National News

No charges for white Nashville officer in black man's death

Posted May 12

— A white Nashville police officer won't face charges for shooting and killing an armed black man after a traffic stop in February, a district attorney said.

At a news conference Thursday, District Attorney General Glenn Funk said Officer Josh Lippert's actions met the legal definition of self-defense when he shot and killed Jocques Scott Clemmons following a traffic stop.

"Based on the facts of his incident and application of the law of self-defense in the state of Tennessee, Officer Lippert has a legally sufficient claim of self-defense, and therefore the state will not pursue criminal charges against Officer Lippert," Funk said.

The decision drew swift outcry from the NAACP, some clergy, Clemmons' family and other community members.

"We do not accept that this investigation was unbiased and we will continue to fight for justice for Jocques," Michael Hoskins, a lawyer for the family of Clemmons said.

Nashville NAACP president Ludye Wallace said black men were getting killed like this all over the country. He was critical of how Clemmons had been shot in the back.

"In the Western days, when everybody has guns, you didn't shoot them in the back," Wallace said.

At one point during the confrontation, the gun Clemmons was holding was pointed in Officer Lippert's direction, Funk said.

"Jocques Clemmons never drew down on the officer and pointed it at him," Funk said. "He had a gun in his hand. He picked it up in the middle of an altercation. Had he kept running and this was an unarmed person that was shot in the back, it would be a completely different situation."

Lippert shot Clemmons three times, striking him twice in the back and once in the left hip.

Clemmons, who has a lengthy history in the criminal justice system, was convicted of a cocaine felony in 2014, and as a convicted felon, it would have violated both state and federal law to possess the pistol, according to police.

Authorities maintain that the incident happened within seconds. Funk said Clemmons was holding the gun when he was shot.

The public outcry after the shooting resulted in major changes in policing in Nashville.

Funk announced that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation would investigate all fatal police shootings going forward, instead of the Metro Nashville Police Department investigating itself.

After the shooting, Nashville's Metro Council called for the immediate purchase of police body cameras. And Mayor Megan Barry has proposed spending $23 million to equip police officers with body cameras and install dash cams in their vehicles.

She spoke at a news conference of the effect of the shooting on the community.

"Two families were impacted that day. And those families and their lives will never be the same," Barry said.

At the news conference, Funk also said he was instituting new policies aimed at helping black community members charged with low-level crimes, including a plan to let them avoid jail time and be released on their own recognizance while awaiting trial; reviews to ensure convictions are justified; and a proposal to help kids avoid being locked up. He also suggested minority hiring in law enforcement, among other ideas.

Funk's office determined that aspects of the police department's review of the shooting could be perceived as biased, pointing out that an initial incident report filed hours after the shooting listed the offense as "justifiable homicide" and the investigation status as "completed," among issues in other police investigative documents.

Funk said he spoke with Police Chief Steve Anderson, who did not attend Thursday's news conference, and the chief will soon decide whether to discipline or fire Lippert.

Rasheedat Fetuga, founder of a group that crafted a report on traffic stops and Nashville police, said it's imperative to consider firing Lippert, pointing out that he has been disciplined for using force in the past.

Lippert has been suspended 20 days over his five years as a Nashville officer. Some of those were in incidents where he used force, according to his personnel file.

Lippert used physical force to take a black driver out of a car during an October 2015 traffic stop, earning him an eight-day suspension, records show. Lippert's decision to use force "unnecessarily escalated the encounter when the motorist had indicated he was willing to voluntarily step from the car if a supervisor was present," a disciplinary report states.

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