When the police department released footage of Officer Joshua Lippert shooting Jocques Clemmons after he ran a stop sign and allegedly brandished a gun, something felt strangely familiar to De’Anton Gipson.
Lippert, 32, had a number of suspensions on his record. The most severe was from two years ago. It involved a stop just a few blocks away from last week’s shooting.
“Man, that could have really been me on this particular day,” Gipson says, shaking his head. He’s sitting in his tidy apartment in Murfreesboro. His tiny dog, a terrier-shitzu mix named Mariah, nips at his ankles.
In October of 2015, Gipson, 21, was driving in East Nashville when he made an illegal left turn and was pulled over by Lippert. Gipson had no warrants or criminal history. So with a clean record and a compliant demeanor, Lippert didn’t write him a ticket. But before the officer let Gipson go, he asked if he could search his vehicle. Gipson refused.
It wasn’t the first time Gipson been stopped and searched by police.
“I was pulled over probably about every other week,” he says. Half of those stops, he says, the officer asked him to step out of the car so they could search his vehicle.
Late last year, a study found that black drivers are stopped significantly more often than white drivers. It also found that officers are more likely to try to talk their way into a vehicle search for black drivers, even when there's no obvious cause for one.
On this night, Gipson was fed up.
“I was just tired of being pulled over,” he says. “So I was exercising my right as a human and that was to say no. To respectfully decline.”
Still, Lippert insisted, asking him repeatedly to get out of the car. Gipson continued to refuse and asked for a supervisor. That’s when the tenor of the stop changed.
“It just started going down. More officers just started to pull up,” he says. “It got to the point where one officer was in the front passenger side trying to push me out. And then two officers were at my door, tugging on my shirt and pants leg, trying to get me out.”
Eventually, Gipson agreed to get out of the car. The officers wrestled him to the ground, scraping his face and banging his head in the process. Officer Lippert’s account in the report says Gipson swung at him. Gipson denies this.
He told the officers the handcuffs were too tight. “I am looking down and my wrists have blood on them.” He still has a small mark where the cuffs were.
Gipson says they shouted a expletives and racial slurs at him and told him to be quiet. In the report of the investigation, the officers admit to using profanity during the scuffle with Gipson but deny any racial slurs.
Lippert and the assisting officers went on to search Gipson’s vehicle. They found nothing.
“I guess they thought they struck gold, you know. Here’s this gentleman, he’s in this car. He’s wearing jewelry. He seems maybe arrogant and he’s in the wrong part of town. We got us one,” Gipson says. “And you search the car and there is nothing in there but my books from school, and a computer and some headphones.”
In the end, Gipson was arrested. He bailed himself out and went to court. Facing a year in jail, he took a plea deal for resisting arrest. Though the agreement allowed the case to be dismissed after he completed community service and paid nearly $400 in court fees. This means he can have it expunged from his record. Still, adding his lawyer fees and bail, the total came to nearly $2,000.
When it was all over, Gipson moved to Murfreesboro where he lives alone with his dog. He works full-time as a technician for Apple and attends Nashville State where he studies business. He eventually wants to get into real estate and open a halfway home for formerly incarcerated men.
“You just get frustrated with just the same interaction,” he says. “So coming out here was just the hopes that something would be different.”
But Gipson says he still gets pulled over, though he hasn’t had his car searched lately.
In a report on the incident with Lippert, the supervisor who finally arrived on scene said if he’d been called earlier the whole thing could have been avoided.
In the incident investigation report, Officer Lippert described Gipson’s demeanor as “overly cool.” When the investigator interviewing Lippert asked him if Gipson gave him any reason to believe that he committed a crime. Lippert responded: “Other than being overly cordial, no.”
And so when Gipson thinks back on what happened and how it may have been avoided, he’s not so sure if it could have. He pauses and shakes his head. The only thing that could have made things go better, he says, is if he was actually the troublemaker Lippert assumed him to be.