Metro police are defending the actions of Officer Josh Lippert, who shot and killed a man after a brief scuffle Friday afternoon in the James Cayce public housing projects in East Nashville.
While police point to several surveillance videos as a clear record of what happened, many who saw the footage are responding with alarm. Several who live in and around Cayce Homes questioned whether lethal force was justified.
“It’s all on video,” MNPD spokesman Don Aaron said Saturday. “It’s clear that this guy was resisting him.”
Police say Officer Lippert pulled over 31-year-old Jocques Clemmons after seeing him run a stop sign. Clemmons has a lengthy criminal record, including a 2014 conviction on cocaine charges and more than a dozen driver's license citations, indicating a large quantity of traffic stops. But it’s unclear whether Clemmons was known to police, including Lippert.
Soon after the two got out of their cars, Aaron says Clemmons “body-checked” the officer.
“The officer didn’t escalate this,” Aaron says. “The officer is standing there and the man charges him and rams him. I mean, the officer didn’t escalate that.”
Lippert, who has been with the department for five years, chased Clemmons as he ran across a parking lot. In the police account, Lippert says that Clemmons was clutching something in his waistband.
The video shows the officer taking Clemmons to the ground, and that’s when police say a .357 magnum hit the asphalt. Lippert attempted to kick the revolver away, but police say that Clemmons picked it up and refused to drop it.
The police department says Lippert first drew his Taser and then switched to his firearm, which he fired three times, “believing he was in imminent danger,” according to the account.
About 20 seconds passed from the beginning of the foot chase to the shooting.
As for why Clemmons was shot in the back, police say he had just turned to run between two parked cars.
Clemmons didn’t die until he was in surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. And police say that was part of Lippert’s motivation for picking up the .357 magnum and placing it in his police cruiser.
“The officer in being there in that moment by himself with a guy who was still showing movement elected to preserve that gun and picked it up,” Aaron says, acknowledging that law enforcement is trained not to move anything on a crime scene.
MNPD’s cold case homicide unit will conduct a full investigation and turn their findings over to the District Attorney. Lippert is on paid administrative leave. Both are standard procedure.
After Seeing Police Video, Residents Question Shooting
By late morning Saturday, a small but impassioned demonstration had formed at the corner of Shelby Avenue and South 6th Street, a block from the shooting. Acquaintances of Clemmons — as well as complete strangers — held “justice for Jocques” signs and criticized much of what they saw on the video released by police.
“I just feel that he was gunned down for no reason. If he’s running away from you, he poses no threat,” said Aquanya Bryant, an acquaintance. “I want the officer to be held accountable for what he did.”
Bryant was among demonstrators who were highly critical of police, questioning why the situation turned deadly. Among concerns were the use of force and that Clemmons was shot in the back, as well as a question about why he was being pursued.
“You’re telling me you couldn’t draw your Taser first?” said Quoizel Bryant, who lives nearby. “You’re a trained officer. You are trained to diffuse a situation”
Antonio Bass shared his thoughts after freely admitting to having a criminal record and a history of running from officers, including having been Tasered.
“You should have Tased him. You could have done anything but kill him,” Bass said. “People run from the police everyday. Is that alright to shoot, though? … I don’t care who they place out on these streets, just don’t shoot a man in the back.”
While some in the gathering were unequivocal, others discussed the community’s relationship with police. Officers have stepped up their visibility in Cayce Homes in recent days because compared to 2016, there's been a three-fold increase in aggravated assaults since the first of the year.
“You supposed to have people that come from this type of community policing this community,” said Quentin Transley. “Man, I know the hardest job in the world is being a police officer. If he was wrong, he was wrong. If he wasn’t, he wasn’t.”
Transley debated the details with Norman Braden, 67, who called the officer a “rookie” because of his five years of experience.
“The training puzzles me,” he said. “[Clemmons] did attack the police, but you didn’t have to kill him.”
A man who identified himself only as Clemmons' brother declined to speak, saying that relatives had been advised not to discuss what happened.
“I could go all day,” the man said. “I’m hurting.”