A white Nashville police officer who fatally shot an armed black man in February won’t face charges, District Attorney Glenn Funk announced at a press conference Thursday.
The case drew accusations of racial bias but Funk said the officer acted in self-defense because the man would not comply with requests to drop his pistol.
However, officials in the district attorney’s office are criticizing the police department for creating the appearance of bias for labeling the shooting justifiable before a thorough investigation could take place. Funk is also calling attention to a study purporting to show disparities in traffic stops and searches.
“For Nashville to move forward, all law enforcement, including my office, must take steps to enhance fairness and confidence in the criminal justice system,” Funk said in a related report, according to WKRN News Channel 2.
Officer Josh Lippert shot Jocques Scott Clemmons on Feb. 10 at the Cayce Homes public housing development. Lippert had wanted to talk to Clemmons about running a nearby stop sign, according to a Feb. 10 Metro Nashville Police Department news release.
But Clemmons, appearing to clutch something in his waistband, ran away from the Lippert when the officer pulled up to his SUV outside a Cayce Homes building. Lippert caught up with him and a physical confrontation ensued. Clemmons dropped his handgun but was able to retrieve it and refused Lippert’s commands to drop it. Believing he was in imminent danger, Lippert shot Clemmons, who died during surgery at Vanderbilt.
Lippert may still face disciplinary measures from within the police department, said Funk, describing it as a separate matter. Police Chief Steve Anderson was not at the press conference. When asked about Anderson’s absence, Funk said Anderson wanted to keep his supervisory role separate from that of the district attorney.
Mayor Megan Barry, who also spoke at the press conference, backed Funk’s decision to not file charges but called for more “equity and inclusion” in the justice system. Officials welcomed community members to the podium to voice similar concerns.
Funk recommended that Barry and the police department work with the district attorney’s office to review the Driving While Black study and increase efforts to hire more minorities, among other things.
Clemmons, 31, was convicted of a cocaine felony in 2014, for which he received an eight-year probated sentence and was forbidden by state and federal to own a gun.
“It is not known why Clemmons reacted the way he did to Officer Lippert. The fact that he was illegally carrying a gun in public housing may have been the reason,” said the Feb. 10 police department news release.