Former Grundy County deputy found guilty in pursuit shooting death

ALTAMONT, Tenn. - Jurors in the reckless homicide trial of former Grundy County deputy Toby Mike Holmes took about five hours Thursday to reach a verdict, finding him not guilty of reckless homicide but guilty of the lesser included offense of criminally negligent homicide.

After the jury deliberated about four hours Thursday morning into the afternoon, the foreman told Criminal Court Judge Thomas W. Graham they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Judge Graham administered the charge to the jurors again, then sent them back to chambers to resume deliberations.

The charge Holmes was convicted on is a Class E felony, the least serious classification of felonies in Tennessee, and carries a prison term of one to six years and a fine of up to $3,000.

Holmes was on trial in the death of 20-year-old Shelby Comer, who was found dead in a car that was involved in a police pursuit on B Mine Road on Dec. 23, 2017. Driver Jackie Wayne Bean drove his Ford Mustang toward Holmes, who fired into the vehicle, striking Comer in the back and also wounding Bean.

In closing statements, Holmes' defense team of Clifton Sobel and Bill Bullock argued that testimony this week from a defense expert medical examiner indicates Comer was already dead of a methamphetamine overdose when she was shot, and pointed to testimony from paramedics who responded to treat Comer who found her unnaturally cold to the touch.

Holmes' attorneys contended that their client saw a gun, shouted "show me your hands" repeatedly and was in fear of his life and others' when he started shooting. Bullock said current Grundy County Sheriff Clint Shrum testified that he'd have reacted the same way, while Sobel told jurors there was no blood found in Bean's car that would indicate Comer had died of a gunshot. Bullock maintained that Holmes was doing his job in attempting to "stop the threat."

Assistant District Attorneys David Shinn and Courtney Lynch challenged the defense's medical expert's opinion and told jurors that the state's medical examiner in the case found Comer had died of a gunshot to her back and that Comer's blood was found on her sweatshirt and undershirt. Holmes fired a total of 15 rounds at Bean's car, with one round passing through the front passenger seat and striking Comer, who was in the back seat.

Prosecutors also said Bean was found unarmed when he was captured several hours later, according to the state's closing statements.

After the verdict, Shrum released a statement lamenting the "sad day for law enforcement across this state and a dark day for Grundy County."

"The sadness of this case exists in the facts that Shelby Comer is still dead and the man that assisted her will never be brought to justice," the sheriff's statement read. "Even more sad, a deputy serving his community, trying to shield it from the meth epidemic and criminals like Jacky Wayne Bean, will not be allowed to protect and serve the place he called home."

According to Times Free Press archives, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation officials in 2017 released a statement saying Holmes said Bean pointed a firearm at him and the deputy then fired several times into Bean's vehicle, which was facing the deputy's cruiser, then Bean sped away, sideswiping the deputy's patrol car. Deputies tried to pursue the vehicle but quickly lost sight of it. About 20 minutes later, a passerby spotted the suspect vehicle crashed off of the side of B Mine Road. The TBI said Bean approached a passerby and said he'd been shot, needed help and asked for the motorist's vehicle, but the passerby left and called law enforcement instead.

Bean, who would recover from his bullet wound, was apprehended about 8 a.m. the next day.

Comer's cause of death was not immediately known, and Holmes was not immediately identified as the officer who fired the shots, but the TBI launched an investigation that eventually focused on him, Times Free Press archives show.

A few days after the shooting, authorities released autopsy findings that Comer had been shot.

Holmes was arrested by the TBI and indicted by a Grundy County grand jury on a charge of voluntary manslaughter in November 2018. That charge was changed to reckless homicide at the beginning of the trial because the original charge requires that the victim provoke the defendant, and Comer was a passenger in Bean's car, according to Shinn.

After Thursday's verdict, Judge Graham set a sentencing date for Holmes on April 3 on the criminally negligent homicide charge.

Contact Ben Benton at or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at

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