Note: This story was last updated at 4 p.m. Feb. 16.
An Oak Ridge police officer was legally entitled to use lethal force against a man who was driving toward the officer when he was struck by two bullets after a police chase in October, Seventh Judicial District Attorney General Dave Clark said Thursday.
The shooting in the parking lot of the county courthouse and county offices on Emory Valley on October 8 killed Isaiah D. Ramirez, 36. The shooting was investigated by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which is common in shootings that involve police officers. The case was assigned to TBI Agent Denise Woodby.
On Thursday, Clark announced that the investigation of the officer-involved shooting is complete. The investigation included a team of forensic scientists from the TBI Knoxville Violent Crime Response Team and forensic crime scene truck the day of the shooting, officer and witness statements, photographs and video recordings, laboratory testing and an autopsy, and evaluation of the crime scene and other observations, Clark said.
“Based upon the totality of the circumstances, Officer Nathan Gibson had a reasonable basis to believe at the time that the suspect, Isaiah Ramirez, posed a threat of death or serious bodily injury to him (Gibson),” Clark said in a press release. “Gibson met the requirement multiple times of verbally ordering Ramirez to stop. Thus, Gibson was legally entitled to use lethal force against Isaiah Ramirez. While gunshots were the immediate cause of Ramirez’s death, it was Ramirez’s own decisions and conduct that were responsible for his death. No criminal charges would be legal or appropriate against Officer Nathan Gibson.”
The results of the investigation were sent to Oak Ridge Police Chief Robin Smith. Among the findings, according to Clark: Ramirez, who had warrants for his arrest, fled from police in a pickup truck on Cumberland View Drive and forced two officers to jump out of his way to avoid being struck and narrowly missed another; drove around police trying to stop him and did not comply with verbal orders to stop, including from an officer who had his firearm drawn, or with police lights and sirens in a residential area and then down Emory Valley Road; and drove toward Gibson, who was standing with his weapon pointed at Gibson in the parking lot of the county courthouse and offices on Emory Valley Road.
Gibson fired his weapon three times through the front windshield of the Nissan Frontier driven by Ramirez, and Ramirez hit Gibson in the leg with the pickup truck, causing Gibson to stumble backward, Clark said. One bullet hit Ramirez in the upper right chest before exiting through his right back, and a second went through his right arm before entering his chest, Clark said. The gunshot wounds caused Ramirez to die, Clark said.
A third bullet struck and was lodged in the steering wheel of the pickup truck.
Tests showed that oxycodone, alprazolam, amphetamine, and buprenorphine were present in Ramirez’s blood, Clark said.
Ramirez was carrying a wallet with $658 in cash, mostly consisting of 29 $20 bills, Clark said.
There was a black and silver container located in the pickup truck that contained pills, Clark said. An analysis by the TBI Crime Laboratory found the pills included three clonazepam tablets, 21 alprazolam tablets, 68 buprenorphine tablets, and 101 amphetamine tablets, Clark said.
“On the day of this shooting, there is little doubt that Ramirez knew that police officers were looking for him or had a warrant for his arrest and had ordered him to stop,” Clark said. “Ramirez had defied uniformed officers in marked patrol units who had given him verbal orders and who had also pointed firearms at him. Ramirez attempted to and almost did struck Officer Gibson at their initial encounter when he got in his truck and fled. Ramirez attempted to and almost did strike Officer Kyle Scott when he defied the verbal orders of multiple officers as he encountered a group of other Oak Ridge officers further down Cumberland View Drive. There is no doubt that Ramirez defied the pursuing police vehicles that were displaying emergency lights and sirens, which is legally mandated and universally understood as a command to pull over. In addition, Ramirez attempted to sideswipe Sergeant (Jeremy) Huddleston during the pursuit. From witness tips and the friend he was speaking to on the phone for the purpose of organizing an escape on foot, we know that Ramirez had no intent of allowing himself to be arrested.
“As the result of this investigation, we know that Ramirez had committed additional felonies against police officers as they attempted to arrest him and thus would have reason to believe that additional criminal charges would be taken against him. Officer Gibson was also aware of these factors as he encountered Ramirez in the parking lot that evening.
“We know now that Ramirez had possession of a large quantity of prescription pills in his truck and denominations and amounts of U.S. currency often associated with the illegal sale of narcotics. He may have had concerns about possible charges for illegal drug possession for sale if he were caught. We also know now that Ramirez had several drugs circulating in his system and his thought process may have been impaired as a result. These last two factors may partially explain Ramirez’s conduct on that day, but they were not known to Officer Gibson at the time he made his decision to fire.
“Essentially what Gibson knew what that Ramirez had been implicitly warned and ordered to stop or comply in multiple ways and by multiple officers. Gibson knew that Ramirez was willing to use a vehicle (deadly weapon) to assault or endanger officers. Gibson also knew that he was in front of Ramirez’s vehicle, that Ramirez was once again refusing lawful commands, and that Ramirez was pointing the vehicle at Gibson and putting the car in forward gear and coming at him.”
Prior to the shooting, Oak Ridge Police Department officers, who had been searching for Ramirez for several days, had learned that he was renovating a home on Cumberland View drive. Ramirez had warrants for his arrests, including for charges of aggravated burglary, domestic assault, and violation of probation, Clark said. In addition, he was on probation for aggravated assault, the DA said.
Ramirez had a history of fleeing from police and resisting arrest, and officers learned from a witness that Ramirez knew he was wanted and did not want to be arrested because he thought he would go to prison, Clark said.
An ORPD sergeant, five officers, and a police K-9 drove to the home at about 6:30 p.m. that day to arrest Ramirez. Two officers, Gibson and Kevin Merritt, saw Ramirez outside a home and near an open door to the Nissan Frontier pickup truck, which had a trailer attached. Gibson, Merritt, and the K-9 approached Ramirez while announcing they were police officers, and they ordered him to stop, Clark said.
“Instead of complying, Ramirez got in the truck, closed the door, and started the engine,” Clark said. “Officers Gibson and Merritt deployed their collapsible batons and struck the truck windows. The passenger side window was shattered, and the rear window was cracked. Nevertheless, Ramirez drove away. As he did so, Gibson and his K-9 partner jumped out of the way to avoid being struck by Ramirez. Gibson and his K-9 partner and Merritt got back in their vehicles to pursue Ramirez.”
Other officers farther down Cumberland View Drive blocked the road to try to stop Ramirez. But Ramirez drove the pickup truck and trailer over the curb and toward ORPD Officer Kyle Scott, who was outside of his police vehicle in a private yard, Clark said.
“Officer Scott drew his pistol,” the DA said. “He and other officers verbally ordered Ramirez to stop, and Scott pointed his firearm at Ramirez. Ramirez did not stop and narrowly missed striking Officer Scott. Scott did not fire his pistol. He and other officers got back in their vehicles and pursued Ramirez. Officer Scott announced over the police radio that Ramirez had almost struck him with his vehicle.”
ORPD officers pursued Ramirez with their lights and sirens on, and other officers responded to help with the pursuit, Clark said.
“Ramirez refused to yield to the police lights and sirens and led pursuing police officers through several residential streets and then onto Emory Valley Road at a high rate of speed,” Clark said. He said Ramirez ran the red light at Emory Valley and Fairbanks roads.
ORPD Sergeant Jeremy Huddleston was right behind Ramirez during the pursuit, and Huddleston tried to pass Ramirez on Emory Valley Road in order to get in front of him, box him in, and slow his vehicle, Clark said. But as Huddleston tried to pass Ramirez, Ramirez swerved the pickup truck at Huddleston to apparently try to prevent him from passing, Clark said. Eventually, Huddleston was able to pass Ramirez and tried to slow him down and then stop him. This occurred while the pursuit was approaching and then passing the parking lot entrance of the Anderson County buildings at 728 Emory Valley Road, where Anderson County General Sessions Court, Division II, and other county offices are located, Clark said.
But instead of slowing down, Ramirez turned right into the parking lot of the county courthouse and sped to the far end, circling several parked transit buses and light poles, Clark said.
“As Ramirez circled the parking lot, some police vehicles pursued around the buses,” Clark said. “Correctly anticipating that Ramirez would double back through the parking lot, Officer Gibson used his vehicle to attempt to block Ramirez from leaving the parking lot instead of pursuing.”
Ramirez briefly stopped his vehicle while Gibson positioned his police vehicle to block Ramirez, Clark said.
“Gibson exited his police vehicle and drew his weapon, pointing it at Ramirez,” Clark said. “Gibson took a position with his body further blocking Ramirez’s stopped vehicle. Ramirez put his vehicle in reverse in an apparent attempt to re-position his vehicle to escape. Gibson verbally ordered Ramirez to stop. After briefly reversing, Ramirez then put the vehicle in drive and started moving forward. As Ramirez put his vehicle in drive, Officer Gibson was positioned in front of the passenger side front bumper of the Ramirez vehicle. Gibson fired his weapon three times through the windshield of the Ramirez vehicle, and Ramirez struck Gibson in the leg with his vehicle, causing Gibson to stumble backward.”
ORPD Officer Sherrill Selby was in the parking lot at the time of the shooting but still in her police vehicle, Clark said. Selby witnessed Gibson’s commands to Ramirez and saw him fire shots at Ramirez, Clark said. Selby also saw Ramirez pull toward and strike Gibson, the DA said.
“She wasn’t sure if Ramirez was going to continue forward and run over Gibson, so she put her vehicle in drive and accelerated toward the Ramirez vehicle to strike it and prevent it from running over Gibson,” Clark said. “She struck the Ramirez vehicle with her police vehicle. The Ramirez vehicle went a short distance further, striking a transit bus parked in the parking lot where the Ramirez vehicle came to a stop.”
Other ORPD officers immediately removed Ramirez from his vehicle and saw that he had apparent gunshot wounds, Clark said. They gave him first aid and called for medical help. Ramirez had a pulse and was taken to the hospital by ambulance, where he determined to have died, Clark said.
Gibson was also taken to the hospital by ambulance and was diagnosed with a possible torn meniscus. A test showed no drugs or alcohol in Gibson’s blood, Clark said.
Three cartridges were missing from a full magazine and chamber load in Gibson’s weapon, and three spent bullet cartridges were located in the courthouse parking lot, Clark said. There were three apparent bullet holes in Ramirez’s windshield, the DA said. Two of those hit Ramirez, and the third was lodged in the steering wheel, Clark said.
Gibson had a lawyer during the investigation, and he and his attorney were “completely cooperative,” Clark said.
The investigation included reviews of video recordings, including from cameras at the county-owned building; police radio traffic; and a cell phone recording made by a motorist who had been driving on Emory Valley Road at the time of the pursuit and shooting. Witness accounts and recordings reviewed during the investigation were consistent with officer statements, Clark said.
He said Ramirez had been using a cell phone during the pursuit and shooting, and the friend he was talking to told investigators that Ramirez had said he was fleeing from police and wanted to abandon his vehicle and run through the woods. Ramirez asked the friend, who had been at the nearby Home Depot, to pick him up after he fled from the police on foot, Clark said.
An OPRD order identifies three relevant procedures for the use of lethal force. Officers are instructed that lethal force is permitted to protect the officer or others from what is reasonably believed to be a threat of death or serious bodily harm, or to prevent the escape of a fleeing felon whom the officer has probable cause to believe will pose a significant threat to human life should escape occur, Clark said. Before using a firearm, the order says, police officers must identify themselves, give an order to halt, and when feasible, state their intent to shoot, Clark said.
Read more about the investigation of the October 8 officer-involved shooting in a release and memorandum from Clark to Smith here.
See previous story here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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