Attorneys for Jordan Camp say they're set to sue county
The family of a man killed by Knox County deputies last summer in a standoff that also led to one officer receiving serious injuries is set to sue the county in federal court.
An attorney for Jordan Camp's parents told WBIR 10News that authorities acted in an "unprofessional" and "reckless" manner during the surrender negotiations that eventually led to their son's shooting death last June in a West Knox County trailer park.
Knoxville lawyer Mary Ward noted that Camp, 21, had "some serious (substance abuse) issues, most of them stemming from bipolar disorder," but that he had gone to rehab and was "turning his life around."
She and attorney Adam Elrod recently sent the Knox County Law Department a letter, telling officials they plan to file "an excessive force and wrongful death claim" against the county and the officers involved in the shooting.
They offered to settle the matter with the county, but said officials had until May 5 to work out a deal since the statute of limitations runs on June 20.
"The callous and reckless behavior of these officers in storming the trailer and creating a situation that placed their lives and the lives of Jordan in danger are indicative of their failure to follow normal protocol in such a situation," the attorneys wrote in a letter to Knox County Law Director Richard "Bud" Armstrong.
Ward told WBIR on Monday that the two sides were at an "impasse" and in the next couple of weeks she will file the lawsuit in U.S. District Court.
Camp died in what the Office of Professional Standards determined was a one-sided exchange of gunfire. He was shot 18 times. In addition, a ricocheting round struck Knox County Sheriff's Sgt. Mike Ledbetter in the lower left leg, severely damaging a major artery.
The shooting took place during the afternoon of June 20 inside an empty mobile home at Concord Trailer Park near Canton Hollow Road.
"He was mentally ill and was struggling with his mental illness, and he had indicated to the Knox County Sheriff's Office that he had a gun and that he intended to kill himself," said Ward, who is representing Rick and Cindy Camp. "He was, basically, crying out for help, and asking for the assistance of Knox County, and rather than assisting him and preserving his life, they assisted him in ending his life."
Officials in the Sheriff's Office and Law Director's Office declined to comment for this story because of pending litigation.
On June 20, a deputy spotted Camp near the park's entrance. He was wanted on two outstanding criminal warrants of aggravated assault and leaving the scene of an accident. Camp fled from the deputy. He ran into the woods and made his way to a trailer and barricaded himself inside a back bedroom.
Deputies at the time said Camp told negotiators that he had guns and was going to kill himself. Later, authorities said, he threatened to shoot officers before finally pointing a Ruger rifle out of the bedroom door and fired.
However, in mid-October, the Office of Professional Standards, which investigated the shooting, determined that Camp never fired his weapon, but did point it at officers and threaten them. The report said that the KCSO Negotiation Team talked to Camp for two hours while the SWAT team took up defensive positions inside and outside the mobile home.
Authorities warned Camp not to point the gun at them, but he ignored them, according to the report. Officers opened fire after he pointed the muzzle of a Ruger Model 10/22 semi-automatic refile at the face of a SWAT officer.
Authorities fired 49 rounds, hitting Camp 18 times.
Ledbetter was hospitalized with serious injuries to his leg that required extensive surgery, but has since returned to work.
The Knox County District Attorney General's Office cleared the deputies of any legal wrongdoing in the standoff.
Ward said she believes officers made a mistake when at least six of them entered the small, single-wide trailer, since authorities already had it surrounded.
She said it created a "sense of urgency that ultimately led to his death."
"Because, had they remained outside they would not have been put in the situation where they felt that they were somehow forced to make some sort of decision," she said.
She also said authorities gave Camp alcohol, which resulted in a "strong change in his attitude."
"His behavior becomes much more erratic, and we believe that certainly that is not in any sort of protocol of the Sheriff's Office, and if it is part of the protocol, then they need a new protocol," she said.
Ward in an interview with 10News contrasted Camp's standoff to a 10-hour long one Jonathan Tucker had with the Knoxville Police Department earlier this month in a northeast neighborhood that ended with his arrest. At the time, police allowed Tucker, who also was armed, to make a number of calls to family members and his pastor, and gave him food.
Camp, despite pleas to call his dad, was not allowed to, she said.
Ward noted that Camp had a number of run-ins with the law prior to his arrest, although they were mostly minor offenses. However, he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault after he attacked his sister, according to records.
Also, several days before his shooting death, records show Camp stabbed a motorist in the hand after the two got into an accident.
Ward said Camp was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 13.
"(He) was really turning his life around and getting his life on track after having several years of some pretty serious substance abuse problems," Ward said. "He was only 21 years old and he was turning his life around, and they caused his life to end very pre-maturely."