Officers placed on leave as TBI probes shooting in Hawkins County

Jeff Bobo • Nov 5, 2007 at 12:00 AM

ROGERSVILLE — Two Hawkins County police officers involved in a shooting Saturday evening have been placed on administrative leave with pay, as is routine, pending the outcome of a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe into the incident.

Rogersville Police Department Officer Ken Ferguson and Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Scott Stewart fired gunshots into a vehicle Saturday evening, wounding two people, following a high-speed pursuit that concluded on a dead-end cul-de-sac south of Rogersville.

Police said the vehicle — blocked on the dead-end street — accelerated at officers, attempting to run them down.

TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm said Monday that the occupants of the suspect vehicle would be interviewed at the hospital Monday, but the TBI’s investigation into the shooting likely won’t be resolved for several weeks.

The alleged driver of the suspect vehicle, Joseph Fortenberry, 20, of Greeneville, was recovering Monday at Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport from gunshot wounds to the chest and shoulder.

His father, Randy Fortenberry, told the Times-News Monday that his son had lost part of a lung.

The name of Fortenberry’s 16-year-old female passenger was not released. The girl was reportedly still at HVMC’s intensive care unit Monday afternoon with a gunshot wound to the head.

The couple had been in Rogersville Saturday “joyriding,” according to Fortenberry’s father.

Rogersville Police Chief Doug Nelson issued a press release Monday detailing the events that led to the shooting.

Nelson said that at about 8:30 p.m. Saturday Ferguson observed a Honda being driven in “a reckless and dangerous manner in an apparent attempt to avoid observation by the officer” near the intersection of Park Boulevard and Main Street. Ferguson also recognized the driver as matching a description of a person wanted in Greene County.

Joseph Fortenberry had an outstanding arrest warrant from Greene County, which was issued in September for probation violation on a conviction of driving on a suspended license. Nelson said the Honda sped rapidly away from the traffic light and was pursued by Ferguson.

“A chase ensued for the next several minutes during which the Rogersville police cruiser was joined by a cruiser from the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office,” Nelson said. “During the chase one or more Rogersville police cruisers were struck by the suspect automobile in the driver’s attempt to evade arrest.”

Police chased the Honda south along Guntown Road to the Colonial Village mobile home park, where the Honda stopped at the dead-end cul-de-sac.

“Officer Ferguson exited his cruiser and moved toward the subject vehicle to secure the arrest of the driver,” Nelson said. “At the same time an officer from the HCSO (Stewart) approached the vehicle from the driver’s side. The driver of the vehicle suddenly accelerated the vehicle directly at Officer Ferguson in an attempt to strike him.

“In self-defense Officer Ferguson raised his service weapon, as did the officer from the HCSO, shots were fired, and the driver and passenger of the vehicle were struck.”

Nelson told the Times-News the officers believed their lives were at risk and the officers “acted by the book” in the shooting. He said statements taken from witnesses at Colonial Village backed up the officers’ version of the shooting.

The Times-News was denied permission by the HCSO and TBI to photograph the bullet-riddled Honda.

Sheriff Roger Christian said he counted eight bullet holes in the car.

The car is currently impounded in the lot near the old Rogersville Kmart building on Highway 11-W.

Joseph Fortenberry was interviewed by the TBI Monday morning at the hospital. He was later unable to accept an invitation to speak to the Times-News about the shootings due to being medicated.

Randy Fortenberry told the Times-News he spoke to his son about the shooting prior to his son being sedated, and Joseph gave a much different story about the shooting than police.

Randy Fortenberry said his son told him the car was stalled at the dead end and that police rammed the car. Joseph reportedly told his father the officers exited their patrol cars and began shooting immediately.

“He said it sounded like they shot 20 or 30 times in there,” Randy Fortenberry said. “He said they started shooting, and he ducked down, and when he came back up that’s when he got hit in the chest. He said they didn’t give him a chance to surrender or nothing. He said they pulled him out of the window and beat him up pretty good after he was shot and called him every name in the book. It didn’t happen like they said it did.

“He was blocked in and his car was stalled. He shouldn’t have run from them, but he didn’t have his license, and that’s why he took off. But the police weren’t dealing with a couple of dangerous criminals. These were just a couple of kids, and they didn’t need to shoot them.”

Randy Fortenberry said he plans to pursue legal action against the RPD and HCSO for excessive force.

RPD charges against Joseph Fortenberry and his passenger are still pending.

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