NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The police officers who fatally shot a Tennessee man who was walking on an interstate will not face criminal charges, a district attorney announced Friday.
The decision comes as a lawsuit was filed this week alleging that law enforcement used excessive force and should be liable for the death of Landon Eastep in Nashville. The lawsuit was filed by his wife, Chelesy Eastep, who argued it was unfair to expect her husband to act reasonably with multiple guns pointed at him.
However, Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk said in a statement that after reviewing the case, Eastep's actions “were designed to cause officers to perceive an immediate threat.”
“(His) actions did cause officers to reasonably perceive an immediate threat. Therefore, all shots fired were legally justified,” Funk's office said in a news release.
Eastep’s encounter with police began with a state trooper checking on him as he sat on a guardrail along Interstate 65 the afternoon of Jan. 27. After a brief interaction, Eastep pulled a box cutter, and the trooper called for backup, police said. Many other officers arrived, blocking traffic along the normally bustling travel corridor in both directions as a helicopter circle overhead.
Authorities pleaded with Eastep, 37, to surrender while they kept their guns drawn.
“C'mon brother, get your hand of your pocket,” Nashville police officer James Kidd said in body camera footage provided to the media on Friday.
“If it's a gun you got in there, don't worry about it, we'll fix it,” he said as the view of the camera only showed Kidd's hands holding a gun while he talked to Landon.
“No, no, no,” Kidd says as his arms moved and gunshots could be heard as Landon pulled another shiny object from his pocket and pointed it to police.
The shooting involved six Metro Nashville police officers, two state troopers and an off-duty officer from Mt. Juliet.
“During this encounter with law enforcement officers, Mr. Eastep became emotional, began sobbing, and reportedly started cutting his wrists a few times with a box cutter from his pocket,” Chelesy Eastep’s lawsuit states.
The suit also named the cities of Nashville and Mt. Juliet, saying they didn't train officers properly in de-escalation and use-of-force tactics for people suffering emotional distress. It did not name the Tennessee Highway Patrol, citing constitutional protections for state agencies.
“Put simply, the law enforcement officers on the scene did not need to shoot Mr. Eastep one time — let alone twelve times in the front and the back — since he posed no actual threat to them or to any third party,” the lawsuit said.
David McKenzie, an attorney representing Eastep's wife in the lawsuit, noted Friday that the lawsuit will play out under a different, lower burden of proof than the district attorney's criminal review.
Officer Brian Murphy, who police say fired the final two shots from a rifle, had his policing authority reinstated in April after having it stripped temporarily pending the review, Nashville Police spokesperson Don Aaron said
The Nashville department's Office of Professional Accountability has been proceeding with its own review, which will now be helped along by the state agency's investigative file, Aaron said.
Additionally, the department now has three precincts — and plans to add a fourth — that team officers with mental health clinicians on certain calls, Aaron said. That didn't happen during the incident that ended with Eastep's death because the program had only grown to two precincts at the time.
Nearly one in five U.S. adults has a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Yet people with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than other people approached by law enforcement, the Treatment Advocacy Center said in a 2015 report.
Meanwhile, people experiencing mental health crises are being killed by police, but the exact number remains unknown because of a yawning governmental information gap.