Grand jury to hear case of Kingsport police officer who fatally shot fenced-in pit bull

Rain Smith • Dec 1, 2009 at 12:00 AM

The case of a Kingsport police officer who fatally shot a fenced-in pit bull will be presented to a grand jury early next year.

Last week, Sullivan County District Attorney Greeley Wells received a final report on the incident from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. He asked them to investigate the matter on June 22, the day after the shooting occurred.

Wells and Barry Staubus, assistant district attorney, have since reviewed the TBI's report. Wells said they will present the case before a grand jury to determine if charges against the officer are merited.

Officer Darrell Johnson shot the pit bull on Sunday, June 21, at about 7 p.m. According to Kingsport Police Deputy Chief David Quillin, officers were chasing two suspects in the area of Carrington Court.

Quillin said Johnson stepped over a low wire fence on Derwood Court , and 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.”

However, the dog's owner -- and at least two neighbor's who allegedly witnessed the events -- immediately and vehemently contradicted the KPD's version of what had occurred.

Richie Hammonds, 1005 Derwood Court, No. 4, owned “Mace” for three years. Contrary to what police reported, 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, the alleged 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.”

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 for those living in the apartment complex is that police say they were chasing a suspect.

Witnesses told the Times-News that responding officers warned children playing outside to get back; that they were looking for two suspicious black males.

Following the shooting of the dog, Joe Shupe, 27, a white male that lived in one of the apartments, 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.

“I guess they decided they better take somebody to jail," Bellamy said. "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.”

Less than two months after the incident at Carrington Court, Officer Johnson fatally shot another pit bull.

On Aug. 6, following a call of possible drug activity in the parking lot of Wal-Mart on West Stone Drive, police responded to 2425 Jennings Drive.

According to KPD Sgt. David Moore, Johnson fired a single round at a pit bull that cornered him and two other officers on the carport of a home.

Ultimately, no one at the residence was charged with any offense.

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