“You’re not doing anything wrong, OK? You’re not in trouble. But there’s something serious happening. ... Do you mind going down to ...?”
These words were spoken by a female police officer around 6:15 p.m. on Christmas Day near the interior entrance to Dick’s Last Resort on 2nd Avenue North in Nashville. She, along with five other police officers, were knocking on doors on residential floors of the easternmost buildings of the block urging people to immediately evacuate and to avoid 2nd Avenue.
This all began when officers responded to 911 calls about gunshots heard there. Upon arriving, the police confronted a situation I suspect they’d never encountered in their entire lives. But they immediately began clearing the buildings once they first heard the digital female voice emanating from a large white RV parked on the west side of the street next to an AT&T telecommunications building. The voice repeatedly announced “Stay clear of the vehicle. Do not approach this vehicle. If you can hear this message, evacuate now ....”
That was a brief summary of the beginning of video footage from a bodycam worn by one of the officers who responded to the call.
The Metro Nashville Police Department released the video three days after a bomb(s) inside the RV detonated and severely damaged the buildings on 2nd Avenue North between Church and Commerce streets.
It also caused regional internet and wireless outages for AT&T’s customers, resulting in an interruption of flights at Nashville’s international airport.
I’m not a fan of suspenseful movies. But camera footage of such a weird and dangerous incident in one of my favorite cities was a must-see for me. A mural depicting those six brave cops is now displayed in a boarded-up window of the Hard Rock Cafe and will be framed and moved inside when the restaurant reopens.
The calmness and professionalism of the MNPD and other responding agencies was fascinating and admirable. The footage including audio shows the RV, where the officer was when the explosion occurred, and the immediate aftermath. It is high drama.
At this point in the investigation, the FBI does not classify this suicide bombing as an act of terrorism. That is important for the affected businesses and residents because many of them were not insured against damage from an act of terrorism. This incident exposed the fragility of our telecommunications infrastructure.
Nashville Metro’s police chief and his administration are currently facing some severe criticism over their timid response to a 2019 incident involving the man who would later commit this terrible crime while ending his own life.
His girlfriend, assisted by her attorney, had warned that he was assembling bombs in his RV.
This attorney, who had also represented the guy, informed the police that the subject often talked about the military and bomb-building, adding that he was fully capable of making a functional bomb.
The MNPD did follow up, including contacting the FBI. They learned that he didn’t like cops and never answered his door when officers knocked. He had surveillance cameras all around the outside of his home. But for some reason, the MNPD supervision decided not to pursue the matter after a few weeks of observing the man’s home and RV.
Chief John Drake claims they were unable to find any evidence of criminality that would have enabled them to obtain a search warrant. That assertion has been roundly rejected as a valid explanation of this major failure to take action necessary to avoid the potential for what later occurred on Christmas Day 2020.
My first reaction to the criticism was that the central issue here is that a bomb, even a homemade one, is classified as a weapon of mass destruction. I agree with Metro Councilman Bob Mendes and others that the MNPD supervision’s failure to effectively address the reports regarding the man in 2019 must be addressed.
Frank Figliuzzi, former assistant director for counterintelligence at the FBI, urges all states to enact “red flag” laws authorizing courts to issue a special form of protection order permitting police to temporarily confiscate bomb-making components to help police better perform their jobs in situations like the one in 2019. He’s right about the necessity of passing red flag laws that at least cover all weapons of mass destruction, including bombs and bio-terrorism materials. There is no Second Amendment issue involved here. And in these cases, an ounce of prevention is worth way more than a pound of cure.