May 14, 2001
Police defend restraint in standoff with distraught fellow officer
NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) -- It was "human nature" that police showed restraint dealing with an armed and distraught fellow officer, even though he held them at bay for four hours while firing several shots, a police spokesman says.
Sgt. Mark Nelson, upset over a love triangle with other officers, shot at patrol cars and into the ground before surrendering Friday.
Two nearby elementary schools were locked down during the confrontation and neighborhood residents were telephoned and told to stay in their homes.
Nelson, 35, was the only one injured, suffering a minor flesh wound from a ricocheting bullet.
"I've been hearing of calls from people who said, 'He should have been killed,"' spokesman Don Aaron said Saturday.
But Aaron said Nelson had been a policeman for 13 years and was well known by many of the officers on the scene.
"Did they show restraint? I'd have to say yes," Aaron said. "If a person put themselves in the shoes of the responding officers where someone they knew very well had had a breakdown, then they too would have shown some restraint. It's human nature."
Nelson was upset about a romantic relationship between two other police officers, Melissa Vangyija and Coleman Womack. Aaron said there's no policy against officers dating.
Nelson's lawyer, Worrick Robinson, said Vangyija and Nelson had dated several months ago after Nelson and his wife separated. Aaron said Nelson saw Vangyija and Womack at a police rally last week and began calling her repeatedly at her home.
Vangyija told fellow officers about the calls and said she feared Nelson might be suicidal.
A team of officers including Nelson's supervisor went to his house and arrested him early Friday, Aaron said, but Nelson was released after evaluation by a crisis team, which scheduled another counseling session with him.
Nelson's police weapon was confiscated, Aaron said, but he got a personal gun and went to confront Womack at his home later Friday.
Womack and Vangyija escaped out the back of the house. Aaron said Nelson saw Womack run across the street and fired at him. Womack shot back, but both men missed.
The first two officers who arrived on the scene said Nelson opened fire in their direction, "but they didn't think he was actually firing at them," Aaron said.
Nelson was charged with three counts of felony aggravated assault, and more charges may follow. He was released on $15,000 bail and checked himself into the psychiatric ward at Vanderbilt University Medical Center on Saturday, Robinson said.