TBI launches investigation into Kingsport police officer's shooting of pit bull

Rain Smith • Jun 24, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has launched an investigation to determine exactly what happened when an officer with the Kingsport Police Department shot a man’s fenced-in pit bull on Sunday evening.

Sullivan County Assistant District Attorney Barry Staubus said their office was notified of the situation Monday by Kingsport police.

At the request of District Attorney General Greeley Wells, the TBI was asked to investigate.

“When (a TBI agent) concludes that investigation he’ll prepare a report containing all his findings and all his information,” Staubus said. “He’ll forward that to our office, and General Wells will review it and make a decision at that point.”

When the TBI report will be concluded is not known.

“We want it to be thorough and complete,” Staubus said. “He’ll have to interview witnesses and obtain information. We don’t have a time schedule, but we expect him to do a thorough job, put that into report form, and send it to us.”

In the past, the conclusions from TBI reports have been made public, but not the contents of the findings.

To this point, the KPD’s account of Sunday’s event varies drastically from what numerous witnesses have told the Times-News.

According to Deputy Chief David Quillin, the incident occurred about 7 p.m. while police were chasing two suspects in the area of Carrington Court.

Witnesses have told the Times-News that police told children playing outside to get back, as they were looking for two black males suspected of breaking into a nearby home.

Quillin told the Times-News that Officer Darrell Johnson stepped over a low wire fence on Derwood Court as he was running after a suspect. He then “encountered three pit bull/bulldog-type dogs.”

“Those dogs charged at him in a very aggressive manner,” Quillin said.

“(Johnson) tried to retreat, but he did not have that opportunity. They continued to charge at him in a very aggressive manner, and that’s when he was forced to fire. As a result, one of the pit bulls died.”

According to Quillin, there were other officers in the area at the time of the shooting, and he based his information on the officers’ statements and police reports.

“It certainly appears at that point that the officer was justified in his actions,” Quillin said.

But this — among other points — is where residents of the apartment complex who witnessed Sunday’s incident disagree.

Richie Hammonds, 1005 Derwood Court, No. 4, owned “Mace” for three years, since he was a puppy. Contrary to police, he says there were not three dogs in his back yard when Officer Johnson stepped over his fence, but only Mace. His other two dogs remained on the back porch.

And while Johnson’s report on the incident states he traveled about 20 feet into the fenced-in yard when he encountered the dogs, three witnesses have told the Times-News that he only placed one foot over the fence.

“He put his foot back outside the fence, pulled out his weapon and shot him,” said Jonathan Suit, Hammonds’ neighbor. “There wasn’t a noise made, the dog wasn’t running. It was just walking toward him.”

“The officer stepped over the fence,” said Amanda Bellamy, another of Hammonds’ neighbors. “Mace came out of his doghouse, was walking up to (Johnson) to smell him. The officer stepped back out of the fence, pulled his weapon and shot that dog. That dog would not have come out of that fence. It’s an electric fence. They’re scared to death of it. The dog walked up to him wagging his tail.”

“The dogs smell the juice and stay at least two feet back from it,” Hammonds said. “Mace was 10 feet away when (Officer Johnson) shot him.”

Hammonds claims that after the shooting, Johnson said “I hate pit bulls.”

Bellamy and Suit told the Times-News that Johnson remarked he “didn’t like those damn pit bulls anyway.”

Another point of contention is that police say they were chasing a suspect.

“The cops were supposed to be chasing two black men who just robbed a place, and yet they didn’t even pursue the chase once they shot the dog,” said John Adams, landlord of the apartment complex.

“They weren’t chasing anybody,” said Suit. “They were just looking around. They weren’t after anybody. But to read the paper (police) made it sound like there was a guy in their sights they were running after. That’s not true. I was here; I saw the whole thing.”

Witnesses told the Times-News that police were called to the area to search for two black males. Quillin said the suspect Johnson was chasing was Hammonds’ neighbor, Joe Shupe, 27.

Shupe, a white male, was arrested and charged with resisting and evading arrest.

According to the incident report filed by Johnson, police were called to the area after a report of a suspicious person. While that person — or persons — was not apprehended, Shupe “looked in my direction then proceeded in a fast walk away from me,” according to Johnson’s report.

Johnson says he broadcast a description of Shupe over his radio and was proceeding in the direction Shupe had gone when he stepped into Hammonds’ fenced-in yard.

According to the police report, Shupe was detained by another officer at nearby Carrington Court when the officer “observed a male subject running down the hill towards him.”

Shupe, according to the report, claimed “he was running because he was trying to hide from officers and thought there was a warrant out for him.” He was arrested and charged with resisting and evading arrest.

“They said they were chasing after two black guys,” Hammonds said. “They just arrested (Shupe) to make themselves look good.”

Bellamy says Shupe went up the hill behind his apartment where an officer then asked what he was doing.

“(Shupe) come back through his apartment and back on his front porch,” Bellamy said. “I guess they decided they better take somebody to jail. They got him for resisting and evading arrest. He didn’t resist nothing. They didn’t chase him.”

“If he was in pursuit of somebody, and the dog was going to try and bite him, he should have shot the dog and went on after who he was going after instead of standing there,” Hammonds said. “He stood there and said ‘The reason I shot him was because I hate pit bulls.’ That was his exact words. It took everything I had not to hit that guy.”

Mace, according to witnesses, was not dead after several minutes. Hammonds asked Johnson to “go ahead and finish him off,” putting the dog out of its misery.

“Three shots to the head, that’s ridiculous,” said Bellamy. “And then (police) let him lay there and suffer like that.”

Due to the circumstances of Mace’s death, Hammonds plans to meet with a local lawyer and discuss pursuing a civil lawsuit against the city.

“If it was an aggressive dog, who would blame the officer in that case,” Suit said. “But I read the paper, and (police) are just flat out lying about what happened.”

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