Nashville DA seeks change after suspect released from jail is accused of shooting college student

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Nashville district attorney called on Wednesday for the Tennessee legislature to make it easier to commit someone to a mental institution after a man who was previously released for incompetence to stand trial was accused of shooting an 18-year-old college student in the head.

Belmont University student Jillian Ludwig, of New Jersey, was walking on a track in a local park when she was shot and critically wounded at about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, according to the Metro Nashville Police. They arrested Shaquille Taylor, 29, after surveillance video and witness statements pointed to him as the shooter. Video showed Ludwig falling after she was struck by a stray bullet as Taylor was firing at a car, according to a police affidavit.

A passerby discovered Ludwig on the ground at approximately 3:30 p.m. She was transported to Vanderbilt University Medical Center where she was listed in extremely critical condition, police said.

Taylor is charged with aggravated assault and evidence tampering and was being held on a $280,000 bond. A public defender assigned to Taylor’s case did not return phone and email messages requesting comment.

Taylor has been charged criminally several times in the past. In 2021, Taylor was charged with three counts of assault with a deadly weapon after he and another man were accused of shooting at a female driver while her two children were in the back seat. At least two rounds struck the vehicle. Earlier this year, a Nashville judge dismissed those charges, and Taylor was released after court-appointed doctors testified that he was incompetent to stand trial. Federal and state law prohibit the prosecution of mentally incompetent defendants.

The May 19 court order explained that Taylor had developed pneumonia at birth, which led to a brain infection, and that he continues to function at a kindergarten level. Because Taylor also did not meet the criteria for involuntary commitment, the court had “reached the limit of its authority,” Criminal Court Judge Angelita Blackshear Dalton wrote.

Four months later, Taylor was arrested in a grocery store parking lot driving a Ford F-150 pickup truck that had been carjacked by two men wearing ski masks Sept. 16, police said. He was charged with felony auto theft and released on a $20,000 bond. A warrant was issued when he failed to appear in court Friday.

On Wednesday, Nashville District Attorney General Glenn Funk issued a statement criticizing the Tennessee law that sets out rules for when a person can be involuntarily committed, calling it a “nearly impossible standard.” State law requires at least two doctors to certify that the person is suffering from a severe mental illness or developmental disability that causes that person to be at a substantial risk of serious harm to himself or others. The doctors must also find that there are no less restrictive measures that could be taken.

“The law must be altered to accurately balance individual needs with public safety,” Funk said in a statement. “At the same time Tennessee must provide more beds and staffing resources to handle dangerous individuals.”

Nashville Mayor Freddie O'Connell echoed those sentiments in a statement calling for “more beds for individuals experiencing mental health crises and a renewed conversation about how we limit access to firearms for individuals we know are a threat to the community.”

Belmont University President Greg Jones sent an email to students and staff Wednesday morning announcing a prayer service for Ludwig. He described her as a music business major and bass player who “is often found at concerts, cheering on fellow musicians and using music as a way to connect with those around her.” She is also an avid runner who enjoys being outside, Jones wrote.