KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – A father-son duo of sheriff’s deputies in rural Tennessee for years beat up handcuffed arrestees, failed to report their uses of force, discouraged other officers from turning on their body cameras and bragged that their behavior was “the Grundy County way,” federal prosecutors alleged in recent court filings.
A grand jury in July indicted Anthony “Tony” Bean, the chief deputy at the Grundy County Sheriff’s Office, and his son Anthony “T.J.” Bean, a sergeant at the same agency, on federal civil rights charges stemming from two alleged assaults.
But prosecutors said in a Dec. 31 court filing that they have compiled additional evidence showing the Beans altogether assaulted seven people over a five-year span in a pattern of misconduct that pervaded the culture of their small law enforcement agency and scared potential witnesses into keeping quiet.
The new excessive force allegations mark the latest trouble for the sheriff’s office in Grundy County, a poverty-stricken community with a population of about 13,000 that sits 45 miles northwest of Chattanooga.
In less than two years, the agency — which Sheriff Clint Shrum estimated has a total of 40 deputies, school resource officers and jailers — has fired a jailer after allegations he had sexual contact with female inmates, decommissioned a deputy indicted on manslaughter charges in a woman’s shooting death and saw yet another deputy hit with federal charges he assaulted a handcuffed man.
When reached by the USA TODAY Network’s Knoxville News Sentinel last week, neither Shrum nor Grundy County Mayor Michael Brady said that they had heard of the new allegations against the Beans. Shrum, who expressed surprise when the Beans were indicted after a lengthy FBI investigation, took office in late 2014 and was sheriff at the time of all but one of the alleged assaults.
“I appreciate the call and documents,” Shrum wrote in an email after a reporter sent him the Dec. 31 court filing. “I have not been privy to any of this. Because this is still ongoing, I will have to decline any comments.”
The Beans have remained on paid leave since being indicted.
“I expect him to be acquitted of all charges,” Russell Leonard, attorney for T.J. Bean, said Wednesday. “He is not guilty.”
A lawyer for Tony Bean did not return a request for comment.
Punches to the face
Tony Bean, 59, faces four counts of deprivation of rights under color of law, while T.J. Bean, 29, faces one count of the same charge. Prosecutors say the charges stem from two alleged assaults — one committed by the father while he was chief of the Tracy City Police Department in 2014, the other committed by father and son while working for the Grundy County Sheriff’s Office in 2017.
On Dec. 30, 2017, a police chase ended when a man, identified in court records only by his initials, was arrested after crashing his vehicle into that of Tony Bean. The second-in-command at the sheriff’s office was with his wife, who is not a police officer.
Witnesses said Bean “repeatedly and unnecessarily” punched the man in the face while he was complying with officer commands, according to the motion filed last month. During the attack, Bean allegedly yelled, “You hit me and you almost killed my (expletive) wife.” He later bragged he hurt his punching hand, according to the motion.
After the man was handcuffed and placed in a cruiser, witnesses said T.J. Bean opened the door, chastised him for hitting “daddy” and repeatedly punched him in the face while he was “seated, handcuffed and compliant,” the motion states.
On Aug. 10, 2014, Tony Bean was chief of the Tracy City Police Department in Grundy County when prosecutors say he repeatedly punched another handcuffed man in the face. Bean’s wife was at the scene, and prosecutors say the attack came after the man called her an “obscene name.”
‘How did that steering wheel feel?’
In the motion filed Dec. 31, prosecutors seek to introduce evidence of five more assaults to bolster their case and to help explain why law enforcement officers who may testify against the Beans at trial did not come forward sooner.
The motion describes the additional allegations as follows:
- On April 8, 2015, a police chase ended when the vehicle crashed into that of Tony Bean. Witnesses said Bean then hit the driver in the face with a gun or flashlight while the man was sitting inside the vehicle with his hands up. Bean said, “How did that steering wheel feel?” The man suffered broken bones in his face. Body camera footage captured Bean telling the man he would kick his “jaw off” and beat his “brains out.” Bean later bragged the sheriff would need to buy him a new gun because he damaged it during the assault.
- On May 20, 2016, Tony Bean ran after a man, then repeatedly punched him in the head while he was lying face down with his hands cuffed behind his back. Bean was wearing gloves he used when he planned to “tune-up,” or assault, an arrestee.
- On July 30, 2017, Tony Bean went with other officers, including T.J. Bean, to arrest a man in his home. Tony Bean told at least one other officer not to turn on his body camera because he planned a “tune-up.” When the man tried to run, Tony Bean punched him “unnecessarily.” Part of the arrest was captured by a body camera.
- On Aug. 8, 2017, Tony Bean said, “I’ll teach you to sue us,” and struck an arrestee in the head while the person was “restrained” and lying face down on the ground.
- On April 23, 2019, T.J. Bean shocked a man with a Taser after a car chase. The man was standing next to his vehicle at the time. T.J. Bean told the man to “keep his mouth shut” about what happened.
“Evidence that the defendants discouraged officer-witnesses in the present case from recording or reporting the defendants’ excessive force and told them that excessive force is the ‘Grundy County Way’ is admissible because it is intrinsic to the witnesses’ testimony,” the motion reads. “These witnesses will testify that these statements affected their conduct on the scene of the December 30, 2017, incident and afterward.”
A judge has not yet ruled on whether the evidence will be admissible.
The case is set to go to trial April 20 in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga. A plea deadline has been set for April 6.
Kathryn Gilbert and Rebekah Bailey of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division are prosecuting the case alongside Assistant U.S. Attorney James Brooks.
Follow reporter Travis Dorman on Twitter: @travdorman
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