Use of warning shot at Tenn. courthouse questioned

By Don Jacobs and Ron Clayton
The Knoxville News-Sentinel

MONROE COUNTY, Tenn. When secretary Michelle Graves heard screaming and a gunshot outside her office at the Monroe County courthouse Friday morning, she took cover.

"I went under my desk. My hands were shaking," said Graves, who has been on the job for six months.

A court officer had fired a warning shot in an effort to discourage a fleeing criminal outside Graves' office. Graves' boss, county Mayor J. Allan Watson, wonders if a gunshot was the best course of action.

Watson said it was the first time in his 17 years in office that he remembers gunfire in the courthouse and that people were near the area. The bullet hole in the tile floor is directly above the office of Maintenance Supervisor Bill Hatmaker, who was in another part of the courthouse.

Watson said there is concrete between the floors, and the bullet stopped before going into that office.

"I hope this will be questioned and investigated," he said.

Court officer James Haseltine, 59, fired the shot and was placed on administrative leave with pay pending an internal affairs investigation. He was hired in May by the sheriff's department.

The incident began as Tristan J. Frazier, a 20-year-old Sweetwater man, was being taken into custody after a hearing on a probation violation.

Frazier was on probation for forging a $30 check in May 2006. He hadn't paid court costs of $28 per month, for a total of $648 owed to the court.

At 11:28 a.m., in a hall outside Criminal Court on an upper floor of the three-story building, Frazier pushed Haseltine and began to run.

He fled down two flights of stairs and was followed by Haseltine, who shouted for him to stop, according to witness Darriane "Clueman" Turner.

When Frazier kept running, the officer fired a warning shot into the courthouse floor with his .45-caliber semiautomatic Glock handgun.

Turner chased after Frazier and saw him duck behind some commercial buildings downtown.

"He was small, but that little guy could run," Turner said. Turner is part of a motorcycle group that assists abused children and was visiting the courthouse at the time of the incident.

Frazier was captured at 12:14 p.m. by Madisonville City Commissioner Bill Spradley and Bill Bivins, who is a county commissioner and a sergeant with the Madisonville city police.

Bivins struggled briefly with Frazier on Monroe Street near the railroad tracks during the arrest, according to sheriff's department Detective Jennifer Bledsoe.

The arrest occurred less than one-eighth of a mile from the courthouse, Bledsoe said.

Authorities charged Frazier with escape, evading arrest and assault on an officer.

Copyright 2007 Knoxville News-Sentinel

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