Tennessee family sues police for fatally shooting unarmed man fleeing stop with officer in car

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A woman has sued a Tennessee police department after her son was shot and killed when he tried to drive away from a traffic stop with an officer leaning into the car.

Linda Allen, whose son Eric Allen, 39, died in the November 2022 interaction with Mt. Juliet Police, filed the lawsuit Monday against the chief of police, two officers and the city.

Body camera footage shows that when the officer asked Allen to step out of the car, he moved from the passenger side into the driver's seat and began to drive off while the officer was leaning inside the car. As the car drove away, the passenger door closed with the officer inside, shouting at Allen repeatedly to stop the car. He then fired his stun gun and said he would shoot Allen, before firing his handgun three times at him.

The lawsuit said the officer who shot Allen used “unnecessary, unreasonable, and excessive force” in violation of Allen’s constitutional rights. It seeks $50 million, in addition to federal monitoring of Mt. Juliet Police Department’s use of force practices and procedures, and changes to its patrol techniques.

The shooting occurred some seven months before another deadly encounter in Tennessee involving a traffic stop in which someone drove off with a law enforcement officer still holding onto the steering wheel.

Jarveon Hudspeth, 21, was shot and killed June 24 by a Shelby County Sheriff’s Office deputy after the deputy approached his car and tried to stop it from leaving the scene, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Hudspeth drove off and “dragged” the deputy about 100 yards (91 meters), and at some point the deputy fired his gun at least once and hit the driver. The car stopped about a half-mile later (nearly a kilometer). The deputy was hospitalized with serious injuries.

The police department has noted that the officer, Sgt. Joshua Lo, returned to duty after a preliminary review and a Wilson County grand jury declined to issue an indictment in the shooting.

The shooting happened after Mt. Juliet officers stopped a vehicle and at a later point asked the passenger, Allen, to exit the vehicle, according to preliminary information from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

During a traffic stop that occurred because a headlight was out, the family's lawsuit contends the officer used “deadly force to prevent an unarmed nonviolent passenger in a car from leaving after a traffic stop that did not involve him.” The driver of the vehicle had already gotten out of the car at the request of an officer.

When Allen had gotten into the driver's seat, the officer told him not to drive off, and then Allen put his hands up and said, “I ain't got nothing. I ain't got nothing,” the lawsuit says.

Allen was “in a panic” when he tried to drive away after the officer got into the car and continued to yell at Allen not to drive off, according to the lawsuit.

According to body camera footage released in January, as Allen moved into the driver's seat, a dog jumped out of the car and the officer asked repeatedly, “What are you doing?" As the car pulled away with him inside, the officer yelled, “Don't you go nowhere” and “Stop the car," multiple times, and at some point he fired his stun gun. Afterward, the officer repeatedly yelled, “I'm gonna shoot you," before shooting Allen from close range, which the lawsuit says hit him in the back and chest.

The lawsuit says Allen had been hit with a stun gun, his hands were up and he was screaming in pain as Lo fired his handgun.

“How's he going to put the car in park?” Allen family attorney S. Todd Yeary said at a news conference Monday, according to WKRN-TV.

The lawsuit also argues the Mt. Juliet Police Department uses patrol tactics that “demean, disregard, or underserve” Black Americans like her son.

The local police union, Sam Houston Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 71, told news outlets they “stand firmly behind Sgt. Lo and the entire Mt. Juliet Police Department,” citing prior investigations of the shooting. The police department said its officers are dedicated to “compassion, commitment, courage, competence, and integrity.”

“As police officers, we swore an oath to uphold those values, support the Constitution, and honor the sanctity of human life. Sgt. Lo took that same oath,” the department said.