Three Nashville police officers who raided the wrong apartment in a public housing complex last summer are now facing harsh discipline.
The officers broke down the door while looking for a teenager whom they thought had stolen several cars. Instead, they barged in on a woman and her children.
Lieutenant Harrison Dooley, who was in charge that day, has been demoted and suspended for 10 days without pay. Officer Michael Richardson received a 20-day suspension. And Sergeant Jeff Brown, the second-highest ranking officer involved, has been suspended for 30 days and will be demoted if he breaks policy again in the next five years.
Those are some of the most severe punishments in MNPD’s disciplinary system. Officers who are suspended for more than 30 days in a year are typically terminated.
The severity of the punishments suggests the department wants to send a clear message about the mistakes in this case.
“The discipline given to the three is significant, as were the missteps in the preparation and execution of this search warrant,” Chief John Drake said in a statement. “All three admitted to violating our policies and procedures and are being held accountable.”
The errors began early on in the investigation process, when officers tried to track down the address of the teenager whose home they hoped to search. They used a housing authority database that hadn’t been updated in several years, which led them to an apartment that the teenager and his mom no longer lived in.
And when the officers arrived at the apartment that Azaria Hines had since moved into with her children, body camera footage shows them dressed in bulletproof vests and banging on the door while Hines yells that she doesn’t have clothes on. It was about 6 a.m.
Officers tell her to step back as they bash in the door.
“We’re going to have to keep going,” one says.
— Samantha Max (@samanthaellimax) August 19, 2020
Drake released body camera footage of the incident last summer and criticized the officers for unnecessarily escalating the situation.
“One thing that I’ve talked about, at least for the last month, is: de-escalate, de-escalate, de-escalate,” he told reporters last summer, just a few weeks after replacing former Chief Steve Anderson. “And in this particular situation, we didn’t de-escalate. We actually escalated, in my opinion. We could have prevented this.”
After the raid, Drake required new training on search warrants for officers that conduct investigations.
It was one of the first high-profile incidents caught on body camera and released to the public. Drake promised then to keep sharing videos moving forward.
“The community wanted us to have body cameras so we can show our rights and our wrongs,” he said at the time. “We do a lot of things right. But some things we get wrong, as well. And this is one.”
Drake has since released body camera footage from the Christmas bombing, a death-in-custody after someone was Tased during an arrest, and several shootings by police. However, the department has not been consistent in its approach to releasing footage. Sometimes footage is shared in full with reporters during a press conference, along with a question-and-answer session. Other times, the department releases edited videos with narration from the director of public affairs.
The department has also denied requests from multiple news outlets, including WPLN News, to release unedited footage of an hours-long standoff between police and 23-year-old man with schizophrenia who was killed by police earlier this month.
MNPD is still in the process of equipping officers with body cameras, after years of delays. About half of officers now wear cameras.
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.