NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Investigative files released Friday show that members of a grand jury have questions about a white officer’s shooting of an armed black man in Nashville, even though prosecutors decided not to bring charges against the officer.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation files say grand jurors had questions about the February shooting and TBI special agent Caleb Utterback went before the panel on May 19 to answer them. The files do not say what grand jurors asked and why they wanted to know more details.
Nashville District Attorney General Glenn Funk had earlier announced that he would not bring charges against Officer Joshua Lippert in the case because he would have a legitimate claim of self-defense. The decision drew swift outcry from family members of slain man Jocques Clemmons, the NAACP and others in the community.
Funk, who had gone before the grand jury to explain his decision not to prosecute, said he was not privy to the grand jurors’ deliberations but they always issue a report at the end of their term and could possibly address the shooting.
Grand jury reports aren’t binding, but they do have the potential to change public policy. The grand jury is expected to adjourn in the next few weeks, he said.
Prosecutors have maintained that the decision not to prosecute the officer was made because Clemmons was armed, dropped his gun and then picked it up again and had pointed it at the officer during a confrontation after a traffic stop at a public housing development.
An attorney for the Clemmons family has maintained that the 31-year-old African-American man did not have a gun and there is no DNA or fingerprint evidence on the revolver linking the weapon to him.
The TBI’s investigative files also show that one witness said Lippert stood over Clemmons and used a racial slur after he shot him. The witness told the TBI that he heard the officer say to Clemmons, “Why would you do something stupid like that, n—-?” the report says.
The TBI files shows that Lippert denied the slur and said he tried to render aid to the man. “At no time do I remember using any profanity of any kind nor any derogatory racial slurs,” the officer said.
A woman who took cellphone video after the shooting said she did not hear the slur.
“That ‘witness’ is a liar,” Lippert’s lawyer, John M.L. Brown, said in a statement. “If he testifies to that lie under oath, he deserves to be prosecuted for perjury.”
No other witnesses have said Lippert used a racial slur except for a man that the officer had arrested last year, Nashville Police spokeswoman Kris Mumford said.
Michael Hoskins, an attorney for the Clemmons family, said he wanted to thoroughly read the TBI files and would comment next week.
The Clemmons shooting has already spurred changes in policing in Nashville.
After it happened, Funk announced the TBI would investigate all fatal police shootings going forward, instead of the Metro Nashville Police Department investigating itself.
Nashville’s Metro Council called for the immediate purchase of police body cameras. And Mayor Megan Barry has proposed spending $23 million to equip police officers with body cameras and install dash cams in their vehicles.