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By Jacqueline Koch
The Chattanooga Times Free Press

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - An aggravated assault suspect bit the hand that arrested him Saturday, resulting in an infection and hospitalization for a Chattanooga police officer, reports show.
Howard Cordell Johnson, 28, bit Officer John Patterson's left knuckle and palm after being arrested and placed in handcuffs in connection with a domestic assault, according to a Chattanooga Police Department report.
About 5:40 a.m. in the 2300 block of Wheeler Avenue, Mr. Johnson resisted arrest while being put in a police car, so Officer Patterson attempted to distract him with an open-handed pain compliance technique by touching a nerve group at the top of his sternum, according to an incident report. Mr. Johnson allegedly moved his head forward and bit Officer Patterson's left knuckle, the report said.
While the initial bite did not break the skin, Officer Patterson reflexively opened his palm and pushed Mr. Johnson's head away, at which time Mr. Johnson bit into the officer's left palm, breaking skin and exposing muscle, the report said.
Emergency medical crews were called to stop the bleeding, and doctors at Erlanger hospital sutured the wound on Officer Patterson's palm. He later was admitted for a systematic infection and was listed in fair condition Monday afternoon, according to Erlanger personnel.
Reached by telephone Monday, Officer Patterson confirmed that he was bitten by a suspect and had a staph infection, but he directed all other questions to his supervisor or the Chattanooga Police Department's public information office.
Officers initially responded to the residence on a report of domestic assault and found Mr. Johnson with a foot-long knife in his back pocket, reports show. He subsequently was booked on charges of simple domestic assault, resisting arrest and aggravated assault.
In the past, officers have been bitten by suspects, as well as been cut or had blood splashed in their eyes, said Sgt. Craig Joel, Officer Patterson's supervisor who oversees the midnight shift for the East Chattanooga area. But this was the first time he saw an officer get bitten, he said.
"Everybody expects cops to be injured by bullets or knives," he said. "I'm most afraid of cars on the interstate" and contagious diseases.
Any time an exchange of fluid -- such as blood or saliva -- occurs, the officer and suspect involved must undergo blood tests soon after the incident, Sgt. Joel said.
"In my experience, there's about a two-hour window to administer the various drug cocktails for anything from hepatitis to tuberculosis to HIV," he said.
He said he could not discuss the results of either blood test from Saturday's incident.
Most officers take several precautions to prevent contracting diseases, Sgt. Joel said. Many keep hand sanitizer in their cars. Sgt. Joel has rubber gloves on his utility belt, and he said that is just as important as anything else he carries.
Restraining a suspect mitigates some of the threat, but not all of it, Sgt. Joel said.
"Once a prisoner is handcuffed, they are still a danger," he said.

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