Nashville police shot and killed a 23-year-old man in a homeless encampment behind a Goodwill facility on Nolensville Pike Saturday evening.
Officials have identified the man as Jacob Griffin.
Nashville Police Chief John Drake says police officers, including members of the Special Weapons and Tactics team, spent hours trying to negotiate with him. They also called the mental health Mobile Crisis unit to the scene. But after Griffin fired a pistol — the second time as officers were trying to take him into custody — officers shot back. Police say Griffin was transported to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
This is the fifth time Metro officers have shot someone so far this year and the third deadly shooting. Two civilians and one police officer were wounded in other incidents but survived. A 21-year-old also died after shooting himself, possibly accidentally, while running from police in February.
The Metro Nashville Police Department released excerpts from 911 tape and body camera footage Sunday morning.
It begins with a call from Griffin’s mother to 911 Saturday afternoon saying that her son, who she described as homeless and schizophrenic, had been texting her for the past hour telling her that he planned to kill her and other people. She said he had a gun and that he had texted her pictures of a full magazine of bullets earlier in the day.
“He is armed and I personally would consider him dangerous, but he has never actually been violent,” she said. “I really don’t want the police to kill him, but I don’t want him to kill anyone else, either.”
Griffin’s mother explained that her son had recently been fired from Goodwill and that, in the past few months, he had repeatedly threatened the store’s manager. She said he had also “threatened to enter the Goodwill with a weapon and kill everyone he can find” and that he had texted her about “mass murder.”
South Precinct patrol officers Luis Peña and Matthew Swindell first found Griffin at the homeless encampment behind Goodwill, and Peña tried to get Griffin to let go of his gun by using his Taser, according to police. But it didn’t work. SWAT officers and negotiators later arrived.
Most officers at the scene have not yet been equipped with cameras, and the video that was released only includes a few blurry moments from the hourslong encounter.
At first, it shows Officer Swindell and SWAT Sergeant Melvin Brown III trying to convince Griffin to drop his gun and talk to mental health counselors.
“You have total control to end all this, come out here safely, let the counselor talk to you,” one of the officers says, adding that Griffin can trust them. “I’m not leaving until you come out here safely. I can’t leave until you come out here safely.”
Another officer says the first step is all up to him — to walk out without his pistol.
Griffin yells that he is “a hypnotist” and tells them to get off his property. Officers continue to ask him to trust them and walk out safely.
After Griffin fires his gun, an officer several feet behind aims his own weapon. Griffin yells to “get that [expletive] gun out of my [expletive] face.”
The negotiations continued. MNPD spokesperson Don Aaron says officers then created a plan to take Griffin into custody using “distraction devices, direct-impact hard foam rounds and a police K-9 team.” The camera footage of this moment is too blurry to tell exactly what happened. It ends with gunshots.
Most police shootings on record
It’s unclear how many people have been shot by police in the city’s history, because the Metro Nashville Police Department did not start tracking such incidents until 2005. But this is the first year since then that officers have shot five people. In past years, the number has ranged between zero and four.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Metro Nashville Community Oversight, which works with Nashville’s Community Oversight Board, are both conducting independent investigations, as is the protocol for all shootings involving Metro Police.
MNCO’s executive director, Jill Fitcheard, says her agency was told about the crisis as it unfolded but did not see any body camera footage until it was released to the public.
“I am disappointed that after being told by numerous MNPD officials that we would have an opportunity to view the body-worn camera footage before its release to the general public, that did not happen,” she said in a prepared statement. “Our community has entrusted the COB to conduct administrative investigations into police shootings, and we can only do that when we have all information made available to us.”
The officers involved have also been placed on administrative assignment until MNPD completes its own internal review.
The shootings come as the courts are preparing for Nashville’s first murder trial of a police officer who killed someone in the line of duty. Officer Andrew Delke stands trial for first-degree murder this July, for shooting Daniel Hambrick during a foot chase in 2018.
Investigations into the shootings this year are ongoing, and no officers involved have been criminally charged at this point. Police officials have said officers acted correctly in each of the prior incidents this year.
Still, Community Oversight Board Chair Andres Martinez said the shooting shows an “inability to adequately respond to a person experiencing a mental health crisis.”
“The status quo has proven deadly once again — as a community we must do everything we can to prevent losing another life,” he said.
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member. Chas Sisk contributed to this story.