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Nashville officer involved in shooting loses police power

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  • METROPOLITAN NASHVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT / AP
                                This still image from police body cam released by Metropolitan Nashville Police Department shows officers pleading with a man to surrender before shooting him on Jan. 28, in Nashville, Tenn.

    METROPOLITAN NASHVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT / AP

    This still image from police body cam released by Metropolitan Nashville Police Department shows officers pleading with a man to surrender before shooting him on Jan. 28, in Nashville, Tenn.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. >> Nashville’s police chief stripped an officer of his policing authority Friday after he fired the final two shots to end a fatal highway standoff in which nine officers opened fire on a man who stopped traffic while holding a box cutter.

Authorities on Thursday afternoon had pleaded with Landon Eastep to surrender while they kept their guns drawn, but fatally shot him when he pulled another shiny object from his pocket and pointed it at police as if ready to shoot. That object turned out not to be a gun.

Police released body camera footage (viewer discretion advised) and identified the officers involved within hours of the shooting of the 37-year-old Nashville man along Interstate 65.

Attorney Joy Kimbrough called the shooting a “firing squad execution,” and tweeted that Eastep’s family would speak at a news conference Friday evening.

Nashville Police Chief John Drake has ordered the department to decommission — meaning to strip policing power — from Officer Brian Murphy while the shooting is reviewed by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, or TBI. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the force who police say fired the final two shots from a rifle. The other five Metro Nashville officers who fired were placed on routine administrative assignment, pending the TBI review.

Additionally, Drake ordered the department’s training academy to review the response in the incident.

Academy staff will “thoroughly examine how our officers positioned themselves in this multi-agency response and as well review the tactics and procedures used in relation to those that we teach,” Drake said in a news release. “I am saddened by any loss of life, and I send my condolences to the Eastep family.”

The two state troopers involved are on routine discretionary leave with pay, according to Tennessee Highway Patrol spokesperson Lt. Bill Miller.

Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk promised to take “any appropriate action” once the TBI had finished its investigation. Funk promised to release the TBI’s investigative report in full.

Police spokesperson Don Aaron cautioned that the images may be disturbing, but said they were released so that people could better understand what happened.

The confrontation began when a Tennessee Highway Patrol officer saw Eastep sitting on a guardrail and stopped to offer him a ride. After a brief interaction, the man pulled a box cutter and the trooper called for backup, police said. Many other officers arrived, blocking traffic in both directions as a helicopter circled overhead.

“Whatever you’re worried about, we can fix it,” an off-duty Mount Juliet officer who stopped on his way home can be heard telling Eastep. “Let us get you some help though. This is not the answer.”

Later, Eastep could be seen putting his right hand in his pocket while still carrying the box cutter in his left.

“Come on brother, just drop the knife, get your hand out of your pocket. If that’s a gun what you’ve got in there, don’t worry about it, we’ll figure it out! We’ll fix it!” the officer said.

Aaron said officers tried to deescalate the situation for about 30 minutes.

“Brother, look I don’t have a damn vest on and I still stopped … because I want you to go home today. I don’t want you to end up dead on the side of the interstate. Nobody wants that,” the officer said.

Finally, later, Eastep pulled a “silver, shiny cylindrical object” from his pocket and pointed it at officers. The object, it turned out, was not a weapon, Aaron said.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper said he was “disturbed” by Thursday’s shooting, adding that, “We will learn from this awful event and continue to do everything we can to prevent similar incidents in the future.”

Cooper also noted that officers have begun being paired with mental health professionals. That didn’t happen during this incident, Aaron said, because so far, that program has been limited to two precincts. In the wake of the interstate shooting, the police chief announced Friday that the pilot program will soon expand to two additional precincts.

In September, Eastep’s landlord filed an eviction case against him, court documents show. The following month, his wife filled out a registration form for them to participate in Nashville’s judicially run diversion program that helps settle eviction cases during the COVID-19 pandemic between tenants and their landlords by securing U.S. Treasury Emergency Rental Assistance Program money or federal coronavirus relief funds.

“My husband Landon is a high risk for OVID-19 due to him missing half a lung,” his wife Chelesy wrote in the October application. “He got sick and lost his job and has had trouble finding work. We got behind on rent and haven’t been able to catch up.”

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