A Mississippi town fired its police chief, two officers and two town officials after a video surfaced purportedly showing them encouraging a mentally disabled man to eat a mouthful of cinnamon as part of a prank.
An attorney for the man, Denareus “Ted” Martin, 18, said a video was taken at City Hall by one of the officials in the town of Tutwiler, and posted on YouTube, though it has since been taken down. A separate video, which was also posted and removed, showed a police officer boxing with Martin, attorney Ellis Pittman said.
In the cinnamon video, a woman uses a piece of paper to pour a substance into Martin’s mouth while a group of people can be heard laughing in the background. Martin holds the cinnamon in his mouth for a few seconds before coughing and spitting it out. He runs to a water fountain and then to a restroom, where he appears on the verge of vomiting.
Pittman said his client was choking, but the officials “were all laughing, grinning and having a grand time.”
Former Tutwiler Police Chief Terry Tyler told The Associated Press on Thursday that he and the others were fired Tuesday during a specially called meeting of the Tutwiler Board of Aldermen.
“It’s a bunch of lies and false allegations,” Tyler said. “I don’t have anything to hide. I don’t have anything to be ashamed of.”
Tyler said he’s talking with an attorney and had no further comment.
Tallahatchie County Sheriff William Brewer said he heard about the firings Tuesday night and called the district attorney’s office and the FBI. He said a joint investigation is under way.
The “Cinnamon Challenge” is a prank in which people try to swallow cinnamon without water, which dries the mouth and usually causes them to cough and spit a plume of the spice. There are thousands of videos on the internet that show people trying it.
WABG-TV first reported the firings, aired the video and showed it on its website.
The video was taken while Martin was assigned to Tutwiler City Hall to work off fines from a minor criminal charge, though he didn’t know specifically what the offense was, Pittman said.
Former police officers Jimmy Johnson and Bobby Banks Jr., as well as court clerk LaToya Ellis and town clerk Angelia Chandler also were fired, the ex-police chief said. Chandler was the one who poured the cinnamon into Martin’s mouth, Pittman said. Banks also worked as a sheriff’s deputy for Tallahatchie County. The sheriff said he’s on suspension while the matter is investigated.
The AP tried unsuccessfully to reach them for comment. Several other Tutwiler officials, including Mayor Genether Miller-Spurlock, did not respond to numerous messages Thursday.
Pittman said the other video that was posted on the internet shows Johnson, the former police captain, boxing with Martin behind a shed near City Hall. He said the other former officer, Banks, made the video and posted it online.
Pittman said he’s not sure how many videos were taken of Martin. He said it may have started because his client told officers “they ain’t about nothing.”
“They took him out back behind a shed and put some boxing gloves on him, saying, ‘If we ain’t nothing then come on.'” Pittman said. “They proceeded to beat him up.”
Tutwiler is small town of about 1,300 people in Tallahatchie County in the Mississippi Delta. The area is known mostly for farming and several prisons and jails that employ many of its residents.