East Ridge officer's attorney gives account of fatal shooting

The 54-year-old man shot to death by police at his East Ridge home first charged an officer at a nearby AutoZone after threatening customers with a knife, according to an attorney for the officer.

East Ridge Police Department Lt. Daniel Stephenson shot and killed Todd Browning on Aug. 19 outside Browning's home on Prigmore Drive, Stephenson's attorney, Bryan Hoss, said. And while investigators have been tightlipped about exactly what happened, on Thursday Hoss gave a detailed account of what Stephenson said happened that day.

Stephenson has been a police officer in East Ridge for 11 years and spent seven years on the SWAT team, Hoss said. The officer was talking with a burglary victim around 6 p.m. when a report came in about a man inside an AutoZone on Ringgold Road. The report said the man had a weapon, was threatening to kill people and was throwing objects around the store, Hoss said.

Stephenson was the first officer to arrive at the AutoZone, and he went inside with his gun drawn, Hoss said.

"There's an employee behind the counter who just looks terrified," he said.

Customers pointed Stephenson to Browning, who was yelling and screaming. Stephenson noticed that Browning's eyes were bulging out of his head, Hoss said.

The officer ordered the man to stand down, but Browning threatened to kill Stephenson and also threatened to kill himself, Hoss said. Browning then charged at Stephenson, he said.

The officer did not see any weapons in Browning's hands, so he tried to holster his gun and pushed Browning away with his left arm, Hoss said.

"He very likely could have used deadly force against this guy inside the store," Hoss said. "He showed some restraint by holstering his weapon."

Employees at AutoZone said they couldn't talk about what happened because of company policy.

After charging at Stephenson, Browning ran out the door, got into his vehicle and sped away, Hoss said. Stephenson took down the man's license plate number, which led police to Browning's home nearby on Prigmore Drive.

Stephenson was also the first officer to arrive at the home.

"Because of his prior experience with SWAT, his entire intention was to set up a perimeter," Hoss said.

Stephenson parked in the road, told a woman who was outside to go into her house, and pulled his rifle out of the patrol car trunk. He did not have his Taser because he'd loaned it to another officer, Hoss said.

Soon after he arrived, Browning came out of the home holding about a 3-foot-long steel plumbing tool with a T-grip on one end, Hoss said. Witnesses described it as a pipe or tire iron.

Browning and the officer shouted at each other, witnesses said. Browning yelled that the officer would have to kill him, while Stephenson told Browning to put down his weapon.

Once Browning came out of his house, he never stopped moving forward toward Stephenson, and was swinging the tool in "a threatening manner," Hoss said. Stephenson repeatedly asked and ordered Browning to stop, Hoss said.

Stephenson fired when Browning was so close that he would have been able to hit Stephenson if he came any closer, Hoss said.

At least two witnesses said Browning lunged at the officer, while another witness told the Times Free Press that Browning was hitting the ground with a pipe. One witness said Browning was 20 feet away from the officer when he was shot.

A preliminary report from the medical examiner's office shows that Browning was shot five times - three times in the chest, once in the wrist and abdomen, and once in the back.

Hoss said Browning spun and fell as he was shot and that's why one shot hit his back.

"[Stephenson] didn't sight the rifle, he just fired," Hoss said. He added that police found a knife by Browning after the shooting.

Evidence at the scene and video from the patrol car's dashboard camera support Stephenson's account, Hoss said. Those documents have not been made public, and officials investigating the shooting have declined to answer many questions about what happened.

Officials have declined to say what happened at the AutoZone, how long the officer was on scene at Browning's home before he fired, what weapon the officer fired, how many times he fired or what Browning was armed with. They've also declined to identify the officer involved in the shooting.

Melydia Clewell, a spokeswoman for the Hamilton County District Attorney's office, declined to comment on Thursday, giving the same statement she provided to previous inquiries.

"The DA's office is barred by the state Supreme Court from making extrajudicial statements in criminal investigations," she wrote. "Under TSC Rule 3.8 f, the District Attorney is also obligated to discourage investigators, law enforcement personnel and any others associated with the prosecutor from discussing a criminal investigation."

Matt Lea, spokesman for the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, which is investigating the shooting, said he deferred the release of information to Clewell.

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com with tips or story ideas. Follow @ShellyBradbury.

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