In January, on the side of an interstate in Nashville, Landon Eastep was shot a dozen times by nine officers.
His wife, Chelesy Eastep, filed a new federal lawsuit late Thursday afternoon, claiming the officers from three agencies were responsible for his death. The shooting was criticized as excessive and “execution-style” in the lawsuit.
As a result of the shooting, de-escalation strategies and the way police respond to mental health crises have become controversial topics of discussion in Nashville. On the afternoon of January 27th, a state trooper noticed Landon Eastep sitting on a guardrail along Interstate 65.
This check turned into a tense 30-minute standoff. At the end of it all, nine police officers opened fire, killing him. Officials have confirmed that Landon Eastep was shot by a total of eight people: six officers from the Metro Nashville Police Department, two troopers from the Tennessee Highway Patrol, and an off-duty officer from the Mt. Juliet Police Department. He was 37.
An attorney for Landon Eastep’s family, David J. McKenzie, argued that it was unreasonable to expect Eastep to behave rationally when he was surrounded by armed men.
Police officers “need to stop treating civilians like enemy combatants in a war zone,” McKenzie said. “Landon did not require shooting; he required assistance, or at the very least, privacy.”
Both Nashville and Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, were named as defendants in the suit on the grounds that their police forces had received inadequate training in the use of force and de-escalation techniques for dealing with people who were emotionally distressed.
It was unclear as of Thursday night if service had been made on the defendants. The department heads and agencies mentioned in the lawsuit have been contacted for comment. In the lawsuit, Chelesy Eastep sought both compensatory and punitive damages but did not specify an amount in her original complaint.
Legal professionals reveal fresh details about the box cutter
According to the complaint, Landon Eastep was crying and slashing his wrists with a box cutter during the standoff. It was stated in the filing that he did not pose any danger to the officers, himself, or anyone else. Those in charge of the situation did not use de-escalation techniques, but instead called for “an inexplicably excessive number of backup officers to respond to the scene, to draw their firearms, to form a semi-circle firing squad and create the danger which ultimately turned fatal,” the lawsuit claimed.
The suit claimed that the police could have avoided any potential deaths by using less lethal means such as a taser.
However, “they gunned him down like a rabid dog,” according to the lawsuit.
In addition, the suit argued that MNPD had provided insufficient evidence of its initial claim that Landon Eastep had produced a “cylindrical metal object” from his pocket during the standoff.
After Landon Eastep pulled the object from his pocket in January, MNPD spokesperson Don Aaron stated that Eastep adjusted his stance before officers fired. It appeared that Landon Eastep had one hand in his pocket in the released body camera footage from the MNPD, but then he abruptly raised both arms and pointed them at the officers. From the footage, it is unclear if he was holding anything.
As stated in the lawsuit, no one made any attempt to communicate with Landon Eastep face-to-face, and he was unable to comprehend the verbal commands given to him by the officers who surrounded him with their weapons out, including their long guns. Also, a helicopter could be seen flying overhead in the body camera footage.
Officials in Nashville reported that the city’s mobile crisis response team, which helps those experiencing mental health crises, was not present.
Based on the overwhelming display of physical force, it was clear that Mr. Eastep would not survive the encounter, the suit claimed.
These officers are being sued:
Sgt. Steven Carrick (MNPD)
Officer James Kidd (MNPD)
Officer Brian Murphy (MNPD)
Officer Justin Pinkelton (MNPD)
Officer Edin Plancic (MNPD)
Officer Sean Williams (MNPD)
Sgt. Charles Achinger (THP)
Trooper Reggie Edge (THP)
Cpl. Fabjan Llukaj (off-duty, Mt. Juliet Police Department)
The Tennessee Highway Patrol wasn’t named in the lawsuit because of constitutional protections against naming state agencies in federal lawsuits.
As the saying goes, “illegal, shocking to the conscience, and unconstitutional.”
The lawsuit also included MNPD’s claim that Murphy fired the final two shots with a rifle. Murphy shot Landon Eastep after he had already been knocked to the ground and “a loud and unmistakable ‘cease fire’ had been yelled by another officer,” as the lawsuit put it. The last two shots and the command to cease fire were captured on a clip from the MNPD body camera that showed what appeared to be Landon Eastep on the ground.
MNPD reported in January that Murphy was decommissioned and stripped of his police authority within hours of the shooting. In July, however, MNPD spokeswoman Brooke Reese confirmed that Murphy had been reinstated as of April 12.
The suit claimed that “the use of excessive force” had occurred when Landon Eastep was executed-style. The defendants’ actions were malicious, reckless, intentional, willful, and wantonly, as well as “unlawful, conscience-shocking, and unconstitutional,” according to the document.
Lawyer for the widow: “A wound that will never heal.”
McKenzie has expressed his desire for Landon Eastep’s death to be more than a statistic, and instead to contribute to ending the cyclical use of excessive force by law enforcement.
We just want to be a part of the change,” he said.
According to McKenzie, filing suit is crucial to safeguarding Landon Eastep’s estate and family in the future.
McKenzie described Chelesy Eastep’s experience over the past few months as “a wound that doesn’t heal.” The question was posed, “How do you find peace after something like this?”
Officers go back on duty or take on new responsibilities.
Speaking for the MNPD, Reese said that while Murphy was decommissioned as a result of the shooting, the other five officers involved were assigned to routine administrative duties. After completing their administrative tasks on February 4, Kidd, Pinkelton, Plancic, and Williams returned to patrol. Reese stated that Carrick resigned in February after accepting a federal position prior to the shooting.
Lt. Bill Miller, a spokesman for the THP, said that after the shooting, Edge and Achinger were placed on administrative leave with pay. On January 31st, they were transferred to an administrative assignment. On the 28th of February, both were reinstated to their original duties.
Mt. Juliet Police Department Captain Tyler Chandler said that Llukaj was out for “routine administrative and wellness leave.” Llukaj was eventually returned to active duty, but he has since resigned from his position voluntarily. Chandler has confirmed that he is still employed with the force in the capacity of a reserve officer.
In addition to the TBI investigation, MNPD is also conducting an internal review. According to Chandler, the same holds true for MJPD. Miller said that the THP is looking into whether or not Edge and Achinger used physical force.
Additionally, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has joined the probe.
The Tennessean requested full footage from the shooting, but THP and MNPD denied the request, citing the ongoing investigation. Public records that are part of an ongoing investigation can be withheld by officials in Tennessee, but this is not required by law.
In Lewisburg, Tennessee, Chelesy Eastep is represented by attorneys McKenzie and Barbara G. Medley.