The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office is investigating the death of Brian Allen, 48, who was fatally injured in a Monday night incident that marked the county's sixth officer-involved shooting this year.
Details surrounding the most recent shooting are scarce, but Tennessee Highway Patrol Lt. John Harmon said it escalated from a traffic stop on Highway 153 and Highway 27 in Hixson around 7:30 p.m. The trooper found Allen's license had been revoked, but the driver resisted arrest and led the trooper on a low-speed chase to Valley Lane, where he stopped.
At a news conference Monday night, Harmon said preliminary reports indicate Allen drew a weapon and shots were fired, but Matt Lea, a spokesman for the sheriff's office, did not say whether the trooper fatally shot Allen. The trooper is, however, uninjured and has been placed on administrative leave, per department policy.
Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond said Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston typically requests that the investigations of officer-involved shootings be conducted by separate agencies in order to avoid the appearance of injustice.
"It's just a matter of having open transparency so no one can say you're covering something up," he said. "Anytime there's an officer-involved shooting, if it was my department, Chattanooga would investigate it, and if it was Chattanooga, we would investigate it."
› 2012: 609
› 2013: 697
› 2014: 702
› 2015: 754
› 2016: 991
› 2017 (to date): 587
Source: Chattanooga Police Department
› 2014: 33
› 2015: 74
› 2016: 46
› 2017 (to date): 33
Source: Chattanooga Police Department
Monday night's incident is the latest of six local officer-involved shootings this year that have left three men dead, each during altercations with different law enforcement agencies.
The first officer-involved shooting of 2017 occurred in January after Christopher Sexton, 29, allegedly led Hamilton County Sheriff's Office deputies on a pursuit through Hamilton and Sequatchie counties.
Sexton's vehicle was forced off the roadway by a deputy, and when he exited his vehicle, he brandished a weapon at officers. Several deputies fired at Sexton, striking and killing him at the scene.
Hammond said Tuesday the number of officer-involved shootings seen this year aren't entirely out of line with what has been seen in years past and asserted that members of law enforcement are more prepared to handle extreme situations than ever before.
"The training for officers is so rigorous through in-service [training] and all the requirements for [the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies] or post-certification. Officers train constantly for the 'shoot, don't shoot' scenario," he said.
"They're better trained than they ever have been."
However, Hammond said suspects force a difficult situation on officers by brandishing firearms or otherwise threatening law enforcement, something he said is happening more often.
"We live in a day and age when people see too much television and are too quick to fire at an officer," he said.
Two months after deputies killed Sexton, Chattanooga police shot and killed Daniel Hendrix, 26, a corrections officer for the sheriff's office.
Hendrix was celebrating his birthday with two off-duty female police officers when he became "enraged," picked up a personal firearm and began to threaten the women, said TBI spokesman Josh Devine.
Both officers were able to flee the home and one called 911. Two more Chattanooga police officers arrived on scene ordered him to drop the weapon, but he refused and one of the responding officers fired at him four times. He died in transit to Erlanger.
Devine confirmed Tuesday that the TBI investigation into that shooting is ongoing.
After Hendrix was killed, Hamilton County went five months without an officer-involved shooting until David Alan Wooten, 44 was shot on the 5000 block of Rossville Boulevard. He evaded police and fled to an East Ridge home.
Later that month, Lawande Haggard, 29 was shot by police on Aug. 27. Police were called to help disperse a crowd in the Speedway parking lot on the 1300 block of East Third Street, but officers heard shots being fired when they arrived.
Officers tried to conduct a traffic stop, but Haggard allegedly drove straight at officers.
"Officers fired on suspect vehicle due to the immediate life-threatening harm they were facing," stated a release from Chattanooga police.
"I was not shooting at the police. I was shooting at someone else," Haggard told police when he was taken into custody.
Finally, Casey Smith, 33, was critically injured in an officer-involved shooting on Sept. 4 on the 5200 block of Central Avenue. Officers responded to a report of a suspicious person on the 5200 block of Central Avenue shortly after midnight, but shots were fired by law enforcement and Smith was taken to a local hospital afterward for treatment.
The sheriff's office is investigating that incident, but it is still unclear what prompted the officers to fire.
Before 2017, Chattanooga saw an annual increase in the number of officer-involved shootings over the past several years. Chattanooga police officers were shot at and/or discharged their weapons once in 2014, twice in 2015 and four times in 2016, according to numbers provided by the department.
One of the shootings in 2015 was the July 16 terrorist attack that left six servicemen and the shooter dead.
Rob Simmons, spokesman for the Chattanooga Police Department, attributed the increase to a number of factors, not the least of which are a rise in the number of assaults on police and the number of guns on the street.
"The statistical similarity of increased firearm seizures to increased incidents of [officer-involved shootings] is difficult to ignore," he wrote in an email, noting that Chattanooga police seized 991 guns in 2016.
"The fact is that our officers are interacting with individuals with firearms more and more each year. It is probable therefore that those interactions have a higher chance of escalation to deadly force than to interactions which do not involve a firearm."
He said enhanced training such as deescalation techniques can give officers more options in dealing with dangerous situations, but the sequences of events that lead to shootings can change from one minute to the next.
"Many times, escalation happens within seconds and a officer must react immediately to preserve life," he wrote.
"In those situations the use of force may jump past these options and proceed directly to deadly force, impeding any options which the officer could invoke prior to applying deadly force."
Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6731. Follow him on Twitter @emmettgienapp.
The information box accompanying this story was corrected on Sept. 13, 2017, to state that there have been 587 firearm seizures in Chattanooga in 2017 so far, not 5,871.