Federal lawsuit points to bodycam video; accuses deputies of excessive force

Posted at 3:53 PM, Feb 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-21 19:26:45-05

ASHLAND CITY, Tenn. (WTVF) — A federal lawsuit claims two Cheatham county sheriff's deputies used excessive force -- shooting up a home. And the key piece of evidence? Bodycam video that captures the incident.

It's was after dark in August of last year. Cheatham county sheriff's deputies -- Sgt. Doug Fox and Chris Austin were in Chapmansboro to investigate two 9-1-1 cellphone hang-ups. They arrived with no flashing lights and no sirens. Body cameras capture the deputies approaching the home of Mark Campbell.

"He just hates law enforcement. He hates anyone in authority," said Sheriff Mike Breedlove.

The sheriff said his deputies know Campbell's dangerous reputation -- he had prior arrests -- and approached with caution gently knocking on the front door. On the video you do not hear the deputies identify themselves. You do hear this exchange with Campbell:

"Come on out Mark. What's up man?" said one deputy.

"You gotta gun," said Campbell.

"What's going on Mark?" said the deputy.

"I got one too," said Campbell..

At that moment, you see Sgt. Fox turn away and pull his weapon.

Seconds later he fires the 40 caliber Glock toward the house. At first it looks like Deputy Austin is hit as he dives for cover. But all eight rounds went through the front door of Campbell's home.

"I went to open the door and boom, boom two shots through the door," said Campbell who wasn't hit.

He ducked and yelled to his wife as the rounds flew over his head.

"When I hit the floor I told her to call 9-1-1 to say someone is shooting at us. You still had no idea who it was? Never had any idea who it was," said Campbell.

His attorney says his client didn't know they were deputies.

"They do not announce themselves as police or law enforcement," said attorney John Morris.

He added that there was no justification for the use of deadly force and is suing the sheriff's department in federal court.

"We're alleging violation of civil rights," said Morris.

A key question is why this situation escalated to level of shots fired? You do hear Campbell ask about guns and then claims to have one himself -- something he said he did to deter the strangers outside. But saying that certainly put the deputies on alert.

"It's simply dangerous going to his house," said Sheriff Breedlove.

Campbell's lawyer said his client had reason to be wary.

"My client has had issues with people coming to his home and roughing him up in the past. Not the police, but other individuals. He doesn't know these are the police," said Morris.

The sheriff disagrees.

"He knew we were there."

Attorney Morris said the 9-1-1 calls in question did not come from his client's home. But Sheriff Breedlove said 9-1-1 dispatch sent his deputies there. So why didn't they identify themselves when they arrived?

"I don't think they had the opportunity to start that," said Breedlove.

Another question: Why did Sgt. Fox fire the gunshots? You can hear him explain on the body cam video.

"Chief, I was the one who shot. We got up to the door. He asked do we have a gun. He says I got a gun. He opens the door and lifts something up. Puts it up to the door and I shoot at him," said Sgt. Fox.

The video does show the front door crack open and you see Campbell's head, but he said he never pointed anything at anyone. Campbell does not own a handgun and one was not found in his home.

Sheriff Breedlove said the video doesn't show everything and he believes his deputies who said Campbell pointed a weapon. That's the reason Campbell was taken into custody and charged with assaulting the officers.

Now, months later, bullet holes remain in Campbell's home, a reminder of the night he says he very nearly died.

"I'm scared to death if I open my door who's out here now," said Campbell.

As for what really happened? Someone here is not telling the whole truth.

Campbell said he's an innocent man who thought strangers up to no good were on his property.

The sheriff said his deputies did nothing wrong.

"It's a split second decision that is studied, scrutinized, judged for weeks on end and it will come down to our day in court," said Breedlove.

Campbell's federal lawsuit seeks punitive damages from the sheriff, his deputies and the Cheatham County government.