Jellico detective denies allegations of using excessive force

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By Charlotte Underwood

A Nov. 3 incident has left one man dead and a Jellico detective denying allegations he used unneeded force.

Last Tuesday, Jimmy Smith, of Jellico, allegedly lost control of his vehicle and drove into an air conditioning unit outside of Billy’s Motel, according to Jellico Detective J.J. Hatmaker. Hatmaker is also the detective being accused using excessive force when responding to the incident.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is investigating the issue.

“(The) TBI does have an open case on his death, however, at this time, it appears Smith died of natural causes,” said TBI Spokesperson Kristin Helm.

Donna Perkins, a friend of Smiths, called the Press and alleged Hatmaker had inflicted harm on Smith, while attempting to arrest him after the wreck occurred. She also stated that Smith was in the last stages of cancer. After Smith was placed under arrest, he was transported to the Jellico Community Hospital, where he died four days later, according to Perkins.

Hatmaker denies all of these allegations that have been levied against him.

Instead he paints quite a different picture of the Nov. 3 scenario. He said that when he responded to the accident, he assisted Smith out of the vehicle, but Smith then became belligerent.

“I tried to get him to turn around to check him with a field sobriety test, but he refused to comply and jerked away from me,” Hatmaker said. He said he then ordered Smith down to the ground three times, but he did not comply, so he forced him to the ground.

“I had a hold of his hand and his belt loop and put him to the ground,” Hatmaker said. Hatmaker contends he did not use unneeded force, but merely followed procedure when Smith did not comply.

Hatmaker further said there was beer in the vehicle and an empty bottle between the front two seats of the vehicle. Smith had slurred speech, blood shot eyes and was unsteady on his feet, the officer added.

Smith was known to be belligerent when he was drunk and that this would have been his fourth offense DUI, Hatmaker also said.

Smith was a known habitual motor vehicle offender who was driving on a revoked license when the accident occurred.

After taking Smith to the ground, Hatmaker said he placed handcuffs on him and then called the Jellico Emergency Medical Service. Several bystanders helped him get Smith to sit up informing him Smith was sick.

“From what I understand he died as a result of his cancer,” Hatmaker said. He said he did not injure Smith when he forced him to the ground and placed him under arrest.

“There were no visible marks on him from the accident, nor from his altercation with me,” Hatmaker insisted on Tuesday evening.

Hatmaker named Jellico Fire Chief Gary Troxell as a witness to the arrest, but Troxell refused to comment when contacted.

Jellico Police Commissioner Elsie Crawford said that she had not heard about the incident until a private citizen sent her a text message about it on Tuesday morning. Son afterwards she began receiving what she termed “irate” calls from Jellico citizens regarding the incident.

“I have had at least 18 calls about this. I know nothing of this incident from official sources, but I am checking into it,” Crawford said.

Perkins named other alleged witnesses to the event, but none have stepped forward and no calls have been returned as of press time.

“He did not die as a result of any unneeded force on my part, I just don’t operate that way,” Hatmaker said.