Nashville groups eager to investigate the officer-involved shooting of Landon Eastep

Posted at 8:01 PM, Jan 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-01 06:56:39-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — At least three separate agencies have prepared for investigations of their own into the deadly police shooting of Landon Eastep.

What NewsChannel 5 has seen from the body camera footage so far is limited compared to the entirety of what happened between Eastep and officers on Interstate 65.

James Smallwood of the local Fraternal Order of Police says this is one more reason why we should not rush to judge the officers that day. Smallwood says a few things stood out from what he saw.

“They followed their training. They followed their policy and they didn’t have any other choice,” Smallwood said.

Smallwood can’t speak to these officers to get their take, but he believes the shooting was justified.

Eastep appeared unstable as he held a box cutter in one hand and something silver in the other. Officers surrounded Eastep on the packed interstate for several minutes.

Traffic was blocked as officers positioned themselves in front of Eastep before eventually opening fire. Moments before, Eastep reached for something that NewsChannel 5 now knows was not a weapon.

Although officers appeared to believe that Eastep was experiencing a mental health crisis, Metro officers did not call the Mobile Crisis Unit as they have in the past.

The unit of mental health counselors serves as a resource for anyone in need of help talking through a crisis. Police have not said why none of their officers called.

“We can’t just say this would have worked. This would have been the solution because that’s not always the case,” Smallwood said.

As Smallwood waits on the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to run its review, Jill Fitcheard of Nashville’s Community Oversight Board is waiting on answers of her own.

Her office is responsible for investigating administrative policy changes to see if what happened to Eastep could have been prevented.

Unlike where some have only seen clips of body camera footage, Fitcheard watched the entire video from several angles. She says the response to what appeared to be a mental health crisis concerned her.

“As a community, we have to do better in how we respond to cases that involve people who might be suffering from mental health conditions. We don’t know what he was suffering from, but if I was looking at the process of what happened then I think there should have been some other steps taken,” Fitcheard said.

With 30 plus cases already on their books involving Metro Nashville Police this year alone, this is the first officer-involved shooting.

While this marks the first shooting of its kind for Nashville in 2022, cases have increased over the years. Last year there were 10 incidents and the year prior, there were three.

Fitcheard says what makes this more challenging is how many agencies are involved. Between Tennessee Highway Patrol and an off-duty Mt. Juliet Police initiating contact, there were three agencies present during the shooting.

Neither THP nor Mt. Juliet Police is obligated to cooperate with Fitcheard’s investigation. Just like Smallwood, Fitcheard now counts on TBI to share interviews as a way of learning more about the officers on scene that day.

She says it's important to know what training these officers had and why they never bothered to contact mental health professionals when they had the chance. Fitcheard says she also wants to know why Tennessee Highway Patrol contacted Metro Nashville Police to the scene.

Once TBI’s investigation is complete, findings will be sent to Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk’s office. Funk issued a statement Friday to say he will wait for the investigation to be complete before taking any necessary actions.

“I would hope that the district attorney general would continue to keep us involved and keep us updated on the case and then release those records to us when they’re finalized,” Fitcheard said.

So far NewsChannel 5 knows MNPD Police Chief John Drake has placed five of his officers on routine administrative leave following a shooting. Veteran officer Brian Murphy was decommissioned, pending review, for firing the last two shots well after Eastep was on the ground.

Smallwood says this is simply a sign that police have questions and should not be considered an action against the police.

“Somebody being decommissioned is not indicative of someone doing something wrong. What it is indicative of is the department having questions and wanting to investigate further,” Smallwood said.