A sheriff in rural Tennessee has been accused of threatening a husband and wife by "blowing their f---ing heads off" and "inappropriately" touching the wife during an unwarranted traffic stop.
In a lawsuit filed in a federal court in Chattanooga, Shawn and Michelle Graham allege that a group of police deputies, wearing camouflage and not identifying themselves as law enforcement officers, stopped the Grahams' car in January, 2009, pushed a gun through the window of the Grahams' Nissan and pointed it at the husband, "sometimes tapping his head with the barrel."
The officers ordered the couple out of the car, and frisked them while yelling "death threats and angry curses at the Grahams."
The Grahams say Sheriff Ronnie Hitchock of the Sequatchie County Sheriff Department personally carried out a pat-down of Michelle Graham, during which he "reached inside the pockets of her clothing, making inappropriate contact with her breasts and groin areas. Handcuffed in the back of Sheriff Hitchcock's cruiser, Mr. Graham was forced to watch this unconstitutional spectacle."
The lawsuit states that, even though the officers' search turned up "no weapons, no drugs and no contraband," the couple were taken to a police station and strip-searched. The couple were never charged with any crime.
The lawsuit further argues that the sheriff "did not investigate or review" the January 29, 2009, incident, even after it became apparent there were no grounds for arrest.
"In fact, the Sheriff made sure his department maintained little or no paperwork about Shawn and Michelle Graham, referring to them only by the number given the jail cell he or she occupied," the lawsuit states.
"Sheriff Hitchock failed to intercede and stop any in his armed crew to kill the Grahams by 'blowing their f------ heads off', pointing rifles at them, cursing them, frisking them, jailing them and then stripping them," the lawsuit states.
The Grahams are suing under the federal Civil Rights Act for "wrongful arrest, false imprisonment" and "gross invasion of privacy," among other things. The defendants are the Sequatchie County government, Sheriff Hitchcock, and a number of deputies from nearby Van Buren County.
None of the Grahams' allegations have been proven in court.