Victims, police describe shooting

Victims, police describe shooting

March 29th, 2010 by Chris Carroll in News

A day after being shot in the thigh as he hustled out of Coolidge Park, 18 year-old Kevin Tucker knows what he would say to the gunman.

"If you've got somebody to shoot, shoot him," he said. "But open your eyes when you're shooting."

Mr. Tucker said he was hit by a random bullet as police forced hundreds of young people to leave Coolidge Park on Saturday and officers tried to control "unruly behavior."

"There were fights breaking out, people yelling back and forth," said Lt. Kim Noorbergen, spokeswoman for Chattanooga police. "Officers said there was blue and there was red there (reference to gang activity)."

As the crowd collected on River Street, bullets wounded five people in their legs. None of the injuries was life-threatening.

Police charged Anthony Frieson, 18, and Taurean Patillo, 18. Mr. Frieson was charged with five counts of attempted first-degree murder, five counts of aggravated assault and one count of felony reckless endangerment. Mr. Patillo was charged with five counts of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and unlawful possession of a weapon. A juvenile also was charged in the incident.

Text message

Several witnesses said a mass text message encouraged teenagers to meet at the park because it was a "sunny day outside," Mr. Tucker said. The atmosphere changed when 26 Chattanooga police units arrived to clear the growing cluster. Police said gang activity was suspected.

"You don't know who has a gun and who doesn't have a gun," Lt. Noorbergen said. "We're trying to calm people down and get them out. It's very unruly, and it's very unsafe at that time."

But witnesses remember events differently. Mr. Tucker said the event was "people just having fun in the park," adding he saw babies and small children around the area. He said police started using pepper spray to break up the party.

"There wasn't nobody fighting or nothing -- once they started with the Mace, everybody got rowdy," he said.

That's when Mr. Tucker bolted for his car, which was across from where police were guiding people. He felt a sting before looking down.

"I thought I was hallucinating, then I happened to see the blood running down my leg," Mr. Tucker said.

Lt. Noorbergen said an officer stood four feet from one of the victims as he was shot. She said fights led to police presence.

"This is not the police's fault," she said. "This goes back to the people who are coming to the park who are creating these disturbances."

Police said Saturday's shooting could be related to a smaller incident that happened the day before. Just before 7:30 p.m. Friday, Marquees McReynolds, 18, and a 15-year-old black boy were shot at 1953 Southern St., Lt. Noorbergen said.

Lt. Noorbergen said police thought Saturday's shooting could have been a gang-organized retaliation for Friday's shooting. But one of the Coolidge Park victims, who asked not to be identified, wasn't so sure.

"If it was gang-related and that bullet was meant for me, I probably would have been the only person who got shot," said the victim, who admitted being affiliated with a gang. "The only reason I went out is because I know the dude I went out with isn't going to get me in trouble. He doesn't have any enemies."

City's response

Lt. Noorbergen said it was "unfortunate" that Saturday night's incident happened at Coolidge Park, but she said the blame shouldn't rest with the police department.

"We're putting people in jail," she said. "We can't control people gathering in an area. This is up to the parents to make sure their children are in a safe place."

Lt. Noorbergen said park visitors should remain vigilant, despite the area's serene landscape and regular police patrol.

"We'd like to think that it is a safe area," she said.

Chattanooga City Councilwoman Sally Robinson, who represents North Chattanooga and Coolidge Park, advocated a quick response to violence.

"These people are driven by hatred for each other," she said. "It's being done by a tiny minority of troublemakers. We know who they are, and we need to make life very hard for them."

Mayor Ron Littlefield did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday.