Kingsport officers cleared in fatal May shooting

Rain Smith • Nov 28, 2012 at 11:47 AM

A grand jury has determined the Kingsport Police Department acted appropriately in May's fatal shooting of a Mount Carmel man, accused of threatening to kill his family before pointing a gun at officers during a traffic stop.

"We're obviously saddened for the family that the situation had to be handled the way it did, but we are nonetheless relieved for our officers," said KPD Deputy Chief Dale Phipps. "We know they've had this hanging over their heads and had a lot of sleepless nights."

Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to probe the May 12 incident — as is protocol for any shooting involving an officer — with the findings of that investigation presented Tuesday to a grand jury. They deemed lethal force was justified under the circumstances, which included an approximately 30 minute standoff in a vehicle before a loaded gun was pointed at officers.

Ernest Lynn France, 47, 1607 McCracken Lane, was killed in the incident. He was stopped by Kingsport police following a BOLO from the Hawkins County Sheriff's Office, warning France was armed and a potentially dangerous.

According to a Mount Carmel Police Department report, a combination of alcohol and lack of prescribed medication may have contributed to France’s state of mind. France's wife has told the Times-News that he was bipolar and paranoid schizophrenic, and had experienced recent deaths to friends and family.

He allegedly came home intoxicated shortly after midnight. According to Mount Carmel police France launched into a racial rant about his neighbors — which his wife said came "out of the blue" — then retrieved a pistol and fired a shot into the air.

He's then alleged to have retrieved a shotgun from a closet and threatened to kill his wife and 17-year-old son. Before leaving his residence he fired five shots at a vehicle at the neighbor's home.

France's wife previously told the Times-News that she then called police, as her husband had exhibited suicidal tendencies in the past.

"The police were afraid for him, that he would hurt himself...When it started the police were out to save his life."

A BOLO was issued and the KPD initiated a stop on France's car near Oak and Maple streets at approximately 12:36 a.m. Knowing he was possibly armed officers attempted to make verbal contact with France, who failed to comply their commands.

After 34 minutes officers approached the vehicle. France reportedly pointed a handgun at the officers, prompting their fire and his fatal wounds.

Staff writer Jeff Bobo contributed to this report.

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