The wife of a deceased motorist is suing a Tennessee sheriff for excessive force after newly surfaced body camera footage caught him telling officers that he would rather they shoot a suspect than risk damage to patrol cars.
In the video obtained by News Channel 5 and released Tuesday, White County Sheriff Oddie Shoupe appeared unfazed and even jubilant about the death of Michael Dial, who law enforcement fatally shot as he was trying to outrun police on April 13, 2017.
“I said don’t ram him ― shoot him,” Shoupe is heard telling officers in the video. “Fuck that shit. Ain’t gonna tear my cars up.”
Local police say they stopped Dial in a Dekalb County parking lot earlier that day while investigating a reported shoplifting incident, according to county officials. The officers discovered that Dial had a suspended license and told him he could not drive. Police later observed him driving on a state highway that same day. After they attempted to pull him over and he fled, police began pursuing him. According to the lawsuit, he was driving about 50 mph, and footage of the pursuit shows the speed limit was 55 mph.
Smithville police officers, as well as deputies from DeKalb County and White County, initially attempted to stop Dial’s pickup truck and attached trailer by ramming into it with their cars. But Shoupe can be heard instructing his deputies to stop hitting the vehicle and start using “deadly force,” according to dashboard camera video from one of the patrol cars.
White County Deputy Adam West proceeded to open fire on Dial’s truck from his vehicle and again as Dial’s truck drove into an embankment on the side of the highway. Sparta police officer Charlie Sims stopped his patrol car as he witnessed Dial’s truck crashing and fired several shots at the vehicle.
During the shootings, Dial was struck in the head and killed. He was unarmed.
Bodycam video later recorded Shoupe talking to officers as he arrived on the scene. The sheriff appeared to brag to officers about his willingness to order the suspect’s killing and how much he enjoyed the pursuit.
Shoupe: I told him, I said, ’Take him out.”
Officer: I heard.
Shoupe: Damn, I don’t give a shit.
Officer: It wasn’t long after that I heard “Shot fired. Shots fired.”
Shoupe: They said we’re ramming him. I said don’t ram him ― shoot him ... Fuck that shit. Ain’t gonna tear my cars up ... If they don’t think I’ll give the damn order to kill that motherfucker, they’re full of shit.
Shoupe: Take him out. I’m here on the damn wrong end of the damn county ... I love this shit. God, I tell you what, I thrive on it.
Shoupe ordered the use deadly force “solely to prevent damage to patrol cars, and for no legitimate law enforcement purpose,” according to a Friday complaint that Robyn Spainhoward, Dial’s wife, filed against White County, Shoupe and West, as well as the City of Sparta, Tennessee; and Sims, the Sparta police officer.
The lawsuit, which was filed at the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee in Nashville, contends the defendants used excessive force that was “not reasonably necessary because Mr. Dial did not pose a threat of serious physical harm to anyone at the time.”
“They could have let him go 10 more miles down the road, he probably would have run out of gas,” Spainhoward told News Channel 5.
Shoupe is heard in another segment of the footage comforting West, who appeared distraught after the shooting.
“You don’t have to worry about this,” Shoupe told West. “I made the decision. You don’t have to worry about it. I took that away from y’all. You don’t have to worry about nothing. Everything’s cool. You done exactly right.”
“You kept somebody from getting killed,” he continued. “This fool was crazy. Call your wife ... tell her everything is good. I made that decision. You don’t have to worry about nothing.”
David Weissman, lead attorney for Spainhoward, called Shoupe’s comments “very disturbing.”
“I would say if that’s the mentality of the highest policy makers in the county regarding law enforcement, that’s scary,” Weissman told HuffPost.
“I don’t know how anybody can appear excited about taking a human life,” he continued. “Mr. Dial left behind a wife and a daughter who loved him very much.”
District Attorney Bryant Dunaway ruled in May 2017 that the shooting was “justified” based on witness interviews, evidence gathered, and the dash cam and patrol car videos, according to a press release his office issued at the time.
It’s unclear if Dunaway took the body camera footage into account while deciding the case, but he is standing by his May ruling, according to News Channel 5.
Representatives for Dunaway’s office and the sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment.
“I feel with every part of me that’s exactly what they wanted to do was kill him,” Spainhoward told News Channel 5. “I just hope he knows I loved him.”
Read Spainhoward’s full complaint below:
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story indicated police conducted a “high-speed” pursuit of Dial. In fact, footage of the pursuit shows the speed limit on the road was 55 mph, and according to the lawsuit, Dial was driving at about 50 mph.