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Chief calls officer hero, flooded business owner calls him out of line

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JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) -

After 13 years in business, Babies on Broadway owner Joy Powell has had her share of floods and next day cleanups, but last night she experienced a first.

"I'm very upset, not about the flood, we handle that, I'm upset that I was treated that way," Powell said.

It all started when flood waters consumed much of Broadway and Main streets in Johnson City. At the time, like she always does during a flood, Powell was trying to clear debris and trash from an outside storm drain. She says in the past when she's done that, the flood waters have receded within a matter of 10 minutes. But Wednesday night, she was stopped in the act on her property by a Johnson City police officer. Because of that, she says the waters remained high for an hour-and-a-half.

"You clean it out and then the water goes down," Powell said. "13 years they let me do it, what's different now?"

According to the police department, an officer heard a paramedic demanding the woman get to higher ground, so he put on a life jacket and swam to her. He even tried to physically pull her out of the water, but she wouldn't cooperate.

"He used very foul language," Powell said. "He told me to get the F across the street and I asked him not to speak to in me that language. I jerked away and I said, 'You can't touch me.' He told me if I did not come, he would grab me around the neck and drag me across the street."

Johnson City police admit Broadway Street posed quite a challenge for rescue crews and officers last night. Chief Mark Sirois says people were stranded in their cars and the strong current even briefly pulled a paramedic under the water.

Afraid Powell was in danger, Chief Sirois says his officer had a duty to get that woman to safety.

"What they were telling her was that the grate could have come unhinged or loose and she could have been sucked into that," Chief Sirois said. "I commended the officer for what he did. He was trying to save her life. I thought that the officer did a fine job."

According to Chief Sirois, he's since talked to the officer and his supervisor and is convinced the public servant acted appropriately. But what about his language?

"There was a word used and I've talked to the officer about that. It was something to get her attention and we don't condone that," Chief Sirois said. "In the heat of the moment and the frustration, he was trying to get her verbally to leave the area and get out of the dangerous situation. The officer had reason to believe that she was in a life-threatening position, because of where she was."

According to Chief Sirois, there is no video or audio of the exchange. He says the officer will not be disciplined.

"We have a formal complaint process in place if this individual feels she would like to follow up with us that way," Chief Sirois said.

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