MEMPHIS, Tenn — The Federal Bureau of Investigation has opened an official investigation into a use of force incident by Hernando Police in September 2020.
This comes as Hernando Police are facing a $5 million excessive force lawsuit after a police officer used a K-9 and punched the suspect while he was surrendering to the officer.
Hernando Police Chief Scott Worsham confirmed the FBI involvement, and said two officers have been put on desk duty while the matter is investigated.
According to the federal lawsuit, K-9 Officer Lynn Brown is accused of using excessive force when he released his dog on Adrian Hoyle after a high-speed chase in September 2020. And we've learned the chase should have ended before it ever got to that point.
Not only that, we have also learned Officer Brown has faced previous lawsuits in the past - another one in Hernando, and one in Horn Lake, Mississippi, where the court put Horn Lake "on notice" about the officer.
And now, the attorneys in those lawsuits are claiming a cover-up by the department.
The incident was caught on video
Dash camera video showed the latest incident started when Officer Lynn Brown turned his squad car around and pursued Adrian Hoyle on September 3, 2020. According to the police report, Brown began the chase because Hoyle ran a red light.
Video showed cars pulling off to the side of the road to clear the way. Eventually Brown caught up with Hoyle, but he didn't stop, instead zipping around cars to get away, sometimes going through busy intersections, nearly hitting other drivers.
As they got onto I-69, Hoyle lost control of the car, collided into the police cars, and came to a final stop.
Hoyle opened the car door and put his hands up. According to the affidavit filed in the lawsuit, Hoyle said he surrendered and apologized. Despite that, Officer Brown released the K9.
For about the next minute or so, the dog attacked Hoyle. Hunter Solomon then punched Hoyle several times. It appeared that Hoyle threw a punch as well after he was hit.
According to Hoyle's affidavit, he was in such pain he was not in control of himself.
A lieutenant called off the chase
Audio recordings revealed the police chase had been called off prior to the arrest.
Missy Laughter was the dispatcher who handled the call and communicated with Officer Brown throughout the chase. Laughter said from the beginning she was confused, because she said he hadn't yet reported in for the day.
"Well he wasn’t in service. We were confused because normally an officer would call in service first. Then confused as to whether he was in his personal car or his patrol car. Then he never really called to say he was in pursuit of the vehicle. So I had to ask him later in the pursuit, was he in pursuit of the vehicle?" said Laughter.
According to the radio traffic obtained by ABC 24, the high-speed chase ran through areas which sometimes had a lot of traffic, and sometimes at more than 100 miles per hour.
According to the audio, a lieutenant finally called off the chase because of concerns there could be an accident. The supervisor told Brown to end the chase twice, but he didn't.
According to the police dispatch recording, 33 seconds after being told to end the chase, Brown said they had Hoyle in custody. And according to a police report, it was only after Hoyle was in custody that officers found out he ran because he was in a stolen car.
Hernando's policy on pursuits said they should only happen when there is an incident involving seriously violent suspects, and, again, the police report said Brown chased Hoyle because he ran a red light.
Hernando's policy also said when a pursuit is terminated by a supervisor, all officers will end it immediately. That didn't happen.
NAACP Reaction to the incident
"Just looking at this, it's horrific," said Robert Tipton with the Desoto County NAACP. "I wanted to say it could happen to anybody, but I doubt that I’ve seen too much here in DeSoto County to believe that would happen to a young white boy."
"They are literally closed-fist hitting him, dragging him, letting the dog do what he wants to do," said Tipton. "It looks to me like they were happy to do what they did and they were gung-ho. They were hitting on a young boy."
Police dog experts weigh in
The spokesperson for a national organization that certifies police dogs called the video disturbing, and said it highlighted a nationwide problem - that there is not a national standard or certification group in the United States. When it comes to training and certifying police dogs, there are different groups and agencies, and almost every department has its own standard operating procedures.
"There are some departments that will not release a dog until they've got somebody in cuffs. There are some that will call off immediately if they've got somebody down on the ground. I teach as long as you've got control you can call the dog off. That's the way I do it," said Mike Bullock, spokesperson for the American Working Dog Association.
Hoyle claimed when the dog was released, he was surrendering and said he was sorry.
"That means he gives up. No dog. No dog. Dog can't be deployed because here the guy has given up," said Bullock.
"If he had run - yeah, then deploy the dog. But he didn't run. He was standing their hands up, right in the open, clearly no exposed weapon," said Kyle Heyen, a former dog trainer and expert witness with Detector Dog International.
Heyen questioned why Hernando Police let the dog continue biting Hoyle. He added the video showed the dog had to be pulled off instead of being told to release by verbal command.
"A verbal command to let go, come back to me, and step the bad guy away if there is room. But in this situation, it shouldn't have gotten this far because you had a man on a hill. He has nowhere to go," said Heyen.
"He (the dog) should be always under control, always. It's no different than a gun. You should have a guy behind a trigger that's got control, that knows how to use its weapons, and a dog is no more than equipment. It's just a piece of equipment, that's all," said Bullock.
"That is not normal. As a dog handler you handle your dog. You don't have someone else do it," said Heyen. "That dog handler should never had done what he did and he should have been corrected immediately."
According to court filings, the city’s attorneys contend the dog was used because the officers thought Hoyle could have had a weapon.
“I'd tell you right now. If I was that guy on the ground, I would have millions in my pocket. They are going to lose. They are going to lose bad. There is nothing here that dog should have been deployed on, nothing," added Bullock.
According to a Marshall Project investigation which looked at 150 severe incidents, the majority of the time police dogs were released, the suspects were accused of low-level or non-violent crimes. Most suspects were men and disproportionally black. To reduce the number of bad bites, groups like the American Working Dog Association support a national certification process.
Officer was previously accused of using excessive force in Hernando
Lynn Brown was also involved in a chase that left two men dead in July 2019.
Linda White filed a lawsuit against Brown and the Hernando Police Department stemming from the death of her son Jessie and his best friend Kristopher Ford.
White’s wrongful death and excessive force lawsuit claimed the two men were pulled over for reasons that are unclear, then sped off. The lawsuit said the chase was called off because of dangerous speeds, but officer Brown continued the pursuit.
The mother claimed Brown used a maneuver to try to stop the car, causing it to crash, and killing her son and Ford.
"Jessie was very quiet to a certain extent. He was in the military. I think the following weekend he was supposed to leave to go back out," said Linda White.
Officer Brown faced another lawsuit in Horn Lake
We also uncovered another case that was settled, from when Officer Lynn Brown worked for Horn Lake Police.
In that case, Brown showed up to a foot chase in April 2013 in a misdemeanor DUI case. He was not called to the scene, but reportedly came and released his K9 dog anyway. The suspect, Jacob Cooper, was bitten and lost part of his calf.
"The facts are undisputed that Jacob surrendered. He came out, showed his hands, was fully compliant - even Officer Brown said he was fully compliant," said Brandon Flechas, Cooper's lawyer.
In 2016, a Federal Judge Michael Mills wrote in an opinion saying Officer Brown’s actions became “obviously unreasonable” when he continued allowing the K9 Sunny 'to bite plaintiff after he was on his stomach and his hands were behind his back."
The judge went on to say, "Officer Brown does not strike this court as an officer reluctantly resorting to force, but, rather, one only reluctantly terminating the use of force."
The judge released Horn Lake from the suit, but held Brown liable for his own actions and found the force used by Brown was clearly excessive. The judge added, "Officer Brown is the City’s employee, and it is now clearly on notice of this court’s findings regarding his use of excessive force in this case."
"He actually said 'now you are on notice about this officer and any violations of this officer commits in the future, you are on notice about this officer'," said Fletchas.
City's response to the most recent allegations
In court filings, Hernando denies the officers did anything wrong in the September 2020 incident, and said there was no excessive force - that the dog was deployed because Brown thought Hoyle could have had a weapon.
Neither Hernando city officials nor the lawyers representing them would comment on the video.
Hernando Alderman weighs in
Hernando Alderman Chad Wicker released the following statement Tuesday, November 9, 2021: "As an elected official for the City of Hernando, I feel obligated to address issues that affect the city both positively and negatively. I want to be clear, this statement represents my thoughts as a city alderman. It is in no way a representation of other aldermen, the mayor, or city employees' thoughts regarding recent news reports of our police department. I want to outline several issues that are important. First, there has been a false media narrative established in the country over the past decade that police officers routinely use excessive force. This cannot be further from the truth. The overwhelming number of police officers go to work every day and conduct themselves in a professional manner. The actions of a very small percentage should not represent the profession as a whole. The vast majority of Hernando Police Officers do an excellent job. Second, the actions of Mr. Hoyle should not be understated. If he had complied with the officers this entire incident would not have occurred. Mr. Hoyle pled guilty to a felony crime. I feel a lack of personal responsibility is prevalent in the world today and this is just another example. Third, I welcome the investigation by the Department of Justice into our police department. It is important to be fully transparent. It is obvious that the news reports have raised some serious questions as to how our police department operates. These questions should be addressed immediately. Lastly, the actions on the news reports does not represent the spirit of Hernando or its residents."
After the incident
Hoyle pleaded guilty to fleeing, receiving stolen property, and assaulting a law enforcement officer.
Brown remains a Hernando Police officer.
Both of the cases against Brown and Hernando Police are pending.
Response from Hoyle's attorneys
Tuesday, November 9, 2021, the lawyers who filed both the Hoyle lawsuit and the separate excessive force lawsuit in the 2019 incident against the Hernando Police Department and Officer Lynn Brown spoke for the first time.
Attorney Martin Zummach pointed out a section of the Hoyle videotape to reporters. Zummach showed reporters a point in the tape where you can see what appeared to be one officer stomping on Hoyle while he was in handcuffs on the ground and being bitten by the police dog. Zummach also pointed out in the video, you can see a reflection on the back of the car. Zummach said the video showed Hoyle has his hands up and out of the car, and at the point that in the reflection, you can see officer Lynn Brown get out of the car and release the dog on Hoyle.
"Videos are sexy because you can't deny what's on the video," said Zummach.
The attorneys also accused the department of a coverup when it comes to evidence in the 2019 Jessie White case. Attorney Murray Wells said evidence connected to that case is either missing, destroyed, or is not available. Wells produced the spoliation letter sent to the City of Hernando after the deaths of the men, telling the city to save all evidence. But Wells said they have been told that evidence is no longer available.
"What we want is a microscope, a spotlight, the ability to stop this from happening next time," said Wells.
Wells questioned why the officers at the center of the FBI investigation have remained on the job, but on desk duty.
"He should go home, and if they want to pay him to stay home, send him home but don't let him further muddy an already completely botched investigation and further encourage the destruction of evidence and cover-up. Send him home," said Wells.
Below is the original statement from Zummach and Murray Wells when we first reported this story:
"Mr. Murray Wells and I proudly represent the families of those who have been killed and abused by these officers and one police officer in particular.
We have faith the courts and the juries in this country to do the right thing.
Based upon the long history of these types of injustices, which have happened in Hernando, Mississippi, we, and every other citizen, should be angry and ashamed of those that had every opportunity to stop this conduct and refused to do so.
I have represented honorable law enforcement for nearly thirty years, and it is our goal to bring this officer, his police department, and Hernando elected officials to justice on behalf of all the honest cops who keep us safe every day."