that the police account of the interaction is “misrepresented”. According to the 45-year-old, he told the officer during the September 3 encounter that he had a knife. He disclosed that information to the officer because he believed he was already heading to jail that night. Hardaway added that the cop’s own body camera footage supports his account of how the night transpired.
The Times Free Press got a hold of the footage and ran a story on the case in February. The expose referenced Hardaway’s upcoming trial.
“This was the best outcome for Leo possible,” said attorney Zak Newman, adding that Hardaway will attempt to undergo medical rehabilitation at Parkridge Valley.
Newman was ready to fight the case when he walked into the courtroom only to find that the prosecutors were dropping the assault charge against Hardaway. Prosecutors also dismissed less severe charges that Hardaway picked up during a different incident in August.
According to the Times Free Press:
Hardaway said his wheelchair died as he tried to make it to a charger, leaving him stranded on a sidewalk that night for eight hours. He eventually fell asleep and was awakened when an officer shined a light on him, asking why Hardaway was sitting in the cold, blocking the sidewalk with urine soaking his lap.
Frustrated that passing officers had never stopped to help during the ordeal, Hardaway refused to move. He was charged with disorderly conduct, public intoxication and obstruction of the roadway.
He said the August incident made him skeptical of the officer on Sept. 3.
“This is the second time I’ve been harassed by y’all for nothing,” Hardaway said to McFarland. “The last time, my chair wouldn’t get off that curb and y’all locked me up instead of helping me get to a charger.”
Police should lobby to change the motto of their profession, “Protect & Serve”, if their duties no longer align with that mantra. Basic human decency, something most cops can’t get training for, would have found a way to charge the wheelchair to send the man on his way than to continue to accost him with insensible demands.
For example, if your car battery dies and you’re stuck on the side of the road and not the sidewalk like Hardaway, you would need someone with jumper cables to try and give you a jump start. If that didn’t work than you would attempt to push the car off the road with the assistance of another person.
Apparently, that logic is too simple for Officer McFarland and the rest of law enforcement.
“All I’m asking is, are you going to take me to jail? That’s all I really want to know,” Hardaway said, “because I’m not getting harassed or put out [when] I need to charge my chair.”
“Not from this [property],” McFarland said.
Hardaway said he was ready to go to jail.
“Would you like another charge?” Hardaway then asked, reaching into his waistband, “because I’m disclosing this knife.”
Hardaway pulled out a 4-inch blade. McFarland stepped back and pulled out a gun.
“Drop it!” McFarland screamed.
“I’m not even doing anything,” Hardaway said, dropping the knife. “I’m disclosing this to you!”
McFarland saw it differently: “I gave you every chance to leave,” he said, “and you want to pull a knife on me!”
The officer called into his mic for backup then told Hardaway, “You’re welcome for saving your life, because I didn’t shoot your —— right here.”
“Shut up,” Hardaway said. “You know I wasn’t going to hurt you.”
The exchange is not an anomaly but rather very common place between police and the less fortunate including the homeless and disabled. Former professor and journalist, David Perry, chronicles interactions between law enforcement and people with disabilities.
He said, “Someone is put in a position where they have to comply, and if they can’t, they’re treated as dangerous or criminal. The No. 1 thing I say is officers need to stop treating noncompliance on its own as a reason to escalate and assume that a disability or similar factor is at play.”
Interactions like Hardaway’s happen around the country everyday. A sheriff’s deputy in Tampa, Fla., threw Brian Sterner from his wheelchair in 2008 because he thought Sterner was faking a disability. Two officers in Washington, D.C., tossed Dwight Harris from his chair in May 2011 for alleged intoxication and non-compliance. Just recently Officer McGauley Tasered a disabled military veteran reaching for his cane.
According to the Ruderman Family Foundation, an estimated one-third to one-half of all people killed by police in the U.S. have a disability.