published Friday, July 3rd, 2009

Chattanooga: 1 shooting, 2 accounts

by Jacqueline Koch
Audio clip

Chief Felix Vess

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    Staff Photo by Angela Lewis Colia Preston, left, and Kimberly Hill talk on Thursday about what they witnessed Wednesday when a Chattanooga Housing Authority police officer shot and killed 15-year-old Alonzo O’Kelley Jr. at East Lake Courts.

East Lake Courts residents who witnessed the death of a 15-year-old shot Wednesday by a Chattanooga Housing Authority officer are calling the shooting "cold-blooded murder."

Alonzo O'Kelley Jr. died about 9 p.m. Wednesday, shortly after he was shot by Lt. Erik Reeves, a CHA police officer who saw the young man with a gun and perceived a threat, Chattanooga police said.

Eyewitnesses told a different story Thursday. They said they saw Mr. O'Kelley drop his gun and run away from Lt. Reeves before the officer fired at him. The bullet struck the teen in the back.

Colia Preston, who said he gave witness statements to Chattanooga police at the scene, said he never saw Mr. O'Kelley raise his gun.

"That's cold-blooded murder," he said. "He shot that dude down like a dog. That's not justifiable."

Autopsy results from the Hamilton County Medical Examiner's Office were not available Thursday afternoon.

Chattanooga police will continue their investigation and await lab results on evidence taken from the scene, said Sgt. Bill Phillips, who oversees the department's homicide unit.

"We basically look for the same things we do in all the other investigations," he said. "There are certain actions that would justify a shooting, and we're just out to find the facts and then sit down and examine all of it and determine the outcome."

CHA and Chattanooga police said Lt. Reeves, who was responding to sounds of shots fired in the housing development, came upon Mr. O'Kelley and another young man near Fourth Avenue and East 26th Street.

When the pair saw the officer, they ran to a nearby apartment but couldn't gain entry, according to police. At that time, Lt. Reeves noticed that Mr. O'Kelley had a gun and repeatedly told the youth to drop it, Chattanooga Police Department spokeswoman Sgt. Jerri Weary said.

When the young man didn't release the weapon, the officer fired at him and hit him in the upper body, Sgt. Weary said.

The youths are thought to have been involved in an earlier shooting incident in the 2600 block of Fourth Avenue, she said. Police recovered what were thought to be shell casings from that incident that also were from Mr. O'Kelley's weapon, Sgt. Weary said.

Another witness said she saw and heard Lt. Reeves fire his gun at least four times. He also waved the gun at residents watching the incident, said Kimberly Hill, who said she watched the scene unfold in the field outside her Sixth Avenue Court apartment.

"I don't feel like he was protecting the community," Ms. Hill said. "How is that safe for the community when he opens fire like that?"

Housing authority police Chief Felix Vess said at a news conference Thursday that Lt. Reeves, who has at least 12 years of law enforcement experience, "perceived a threat" and "fired to take care of the threat."

Because the investigation is ongoing, he would not comment about the number of shots fired or on what specific part of the body Mr. O'Kelley was hit, Chief Vess said. He did say that reports of Mr. O'Kelley being struck multiple times were incorrect.

Lt. Reeves was given time off while the investigation takes place, the chief said, but he did not say if the leave would be paid or unpaid.

Reached by phone Thursday afternoon, Lt. Reeves said some early news reports and statements about what occurred were not true.

"It's difficult because you watch the news and half of it isn't correct," he said.

State law does not require that a suspect possess a weapon or be facing an officer for use of deadly force to be justified, according to Tennessee code. An officer must have probable cause to believe the person committed a felony involving serious bodily harm or that the person poses a threat of serious bodily harm to the officer or others, according to the law.

Chattanooga Housing Authority officers are commissioned through the state of Tennessee, officials said. Lt. Reeves is certified through the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, the primary regulatory body for state law enforcement personnel, officials in Nashville said.

CHA police report to the housing authority's board of directors, which has members appointed by Mayor Ron Littlefield, city spokesman Richard Beeland said.

Authorities who were part of the Safe Streets Task Force, known for combating street gangs and drug-related violence, were on scene late Wednesday night.


"(An) officer may use deadly force to effect an arrest only if all other reasonable means of apprehension have been exhausted or are unavailable, and where feasible, the officer has given notice of the officer's identity as such and given a warning that deadly force may be used unless resistance or flight ceases, and: The officer has probable cause to believe the individual to be arrested has committed a felony involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious bodily injury; or the officer has probable cause to believe that the individual to be arrested poses a threat of serious bodily injury, either to the officer or to others unless immediately apprehended."

Source: Tennessee Code

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Jhenry said...

We depend on the police to protect us. Sometimes they don't. 99% of the time they do. In a situation like this I'm gonna have to say I believe the cop was doing what he thought best and used deadly force. I don't think cops go to work every day hoping they get to shoot a teenage boy. Its a sad fact that in certain parts of town there is crime and a certain segment of the population committing that crime. This poor kid made some bad decisions early in life and won't live to regret his actions.

July 3, 2009 at 8:58 a.m.
Jack_Ryan said...

Lt. Reeves deserves a promotion and a bonus for [approaching and dealing (alone)]with a conflict when he knew their where guns already used prior to the incident. That teenager was headed to prison by they way he was going, so Lt. Reeves saved tax payers a great deal of money on the foresight of fighting crime.

July 3, 2009 at 9:11 a.m.
Humphrey said...

"That teenager was headed to prison by they way he was going, so Lt. Reeves saved tax payers a great deal of money on the foresight of fighting crime."


I agree that the officer acted in the heat of a situation and is likely justified in doing so. But wow, that's what you think of the value of a human kid's life? Wow.

You could have said something like "this was a tragic situation" or "an unfortunate turn of events" or "what a terrible position for the officer to be in." But instead it seems like you are celebrating a teenager getting killed, because you think he might have gone to prison some day. Wow.

July 3, 2009 at 10:55 a.m.
Humphrey said...

The boy didn't point the gun at the security officer. The security officer didn't know if the boy had shot the gunshots that were fired earlier.

If this had been a 15-year-old white boy outside his home up on signal mountain, there would be people posting on here that the boy had every right to be carrying a pistol,that he only tried to run away from the security officer, that he dropped the gun and ran away, the security officer must be one of Obama's jack-booted liberal thugs trying to take away 2nd amendment rights and shot a child four times in the back. Let alone he wave the gun at the neighbors.

But he was poor and black, so surely he was headed for prison, even though nobody knows if he has ever committed any crime whatsoever.

Where is the so-called "pro-life crowd?" Are some children's lives not as important as others?

July 3, 2009 at 1:40 p.m.

Why is it when there is a thug on thug murder, no one wants to talk to the police? But when a law enforcement officer gets caught in a situation where he has to use deadly force, every brother in the hood wants to give a statement.

I'm just thankful that it was not a white officer that shot the boy because that would have led to an all-out race war in Chattanooga.

July 3, 2009 at 3:09 p.m.
Echo said...

Hey Humphrey- If it was a white boy standing with a gun outside his house and a bunch of people in the neighborhood were witnesses, they would have called his PARENTS and his DAD would have said "What the hell are you doing with that gun, and not inside?!. That's the first difference.

The second is that the kid would have not been outside with a gun because most likely he would have grown up with one when hunting with his dad, his uncle and his brothers, and would have respect for it's destructive capability.

Third, the police would not have had shell casings from the same gun being recently fired two blocks away, because residents don't put up with gang-bangin' cash-cash, money-money, bling-bling, hip-hop, stupidity on Signal Mountain. The kids there finish school, get a student loan, go to college, graduate, get jobs, pay taxes, and lead their lives, not spend them in prison. Why, because their PARENTS are not afraid to make them get with the program.

All those people standing around, and not a single one standing up and saying I have had enough of this crap, get out of our neighbor hood or we'll run your useless mother out of her apartment.

Lesson: When you sell dope and play with guns you eventually get shot and die. At least the dumb lad won't be around to waste taxpayer money and perpetrate more crimes. Unfortunately there's a lot more where he cam from.

July 3, 2009 at 3:50 p.m.
Humphrey said...

wow, that wasn't racist at all.

So the fight in the signal mountain high schoool parking lot between a mccallie kids and signal mountain high school kids is OK, because they are rich white kids.

A white kid can shoot a gun in the air and no body would expect to a security guard to shoot him. Because he was raised better than those poor black kids.

Because the black kids are thugs.

People post on here that are afraid to go to freaking applebees without carrying a gun. They would never go to that kids neighborhood without carrying a gun.

But this kid is poor and black, so obviously he was headed for prison anyway.

We all have second admendment rights, except for blacks, because they are thugs and would have guns anyway because they are gang bangers.

And signal mountain teachers would never sell dope, that is not what you call prescription medicine. Because white kids don't do dope. They go to college.

Dumb lad wasting taxpayer dollars and MORE CRIME?? WHAT CRIME DID HE COMMIT? BEING POOR AND BLACK.

IS ABORTION OK FOR BLACK PEOPLE OR JUST POOR BLACK PEOPLE? Should we just genocide poor blacks?? If we kill them off young they won't waste white people's tax money or scare white folks.

Thank you for making my point you racist sob.

THere is nothing that says this kid sold dope. He had a gun. There are people here who argue up and done that they have a right to have a gun. This kid got shot and that was the only reason. He didn't point it at the security guard. The witness said he dropped it before he ran away. Shot in the back. Even if he did shoot it earlier, which there is no proof of, shooting a gun in the air isn't a death sentence for white kids. But this kid must have been on his way to prison, we can tell because he is poor and black. No other evidence. His parents don't raise him as good as those white parents, because he is black. He don't have those good values. Just a waste of tax payer money. 0There is no outrage because he was a black "thug" and a "brother."

What a bunch of racist bs.

July 3, 2009 at 6:39 p.m.
Ab_Smith86 said...

As opposed to pointing fingers at each other in regards to our upbringing, let's stick to the facts of this case in particular.

I'm not an officer, nor do I pretend to be. I don't know how difficult it is to be an officer working in the neighborhoods where gunshots have the tendency to be consistent. I do however trust that the officers in our community, regardless of upbringing and regardless of patrol area, have been through the training necessary to do their jobs efficiently. Just as we trust doctors to protect us with both major and minor situations, we are to trust our law enforcement with the same expectations as well.

Death was never the intentional motive of Lt. Reeves. I highly doubt...actually, I KNOW, that Lt. Reeves is deeply hurt by the death of this young man. It is most certainly unfortunate that there was a fatality, but let's remind ourselves, and others, to examine all the facts before conjuring up a conclusion ourself.

July 7, 2009 at 12:06 a.m.
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