Probe continues in Bradley County death

Probe continues in Bradley County death

May 24th, 2011 by Beth Burger in News

Investigators search for clues in the median of I-75 Saturday where a Bradley County deputy sheriff stopped to check on a woman and two small children walking. The woman allegedly slashed the deputy with a knife, and he fired at her as she stole the patrol car. The woman drove a short distrance before plowing through a fence and coming to rest on a Cleveland street. Staff photo by Randall Higgins

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State authorities continue to investigate an incident in which a Bradley County sheriff's deputy shot a 30-year-old Florida woman in front of her two children.

The woman, who had slashed the deputy with a knife, later died from the gunshot wounds.

Family members were traveling to the area Monday to take care of Armetta Foster's two children - a 6-year-old boy and 10-year-old girl - and to handle funeral arrangements, said Sylvia Foster, Foster's aunt in Sanford, Fla. Armetta Foster is from Casselberry, Fla., according to documents.

"They [deputies] could have did something else," she said. "You know that's bothering them children."

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is investigating the shooting, said Kristin Helm, spokeswoman in Nashville.

Deputy Dustin Patrick, who has been at the sheriff's office since 2005, has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of a review, which is standard practice.

Patrick was dispatched to Interstate 75 just north of exit 20 after several motorists reported seeing a woman and two children walking along the highway about 1:20 p.m. Saturday.

He approached Foster and she pulled a knife from her clothing and started slashing at him while trying to get into his patrol car, according to an incident report from the sheriff's office. Patrick's right hand was cut.

According to the report, Patrick took out his service weapon and fired at Foster, calling "shots fired, shots fired" over his radio. Foster was hit before she got into the vehicle.

"She was shot before she took the car," TBI's Helm said, declining to go into further detail.

Despite being shot, Foster started the patrol car and drove 21/2 miles on I-75 before crashing through a barbed-wire fence and striking a Bradford pear tree near the Harrison Pike overpass.

Anthony Pickel, who was gardening at his home at the time, said he heard the collision and was the first one to the car. He said Foster was slumped over in the driver's seat, laboring to breathe. He said there were bullet holes in the driver's-side door.

"She must have been a tough little lady," he said. "That was a bad situation."

Deputies followed several minutes after the crash with guns drawn, he said.

Bob Gault, public information officer for the sheriff's office, said it appears Patrick acted in accordance with department general orders.

Deputies are authorized to use deadly force when they believe there is a "threat of death or serious bodily harm," the policy states.

An autopsy was conducted Monday, Sheriff Jim Ruth said in a statement.

"Hopefully, the autopsy will lend information that might explain why she attacked Deputy Patrick, other than the fact that she had been driving a stolen vehicle," Ruth said.

"This incident is a tragedy, and I understand people's interest in it and their concerns. Yet, I will not elaborate on people's speculations, or on uninformed comments about the incident," he said. "The sheriff's office cannot and will not participate in a trial of this shooting in the media."

Lorie Fridell, associate professor of criminology at the University of South Florida, said it sounded as if the shooting was justified.

"She had evidenced her intention to cause serious bodily harm," said Fridell, noting that the deputy had been cut.

Foster left a car - reportedly stolen in Florida - near exit 20 before setting out on foot, according to authorities. She was on her way to Kentucky, according to her aunt.

Sylvia Foster said the reports of her niece's behavior are out of character.

"She's a good person," Foster said.

Contact Beth Burger at bburger@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6406.