At least nine police officers in Tennessee were caught on camera opening fire on a 37-year-old man, shutting down a part of the interstate highway in Nashville for hours on Thursday.
The victim has been identified as Landon Eastep, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) said.
He was fatally shot by officers of the Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD), Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers and an off-duty Mt Juliet officer.
Eastep was first noticed by a trooper who saw him sitting on a guardrail and when approached, he pulled out a box cutter.
While the trooper tried to negotiate with the man, an off-duty Mt Juliet police department officer and backup officers from the MNPD and troopers also arrived at the scene.
In a statement, the TBI said the negotiations with Eastep “aimed at convincing him to surrender, continued for approximately 30 minutes.”
“At one point, the man appears to adjust his stance and reach for what was later identified as a metal cylindrical object at his waist,” it added.
At least nine police officers then opened fire on the man, killing him on the spot.
In a video captured by a bystander and shared on Twitter by the WSMV News4 Nashville network, Eastep can be seen standing on the right lane of the highway as a dozen uniformed officers draw their guns.
At one point, he raises his arms towards the police, after which the video pauses and multiple gunshots can be heard.
MNPD released bodycam footage of the incident on Thursday night, saying it shows Mr Eastep took a “gun stance” before they opened fire.
The critical incident video includes excerpts of bodycam footage from two officers and commentary from MNPD spokesperson Don Aaron, who said it was being shared by MNPD in order to give “a better understanding of what we know about what occurred up to now”.
It shows Mr Eastep with his hand in the right pocket of his sweatshirt and an item in his left hand - identified as a box cutter by police.
Off-duty Mt. Juliet officer James Kidd is heard repeatedly pleading with Mr Eastep “don’t do it” and reassuring him that he can get him help.
Officer Kidd tells him multiple times to take his right hand out of his pocket and to drop the box cutter.
Following several minutes of dialogue, Mr Eastep then appears to draw his hand out of his right pocket and point something in the direction of the officer.
At that moment, several rounds of gunfire ring out and the 37-year-old falls to the ground.
MNPD spokesperson Aaron said that the officers opened fire because Mr Eastep acted as though he had a gun.
“Nine law enforcement personnel fired their weapons after Eastep took a stance as if he had a firearm,” he said.
Mr Aaron confirmed that the “shiny cylindrical object” in Mr Eastep’s hand was not a firearm.
Mt Juliet captain Tyler Chandler said that the off-duty officer’s family was in a car and had to witness the shooting.
“The officer is very upset the family had to see the interaction. A lot of people on this interstate saw this take place. The man’s family, our prayers and thoughts go out to them,” Mr Chandler was quoted as saying by local daily The Tennessean.
Following the incident, traffic on both sides of the highway was backed up for miles and a few lanes were shut for over two hours.
Samantha McGill-Barge, Eastep’s sister-in-law, said she was baffled he was on the highway and wasn’t aware there was anything wrong.
“He loved my sister and my kids very much and, to my knowledge, was a good guy. It’s a very unfortunate situation. I’m in shock. I was at home with my kids when I found out,” she told The Daily Beast.
Ms McGill-Barge added Eastep’s wife was in contact with a lawyer but had no plans to take legal action.
In a fundraiser for Eastep’s wife, Ms McGill-Barge wrote that he was “unjustly executed with over 20 shots in very close rage by Metro Nashville officers”.
“This man had only a box cutter and had already shown it to officers before they killed him in cold blood.”
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