Recently released Tennessee Bureau of Investigation records paint a more detailed picture of the struggle between a 29-year-old man and a Hamilton County deputy with a history of pursuits and use-of-force incidents the night the man was shot and killed by the deputy.
Tyler Hays was fatally shot in the back on May 18 after leading deputy Jordan Long on a pursuit through the Sale Creek area just after 2 a.m. Hays had been speeding and "driving all over the road," according to Long.
Deputy Jordan Long's history
After shooting Hays, Long was placed on administrative leave with pay. He was back on duty five days later, and two-and-a-half weeks after that, he shot at another man who also was involved in a pursuit. He missed, so the man was not injured.
Long was again placed on administrative leave and was back on duty within 13 days. By mid-August, Long was again placed on administrative leave after shooting another man after a pursuit. He was back on duty 17 days after that incident, though he remains under internal investigation for all three cases.
Before joining the sheriff's office in mid-2019, Long was accused in a lawsuit of assaulting a man during a traffic stop while he was a Collegedale police officer. That lawsuit was settled for $7,500.
In the Hays case, Long was cleared by the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office in October. No evidence of criminal liability was found, Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston said at the time.
Now that the criminal case has been closed, the investigative records are open for public review. However, Long was not one of the few deputies outfitted with a body camera, meaning the investigation is limited to witness statements, evidence collected at the scene and the autopsy. Dash camera footage does not show what happened once Hays fled from the vehicle on foot.
According to the records, Long first tried unsuccessfully to use a stun gun on Hays. Long then tackled him and placed him in a "bear hug hold."
Hays then started elbowing Long in the abdomen. They rolled down a slight grassy, wet hill in front of a house in the 16200 block of Crest View Drive, and Long landed on his stomach, losing control of Hays. At that point, Long said Hays got on Long's back and wrapped his arms around Long's chest. Long then got on the radio to tell dispatchers he needed help.
That's when Hays brought Long to his feet, according to Long, and began to choke Long with his forearm.
Hays' mother, Deborah Lilly, has doubted whether her son could cause much harm, as he was a small-framed person, standing 5 feet, 5 inches and weighing 123 lbs.
"I couldn't breathe. My throat started burning, and I tried to pull his arms away — push his arms up to get out of the hold," Long told TBI investigators in an interview with his attorneys present. "I couldn't get out of the hold, so I dropped my body weight. We lost our footing."
The two rolled further down the hill and into a small, rocky drainage ditch. Long landed on his back this time, and Hays got up and began to approach while Long was still down.
With his stun gun lost in the initial struggle atop the hill and unable to grab his baton, which was under his own body, Long told investigators, he kicked Hays in the abdomen to create distance, drew his firearm and warned Hays he would shoot him.
"When I kicked him, my foot kind of slid off the front of his body," Long told investigators, which caused Hays to turn slightly. "I turned to my right side ... to dodge him 'cause he was still coming at me, and then I fired three shots. He backed up then he dropped right at the grass in the rocks."
A bullet went in through Hays' mid-back and became lodged in his right shoulder.
Long said he lay where he was for a few moments catching his breath. The residents of a nearby home came out, and Long ran to ask them for towels to stop Hays' bleeding.
"Tyler was still trying to sit up at that point, so it was just me and Tyler out there," Long told investigators. "I put Tyler on his stomach, and I handcuffed him. And then I started looking for the gunshot wound when I saw the blood coming out the shirt. I lifted the back of his shirt up, and I rolled Tyler on his side and I put the towel against the gunshot wound and he just kept talking. He was just saying, 'It hurts. I can't breathe, I can't breathe.' And I told him to quit talking and focus on breathing. And he still kept saying the same stuff.
"He was saying his shoulder hurted," Long said. "It looked broken. It looked abnormal, so we ended up uncuffing him to make it look more comfortable."
More deputies began to arrive and began life-saving measures after removing Hays' handcuffs. Emergency personnel arrived soon after and took over.
Hays was pronounced dead as he was loaded into the ambulance.
Before he died, Hays had been calling one of the deputies — Jodi Terry — by name because he recognized Terry from a gas station they frequented. Terry also had arrested Hays in the past, including for allegedly stealing a fire truck in Soddy-Daisy in January 2019. And Terry had been made aware that federal agents had recently executed a drug warrant at the home where Hays lived.
A backpack which Hays had been wearing contained clothing, three bags of a crystal substance, one bag with a tan powder, one bag with white pills and a glass pipe.
As for Long, he told investigators he had no choice but to shoot Hays. He was tired, he didn't have any other tools and he was in fear for his life.
"When he choked me, I panicked. I've never been choked like that. I've been in fights, but this fight was different. Usually, the fights I've been in with people, they're just trying to get away. They're not trying, you know, trying to kill me," Long said. "Tyler had multiple chances to get away. The second time we fell down a hill, when I landed on my stomach, he could've ran away. Then when we landed in ... on the rocks, he could've run away. He didn't run away."
Photos taken after the shooting show Long had two scratch marks on his chin and mud on his pants at his shins and knees. There was no visible bruising around his neck at the time.
"What is clear from the investigation is that Tyler Hays tried everything he could to avoid arrest, even violence against a police officer," Long's attorney Janie Parks Varnell said in a statement. "TBI toxicology confirmed that Mr. Hays was impaired by multiple controlled substances, making him dangerous and uncontrollable. While understanding the loss of any life is regrettable, Deputy Long, through no choice of his own, was placed in a situation in which he had to act, and he did so pursuant to his training and experience."
The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office declined to comment citing pending litigation.
A grieving mother
Hays' mother still has her doubts about what happened that night.
Lilly has previously told the Times Free Press that she's acknowledged her son's history with drug addiction and run-ins with law enforcement. But she can't come to terms with the idea that he would fight an officer, saying he wasn't violent.
"This kid lived in [Bob] Marley T-shirts," she said after reading the medical examiner's report. "That's the kid that I know, not a kid who would struggle with a cop over a gun," she said.
In her eyes, she said, his history doesn't justify the way he died.
"Tyler probably deserved to go to jail, but shot in the back — I can't accept how that's justified," Lilly said Tuesday. "I don't know a violent Tyler ... I just want my happy baby and child memories to grieve with."
Contact Rosana Hughes at 423-757-6327, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.