A former Mississippi police chief will fight to get his job back after being fired over a video purportedly showing city employees encouraging a mentally disabled man to eat a mouthful of cinnamon as a prank, his lawyer said Thursday.
Attorney Carlos Moore said he's representing former Tutwiler Police Chief Terry Tyler and that they have asked town officials for an appeal hearing. Tyler claims the "Cinnamon Challenge" was already happening when he arrived and he pointed the man to a water fountain.
The video shows a woman pouring cinnamon into 18-year-old Ted Martin's mouth while people cheered. Martin holds the cinnamon in his mouth for a few seconds before coughing out a plume of the spice and running to a water fountain and then a restroom, apparently gagging. The video was taken at City Hall by one of the officers and posted on YouTube, though it has since been taken down.
The "Cinnamon Challenge" is a prank in which people try to swallow the spice without water. It dries the mouth and usually causes them to cough and spit. There are thousands of videos on the Internet that show people trying it.
The Tutwiler Board of Alderman voted Feb. 14 to fire Tyler, two officers, the town clerk and a court clerk.
Moore said Tyler had been in the building earlier in the day and heard his police officers talking about taking the challenge themselves and Martin volunteered to do it. Tyler left to handle police business and when he returned, Martin had already put the cinnamon in his mouth, Moore said.
"He directed Ted to get some water," Moore said.
Moore said the town attorney verified Thursday that she had received his request for an appeal hearing. Moore said the attorney told him the board will discuss the matter at its regularly scheduled March 6 meeting and decide if and when an appeal hearing might take place.
"Hopefully he will be reinstated and we can avoid a wrongful termination lawsuit," Moore said. "My client was not given due process."
The town attorney, Renetha Frieson, did not immediately respond to a message. Mayor Genether Miller-Spurlock has not responded to numerous messages since news of the firings were made public last week.
Martin's family hired attorney Ellis Pittman, who has said his client was choking because of the cinnamon, but the officials "were all laughing, grinning and having a grand time."
Pittman said there's a separate video that showed a police officer boxing with Martin. He said the former chief wasn't in that video.
The video was taken while Martin was assigned to Tutwiler City Hall to work off fines from a minor criminal charge, Pittman has said.
Tallahatchie County Sheriff William Brewer has said he reported the incident to the FBI and that a joint investigation is under way.
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.