Chattanooga: Witness describes officer shooting

Chattanooga: Witness describes officer shooting

April 14th, 2011 by Todd South in News

Jesse Mathews is wheeled into Judge Bob Moon's courtroom by officer Wayne Dowell during Mathews' preliminary hearing. Jesse Mathews is being charged in the April 2 shooting death of Chattanooga police Sgt. Tim Chapin. Staff Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press

Jesse Mathews is wheeled into Judge Bob Moon's...

Harlan Murray stood in front of his Old Bird's Mill Road house, aiming a .22-caliber revolver at a man he just saw shoot a police officer in the head.

"Get down," he yelled.

The man kept walking toward his home, where moments before Murray had been holding a yard sale. After spotting the gunman, he rushed his mother, wife, sister and a yard-sale customer inside, grabbed the gun and shut the door behind him.

"Get down," he yelled again.

The man kept coming.

"Get down now," Murray yelled a third time.

That's when Jesse Mathews, 25, spread his hands out in front of him and lay facedown on the ground.

Testifying Wednesday in Hamilton County General Sessions Court, Murray said he didn't see other police officers arrive until one rolled Mathews over and said, "He's got a vest."

Murray said he focused on Mathews' forehead.

"I was looking at one point, that was all I was looking at," he said. "Everything else was tunnel vision."


The hearing Wednesday was Mathews' first court appearance since his arrest in the April 2 shooting death of Chattanooga police Sgt. Tim Chapin. The officer was killed during a failed armed robbery at U.S. Money Shops on Brainerd Road.

Because of publicity about the incident and subsequent security concerns, an additional metal detector screened people entering the courtroom Wednesday and five to seven court officers were stationed inside throughout the hearing.

Mathews, sitting in a wheelchair, was rolled into the room by court officers. His jaw was wired shut because of injuries and he did not speak in the hearing. Further details of his condition have not been released by the police.

"He's in a lot of pain," said his court-appointed attorney Karla Gothard.

Gothard said she had requested that he be taken off of his pain medication for the morning's hearing so he could understand the proceedings.

Sessions Court Judge Bob Moon recused himself from the case at Gothard's request following his participation in Chapin's funeral and, prior to being assigned the case, publishing a poem about the sergeant's death.

Red Bank City Court Judge Johnny Houston sat in Moon's place for the three-hour preliminary hearing. Houston sent Mathews' charges to the grand jury for possible indictment on one count each of felony murder and especially aggravated robbery and two counts of attempted first-degree murder.

Chapin's father, family and friends sat behind District Attorney General Bill Cox and Executive Assistant District Attorney Neal Pinkston during the hearing.

Down the street in federal court, Jesse Mathews' father, Ray Vance Mathews, was in court for his own preliminary hearing, facing charges that he helped his son trade stolen weapons and didn't tell police when he learned that his son had robbed three pawnshops in Colorado.

On Wednesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Lee ordered Ray Mathews held without bond.

Ray Mathews, his wife Kathleen Mathews and James Poteete, the boyfriend of Jesse's sister Rachel Mathews, are scheduled for arraignment in federal court on April 27. All are charged with aiding Jesse Mathews, who had escaped from a Colorado halfway house and was a wanted fugitive prior to the April 2 shooting in Chattanooga.

Poteete and Kathleen Mathews waived their preliminary hearings. Rachel Mathews is scheduled for a federal court appearance on May 2, following extradition from Asheville, N.C., where she is being held on a probation violation charge.

While in Colorado, Jesse Mathews sent money to his sister in Asheville. She then flew to Colorado to help him travel by bus to Nashville, then Poteete drove them to Asheville, where they met with Kathleen and Ray Mathews, the federal affidavit states. The family then traveled to Chattanooga, stayed briefly in the Microtel Inns and Suites before moving into a rental home in early March.


U.S. Money Shops manager Leonard Carroll demonstrates how a gun was drawn on him by defendant Jesse Mathews while testifying during a preliminary hearing in Judge Bob Moon's courtroom Wednesday morning. Mathews is being charged in the April 2 shooting death of Chattanooga police Sgt. Tim Chapin. Staff Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press

U.S. Money Shops manager Leonard Carroll demonstrates how...

According to police reports, Mathews was inside the U.S. Money Shops when police arrived on April 2. Firing a pistol through the storefront at the officers, he then fled out a side door of the pawnshop and headed toward the back of the store, reports said.

Store employee Zach Brackin testified Wednesday that he saw Chapin hit Mathews with his patrol car, making Mathews drop the pistol.

In his testimony, Murray described a flurry of violence in the moments before Mathews' arrest. Using Cox as a stand-in for Chapin, Murray stood in the courtroom with his back to Cox about a dozen feet away, and demonstrated what he saw.

Standing outside his home during a yard sale, he said he saw Chapin following Mathews on foot, ordering him to stop. Murray said he didn't see a weapon in Mathews' hands at that time.

When Mathews kept going, Chapin fired his Taser, but the stun gun didn't faze Mathews, Murray said. With his back turned to the sergeant, Mathews drew a second weapon from inside his jacket with his left hand, turned toward Chapin and began to fire.

As Mathews' turned, Chapin dropped his Taser and pulled his pistol, Murray said. Standing 10 to 15 feet apart, the pair began shooting at each other, Mathews firing as he walked toward Chapin.

The gunfight ended when one of Mathew's bullets struck Chapin near the bridge of his nose, killing the 26-year police veteran, according to a medical examiner's report.

The officer's death didn't seem to bother Mathews, Murray testified.

"He just turned and walked away like it wasn't nothing," he said.