Police Chief Steve Anderson has slammed the Nashville district attorney’s office for criticizing the police department’s handling of the Feb. 10 fatal shooting of an armed black man by a white officer acting in self-defense.
In a report and at a press conference last week, officials with the district attorney’s office criticized the language the Metro Nashville Police Department used in a report and for supposedly concluding only several hours after the incident that the shooting was justifiable and saying the investigation was complete.
While District Attorney Glenn Funk concluded that Officer Josh Lippert did act in self-defense in shooting Jocques Scott Clemmons, the report released by his office said the police department contributed to an appearance of bias in the case, which provoked a strong reaction in the community and raised questions of fairness.
WKRN News 2 reported that in a letter Monday to Deputy District Attorney Amy Hunter, who spoke at the May 11 press conference, Anderson said his department had provided the district attorney’s office in advance with an explanation of the language used in the police report, adding that police follow guidelines from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
Anderson said Hunter’s statement at the press conference, taken from the district attorney’s report, “defies any common sense evaluation.”
“You are well aware that the MNPD continued this investigation for a number of days after the event,” Anderson wrote. “Second, you are aware, or should be aware, through your day to day duties, that investigations are almost never ‘completed’. There is almost always additional information to gather up to, and during, a trial. Third, Block 11 of the MNPD report refers to, and reports the status of, the offense itself. By TIBRS mandate and definition the term ‘Completed’ is the appropriate characterization of the offense itself— not completion of the investigation.”
Anderson called on Hunter to publicly retract her “misstatements.”
In a letter to Mayor Megan Barry, District Attorney Funk accused Anderson of making “personal attacks” on Hunter.
“Her words were accurate and I stand by Amy Hunter’s statements and everything included in the report,” Funk wrote, adding, “I hope that future discussions can remain focused on best practices designed to assure a safe Nashville with enhanced confidence in police investigations.”
The district attorney’s report also criticized the police department for using the word “suspect” to describe Clemmons and using the word “victim” to describe Lippert, saying doing so “seems insensitive because no charges could be brought against Mr. Clemmons.”
MNPD spokeswoman Kris Mumford told The Tennessee Star that Clemmons was referred to alternately as suspect and victim.
Funk in his letter to Barry said it is current TBI practice to refer to deceased or injured citizens as “other.”
In Seattle, Washington, police are now to use the phrase “community member” instead of “suspect” on multiple forms. Police are balking at the change when it comes to use of force incidents. The change is a result of an update in the computer software program used by Seattle police called Blue Team.
“I think this is all in an effort to make sure our report writing sounds politically correct,” Seattle Police Officers’ Guild Kevin Stuckey told Kiro 7 News.
Mumford told The Star that she isn’t familiar with Blue Team.
The shooting Feb. 10 happened after Lippert observed Clemmons failing to stop at a stop sign while patrolling the Cayce Homes public housing development in East Nashville. A confrontation followed, with Clemmons pointing a gun at the officer and ignoring commands to put it down. Lippert then shot Clemmons, who died later in surgery at Vanderbilt.
Community outcry prompted the district attorney’s critical look at the police department and the announcement of two initiatives “to make the justice system more fair and equitable,” according to the district attorney’s report.
The first initiative deals with reducing the rate of pre-trial incarcerations for misdemeanor offenses and the second initiative establishes a Conviction Review Unit to prevent wrongful convictions.
Also, in the future the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation will alone conduct a thorough criminal investigation when an MNPD officer’s use of force results in a death. In the past, the police department alone conducted the investigation.
In Lippert’s case, the MNPD immediately began an investigation and then on Feb. 16, the district attorney asked the TBI to take over the investigation.