Chattanooga: 1 shooting, 2 accounts

Chattanooga: 1 shooting, 2 accounts

July 3rd, 2009 by Jacqueline Koch in News

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.

Staff Photo by Angela Lewis Colia Preston, left, and...

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.

USE OF DEADLY FORCE

"(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