Tenn. police fire 59 shots at man with rifle threatening suicide
By Bill Poovey
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Six officers fired at least 59 shots in less than a minute, killing a man who had roamed his Tennessee neighborhood with a rifle and was looking to commit "suicide by cop," authorities said Tuesday.
Chattanooga police Chief Freeman Cooper told radio station WGOW on Tuesday that his officers acted properly in the face of threats by 32-year-old Alonzo Heyward.
"They only fired when they were presented with a threat," he said.
A police dashboard camera with audio showed that all the shots were fired in three volleys within 30 seconds, Cooper said. The gunfire interrupted as officers repeated commands for Heyward to drop the rifle. Cooper said the simultaneous reactions of all six officers shows they acted properly.
"We are saying that our people did what we trained them to do," Cooper added.
He did not immediately return phone calls from The Associated Press.
No one is visible on the dark, nighttime video, taken from a police car parked near the shooting scene. Police spokeswoman Jerri Weary had earlier described the shooting as a "suicide by cop."
"His whole intention was to be killed by police," Cooper told the radio station.
Weary said the officers followed Heyward as he walked from a restaurant parking lot to the porch of his house, then unsuccessfully attempted to subdue him with a stun gun. They shot him when he refused to drop the rifle and pointed it, police said.
Heyward roamed the neighborhood for hours and had threatened to shoot himself before the officers were called, police said. James Heyward has said his brother was distressed about not seeing his children.
The officers involved were placed on temporary administrative leave and Cooper said an investigation was continuing.
Police released the count of 59 gunshots after a Hamilton County Medical Examiner's office report Monday showed that Heyward's body had 43 bullet entry and exit wounds. The medical examiner's office said some bullets could have caused multiple wounds and a still-to-be completed autopsy report would include those details.
Police spokeswoman Kim Noorbergen said Tuesday that Heyward's relatives and friends had been "trying to talk him back in" before police were called.
"There was the potential there for anybody to be in danger," Noorbergen said. "You've got a distraught man carrying a .44 Magnum rifle. Anybody who is around is in danger."