Police files show details of year-old shooting death

PDF: Investigative report

Family and friends struggled for three hours in the early morning of July 18, 2009, to convince Alonzo Heyward to put down his rifle and not kill himself.

But five minutes after police arrived, Heyward was dead with 43 gunshot wounds in his body.

A Chattanooga Police Department investigative file obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press under the Tennessee Open Records Act describes previously unreleased details of the shooting, including the family's efforts to resolve the situation.

According to the file, early that morning, witnesses saw Heyward speed his car through the Cedar Hills neighborhood to his 4316-A Seventh Ave. home with girlfriend Amanda Counts riding along.

After pulling up to the house, Heyward and Counts began arguing, with Heyward telling his girlfriend to "get her stuff and get out," neighbor Toran Madding told police.

During the argument, Counts walked to the nearby home of Heyward's friend Darrell Turner and brought him to the house. She told him that Heyward had wrecked her car and she might need to go to the hospital.

Turner told police that, when he went to Heyward's home, Heyward was talking about the wreck.

"It was pretty much downhill after that," he said. "Alonzo just kept saying how 'it is over' and how he wanted to end his life.

"I was negotiating for his life."

Heyward went inside his house, grabbed his .44-caliber Magnum rifle, walked outside and fired a shot into the air. Even after that, Turner and others continued to negotiate for three hours while Heyward paced his porch, smoked cigarettes and called people on his cell phone, his weapon still in his hand, its muzzle pointed either at his chin or simply toward the porch's ceiling.

Finally he jumped from the porch and started walking to the intersection of Seventh Avenue and 44th Street. His brother James Heyward, who had been called to the scene, and Turner followed him, trying to reason with him and get him to put down the weapon.

That's when a city street-sweeper drove by, saw the men, saw the weapon and called police.

It was 4:15 a.m. when 911 got the call. At 4:20 a.m., the first of six officers arrived.

Officers George Romero and Bryan Wood arrived first, followed within seconds by Officers Zachary Moody, William L. Salyers III, Lauren Bacha and Deborah Dennison.

James Heyward told police that his brother had been drinking all day. He was only trying to kill himself and wasn't a threat to others, he said.

"Please don't kill him," he pleaded.

Alonzo Heyward was in bushes near the intersection when police arrived, and he began walking down Seventh Avenue, back toward his home. As he walked the 105 feet to his porch, he told police, "This don't have anything to do with anybody but me. I want to end my life."

Officers told him to "just put down the gun. No one is here to hurt you."

He walked, sometimes backward, always pointing the barrel at his own chin, back to his porch. Officers remained in the home's front yard, watching, talking.

When Heyward turned his back, Dennison fired a Taser at him, but it had little effect.

"He stumbled and turned around," Dennison said.

And, at that point, he made the move that led to his death. As he lowered the rifle from his chin, its muzzle turned toward the officers.

All six fired.

"Why did you shoot me?" several officers heard Heyward say as he came back up with the rifle.

They fired again.

TIMELINERadio log for shooting July 19, 2009* 4:15 a.m. - 911 receives call* 4:20:25 a.m. - Officers arrive on scene* 4:20:44 a.m. - Advising out with three black males* 4:21:14 a.m. - Advising party with gun* 4:23:04 a.m. - Advising party with gun to neck and walking* 4:23:49 a.m. - Location behind O'Reillys Auto Parts* 4:25:12 a.m. - Shots firedSource: Chattanooga Police Department

He fell on top of the weapon. Woods and Romero rushed onto the porch, and Woods stepped on the rifle, holding it down.

James Heyward was held back at a distance by police, watching his brother die at 4:25 a.m.

For the next year, Chattanooga detectives, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agents, the Hamilton County Medical Examiners' Office and the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office reviewed hundreds of files on the shooting.

Reports showed officers had fired 59 bullets from 12 to 15 feet away. Heyward's body had 43 gunshot wounds and a blood alcohol content of 0.147, nearly twice the legal limit for intoxication.

Investigators found a single shell casing from Heyward's rifle and a bullet fired from his gun buried in the ground near the spot where one of the officers was standing.

"That's a lie," said James L. Marine, Heyward's father. "When was he supposed to have done that? Before they Tazed him? After they Tazed him? When he was being shot?"

Marine went back to where his son was killed a few days later. What he saw convinced him that Alonzo Heyward didn't need to die - bullet holes in the wall of the home's porch were "no higher than three feet," he said. To him, that means that officers shot his son while he was lying on the porch.

District Attorney Bill Cox did not to pursue criminal charges against the officers, and Chattanooga police Chief Bobby Dodd exonerated them based on the lengthy investigation.

With a pending lawsuit, the chief said he could not comment on the case.

A police captain's report that reviewed the entire investigation noted, "There are no facts in this investigation that indicate that any of the six (6) officers involved, Salyers, Woods, Dennison, Romero, Moody and Bacha, violated policy or conformance to law."

Marine filed a civil lawsuit against Chattanooga, the police department and each of the officers involved on Aug. 20, 2009.

The trial is scheduled to begin in January.