A Hamilton County jury found a 51-year-old man guilty on Thursday of multiple charges, including attempted voluntary manslaughter, in a June 2018 shooting in which he exchanged gunfire with Chattanooga police.
On June 16, 2018, two officers responded to the Shepherd Hills Apartments, located at 404 Tunnel Blvd., at 7:35 p.m. on a report of a "disorder involving a weapon" in front of an apartment. The 911 caller said two men were arguing and one of them had a gun.
The first officer to arrive at the scene, Charles Darling, saw a man, later identified as Joel Harris, in the parking lot walking away from an apartment building.
Harris matched the caller's description "to the T," Darling testified in court on Wednesday, which is why he ordered Harris to stop so they could talk.
But Harris instead continued walking away after telling the officer everything was fine and then began running when Darling followed him and yelled orders at him to stop, body camera footage shown in court on Wednesday revealed.
"I've got my f------ gun on you," Darling yells. "Open your f------ hands."
Within 10 seconds of arriving at the scene, Darling had drawn his weapon, Harris' attorney, Vikki Clark noted.
Harris ran through an apartment breezeway and into a courtyard, his back turned toward Darling, when gunshots could be heard.
Police said Harris fired the first shots, but when officers asked Harris, who was lying on the ground with a gunshot wound to the leg, why he shot at police, he can be heard saying, "[They] shot at me! I'm scared."
Clark argued her client was no longer arguing with the second man, didn't have a gun in his hand and was peacefully walking away from the alleged confrontation.
It was police who unnecessarily escalated the situation, she said.
"Were you made aware of the fact that when the investigation was conducted that a bullet from one of [Officer Christopher] Blackburn's shots went through a glass sliding door into an apartment?" she asked Darling.
"No, ma'am," Darling responded, his voice weighing heavy.
Darling repeatedly stated he chased Harris and drew his weapon because Harris was "passively resisting," and Darling had reason to believe he could present a threat due to the caller stating he was armed with a gun.
"We were called there to a disorder with a weapon," Darling said. "So, therefore, I was under the impression that Mr. Harris, who fit the description of somebody having a firearm and was in a confrontation with another male, so, possibly, an aggravated assault took place. That's why I pursued Mr. Harris."
Harris had disobeyed a lawful order by police, Darling said, and that if he hadn't run away, Harris may not have been arrested that day.
"If he would talk to me, then we could have figured out the situation," he said.
Nevertheless, Clark called the officers' response an "overreaction."
"In a matter of 24 seconds, you have gone from putting your patrol car in park to firing shots because someone was walking away from you," she told Darling. "[Harris] could be dead right now because of your overreaction.
"Would you do it differently today?"
"Yes, ma'am," he responded. "I wouldn't have gone to work that day."
By Thursday afternoon, the jury unanimously found Harris guilty of attempted voluntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and resisting arrest.
A sentencing hearing has been set for Oct. 28.