BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — A man charged with attempted second-degree murder for a 2021 incident in which he allegedly drove toward police officers — before they shot into the car and struck him three times —rejected a plea deal Thursday.
His lawyer later said complaints have been filed against the officers and called their actions “obviously one of the most outrageous cases of excessive force this area has ever seen.”
“The state has been very cooperative with us in this case and as much as counsel appreciates the efforts, we have reached an impasse,” Ciia Hall’s defense attorney Don Spurrell said at an announcement hearing in Sullivan County Criminal Court. Assistant District Attorney Emily Hutchins said the sides “were close to an agreement and I thought mistakenly that we had actually reached an agreement.”
Hall was 17 when at around 5 a.m. on Jan. 18, 2021 when two other teens — after leading two officers on a lengthy chase in a truck that was reported stolen not long before — jumped into the back of a car in Kingsport with Hall in the driver’s seat and two other teens inside. One officer blocked the car from forward progress and both demanded the youths surrender as one officer struck the car with a baton, but Hall reversed the car.
Video from a nearby home shows him backing away as the officers give chase, guns drawn, then circle to either side of the front while he throws the car into drive. Light from the shots flashes at roughly the second the car begins moving forward, and shots continue — 13 total — as the car passes between Hawkins County Sheriff’s Deputy Isaac Hutchins and Mount Carmel Police Officer Hunter Jones.
After Judge James Goodwin set a trial for August, Spurrell told News Channel 11 the facts don’t support the current charges “even remotely.
“We’re pretty adamant that this case involved some rogue police officers firing multiple rounds of 40 caliber into a car full of unarmed teenagers,” Spurrell said. “I do not know anywhere in the United States where that kind of law enforcement action would be considered legal.”
Hall was hospitalized for more than a week for gunshot wounds to his chest, shoulder and arm before being transferred to a juvenile facility in Johnson City.
He was charged as a juvenile with two counts of aggravated assault, evading arrest and possession of a stolen vehicle. About a year after the Jan. 18, 2021 incident Hall’s case was transferred to adult court and two charges of attempted second-degree murder were added.
Thursday, Spurrell said his discovery has uncovered inconsistencies in various official accounts, including an on-scene briefing from Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) Public Information Officer Leslie Earhart and later reports from TBI’s Brian Fraley.
“As the car was attempting to leave the location, the driver reportedly drove toward the Hawkins County Deputy (Hutchins), hitting him,” Earhart said just hours after the pre-dawn incident.
Fraley led the investigation of the officer-involved shooting, including an interview with Hunter Jones.
“Jones stated the car got close to Hutchins and close to ‘clipping’ him,” Fraley’s TBI investigative report reads. It also cites Jones reporting that “Hutchins was out of his car and limping trying to walk and fell flat on his face on the sidewalk.”
Hutchins’s only contribution is a Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office Firearms Incident Report. He wrote that “while giving commands to stop the vehicle, the driver accelerated the vehicle towards Officer Jones and myself attempting to run us over with the vehicle. At this time Officer Jones and myself shot into the vehicle, to stop the threat.”
Spurrell questioned whether those claimed inconsistencies may have played into the later decision to increase charges.
“I strongly believe that the state brought charges of attempted murder for the sole purpose of getting this boy charged in adult court,” Spurrell said.
“If they had charged him with what he might actually be guilty of, it would have remained in juvenile court,” he said.
Serious charges in adult court would put “pressure” on Hall, Spurrell said, “to plead guilty to something he didn’t do, and to deflect attention from obviously rogue police conduct.”
Last year, the case drew the attention of a criminal justice advocate, former Philadelphia police officer Terence Jones. Jones’s non-profit, the Total Justice Project, has filed several complaints with Second Judicial District Attorney Barry Staubus’s office.
Spurrell said he and the Halls have made a complaint to the FBI, as well as alerting both the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Department of Justice.
“We are hopeful that law enforcement applies equally across the board,” Spurrell said. The purpose of the complaints, he said, was to “seek accountability.”
“I know a lot of very good police officers and I have a lot of respect for professionalism in the police departments,” Spurrell said. “There isn’t a single officer in my view in a professional police unit around this area that would do what happened that night.
“I am supportive of law enforcement but I think there has to be accountability for all of us whatever we do and I just feel like the Sullivan County District Attorney should have taken action against these officers.”
Hall’s jury trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 7.