The Metro Nashville Police Department has placed three officers on desk duty while it investigates the wrongful raid of a woman’s home early Tuesday morning.
Interim Chief John Drake said officers were acting on “stale information” when they broke down the door of an apartment where the subject of a search warrant hadn’t lived for months. The subject was believed to have a role in recent vehicle burglaries. He said there’s no one to blame but the department itself for an incident that never should have happened — especially not for a minor crime.
“There’s just no reason for a property crime. If we’re not looking for a violent felon, someone that’s dangerous to our community, we can pull back,” Drake said at a press conference Wednesday evening. “One thing that I’ve talked about, at least for the last month, is: de-escalate, de-escalate, de-escalate. And, in this particular situation, we didn’t de-escalate. We actually escalated, in my opinion. We could have prevented this.”
Lt. Harrison Dooley, Sgt. Jeff Brown and officer Michael Richardson of the West Precinct were looking for a 16-year-old whom they believed lived in the Edgehill public housing apartments when they banged on Azaria Hines’ door just after 6 a.m. on Tuesday.
The police department says officers found the teenager’s address in a housing authority database that hadn’t been updated since November 2018. MNPD has since learned that the 16-year-old and his mother moved out last summer and that Hines moved in with her children about four months ago.
Drake said the department is reviewing its protocols and will now require deputy chiefs to sign off on all search warrants. That’s an extra safeguard he said has never been in place before.
Drake said officers will also receive new training so nothing like this happens again in the future.
“We can do better, we will do better, and we’ll definitely move better moving forward,” he said. “This will never happen again.”
Body Cameras Played A ‘Crucial’ Role
It’s been just a few weeks since the Metro Nashville Police Department started rolling out its long-awaited body camera program, and this marks the first high-profile incident caught on film.
The video, which police played for reporters at at Wednesday’s press conference, shows three officers bashing in Hines’ apartment door as she yells from inside that she’s undressed.
An officer shouts, “Hit it again! Hit it again! Keep hitting it!” as the group bangs on the door. When Hines says she’s not wearing any clothing, an officer orders her to step back.
“I don’t have clothes on!” she pleads as they continue ramming in the door. “Are you serious?”
— Samantha Max (@samanthaellimax) August 19, 2020
The officers were decommissioned almost immediately after Drake reviewed the footage. He said it played a crucial role in his decision.
“The body cam footage is just pertinent to this investigation. And it’s going to be pertinent, moving forward,” Drake told reporters. “And that’s what the community wanted. The community wanted us to have body cameras so we can show our rights and our wrongs. We do a lot of things right. But some things we get wrong, as well. And this is one.”
Police oversight advocates have urged the city to deploy body cameras for years as an extra measure of accountability.
Turnover in the mayor’s office and budget concerns have delayed MNPD’s body cameras project multiple times over the past four years. But officers at the West Precinct — including those involved in the raid — were the first to be equipped with cameras last month.
Here’s an interactive timeline of the city’s body camera project:
The mayor’s office says all police will be wearing body cams by February of next year.
In the meantime, both the police department and the Community Oversight Board are investigating the incident. The oversight agency’s executive director, Jill Fitcheard, said the COB had already opened its own inquiry when Drake reached out and invited her to take an independent look.
Fitcheard told WPLN News she was surprised to get his call — something she says hadn’t happened with former Chief Steve Anderson.
“The swift steps taken today to decommission officers who may pose a risk to the public is always a step in the right direction,” she said.
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.