Former Deputy’s Wife Sends Angry FB Message to Photographer

Carlos Miller

Deputy's wife blames photographer for getting husband fired after he was photographed placing a chokehold on a student.

It’s been almost a year since a Knoxville, Tennessee deputy was fired after a photojournalist photographed him choking a college student until he fell to his knees, even though the student was not resisting.

John Messner’s photographs went viral, published on countless news sites throughout the world,including PINAC, which resulted in a surprising decision from Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones to fire him immediately.

Even more surprising is that deputy Frank Phillips did not bother appealing the decision as many cops end up doing after losing their job for abusive behavior.

However, that’s only because Jones eventually allowed him to take a “deferred retirement” rather than outright termination, meaning Phillips will be able to collect his pension at the age of 62 (if Knox County follows federal guidelines, which is unknown at this time). Phillips was 47 years old at the time of the incident last April and had been a deputy since 1992.

But apparently the lack of income has taken its toll on his family, especially his wife, Tonya Payne Phillips, who earlier today sent an angry Facebook message to Messner, blocking him before he could respond. The message is copy and pasted below with the screenshot at the bottom of the story.

I never really got the chance to say thank you for ruining my families life with your bull shit story about my husband “choking” the college student til he passed out. We both know the kid never passed out. Maybe if you had of known the entire store before selling your story to the highest bidder…we have two daughters that go to public school. Do u know how hard it was on both of them? Do you know that it had already took 4 police officers to get the “innocent young drunk ass kid” in hand cuffs to begin with? No of course not…you don’t know a damn thing about the truth of the story…all you were concerned with was making a buck…but I’m a firm believer in Karma…and I can’t wait til it catches up with you

While it’s understandable Tonya is angry that her husband ended up losing his job, she needs to understand that people lose their jobs everyday because of unlawful arrests, failing to show up to work as they are languishing in a jail cell because even though they might eventually beat the rap, they will never beat the ride as cops are fond of saying.

And while her message is not a direct threat, we can assume that if another woman sent the same message to a cop who had arrested her husband, it would result in a criminal investigation because cops are viewed as gods in the legal system.

And that’s the real reason she is angry. The fact that her husband was not treated as a god as usually the case. That he was left hung out to dry by the sheriff, who stated the following in a press release within 24 hours.

“In my 34 years of law enforcement experience, excessive force has never been tolerated. After an investigation by the Office of Professional Standards, I believe excessive force was used in this incident. The investigation will now be turned over to the Knox County Attorney General’s Office to determine any further action.”

And while Tonya can claim it took four cops to arrest the student, Jarod Dotson, she is apparently not aware that Messner also photographed the arrest, which shows deputies storming the porch of a house before one deputy marches out with Dotson in handcuffs, whom does not appear to be fighting or resisting.

Those photos appear to contradict the arrest report that stated Dotson was standing outside, refusing to go back inside the house, then when arrested, he “began to physically resist officers’ instructions to place his hands behind his back, and at one point grabbed on to an officer’s leg.”

The photos of his arrest, posted below, are heavily cropped because Messner shot them with a wide angle lens, only to realize after the story went viral that he had captured Dotson’s arrest as well.

The arrest report also states, as you can read in the screenshot below, that he kept pulling his hands away from officers, which is why Phillips needed to apply a “pressure point to Mr. Dotson’s ear area,” thus allowing the deputies to arrest the student.

But Messner took a sequence of more than 60 photos of the choking incident, all which are posted on a GIF below, that shows Dotson was not fighting or struggling when Phillips walked up to him, placed his hands around his neck and squeezed until the student dropped to his knees.

If he appeared to pull his arms away it wasn’t done with much force and was likely a result of the confusion that overtakes a person when being arrested.

But you be the judge.

The incident took place on April 26, 2014 after deputies responded to a report of an unruly house party near the University of Tennessee where people were spilling out to the street.

Below is a screenshot of Tonya’s message to Messner from her Facebook page along with a photo of her and her husband from her Facebook page.

Tonya Payne Philllips And Her Husband, Frank, Who Lost His Job As A Knox County Sheriff’s Deputy In 2014 After He Was Caught On Camera Choking A Handcuffed Student.

This is what Messner had to say about the situation:

I stand behind my story and my version of events. I saw Frank Phillips choke that man and held it on him for over ten seconds according to the time stamps on the photos when he knees gave out. I could plainly hear them say give me your hand but never heard anything about them ordering him to his knees like the Sheriff countered with. They left bruises on his neck for Christ sake. He wasn’t resisting, he didn’t jerk and was fully compliant. I even photographed his arrest on the porch which she is unaware of. Let me see if I can get that shot too. The police report said he was in the street with a cup of liquor in his hand when according to my photos he was on the porch of his house when police rushed up and tackled him because he wouldn’t go insde and shut the door like ordered. In America, you don’t have to go inside and shut your door if you don’t want to when you are on private property. When all this came to light. the DA dropped all charges and expunged his record. They said he had been through enough. Then the DA who was to prosecute Phillips retired as DA and the Sheriff hired him for a newly created homeless advocate at the tune of 75,000 a year with benefits. This on top of his DA retirement. Let me get the porch photos too, they show where he was actually arrested.

UPDATE: The Knox County Sheriff’s Office announced today that another deputy was arrested last night on domestic violence.

I wonder if this guy’s wife is going to defend him as well.

UPDATE II: Here is a time lapse video that Messner made last year. Here is Messner’s site in case media needs to get hold of him to license his photos.


War on Photography