Police Killing of Mark Capps Curiously Ignored by Press & Justice Dept.

On Wednesday, March 8th, United States Attorney General Merrick Garland was in Louisville, Kentucky announcing the findings of a Department of Justice investigation into the Louisville Police Department after the officer-involved killing of Breonna Taylor on March 13th, 2020. As police officers were serving a warrant at the residence Breonna Taylor was at, her boyfriend thought the police officers were intruders, and fired a warning shot. That shot hit one of the officers in the leg, and they returned fire, ultimately firing 32 shots. The boyfriend was unhurt, but EMT Breonna Taylor was killed.

The death of Breonna Taylor was second only to the killing of George Floyd to stimulating the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020. Fellow Kentucky resident Tyler Childers mentioned Breonna Taylor by name in a video accompanying his Grammy-nominated album Long Violent History released in September of 2020. Also as part of the press conference in Louisville, it was revealed that the Memphis Police Department is also under investigation by the Justice Department after five Black police officers beat and killed motorist Tyre Nichols on January 7th stemming from a traffic stop.

When these officer-involved killings occur, they immediately dominate the news cycle nationally, let alone locally, and for good reasons. It is the job of the public, and the press as the fourth estate to scrutinize law enforcement, and push for accountability. Not every officer-involved beating, shooting, or killing is unjustified, and as public scrutiny has dramatically increased for these incidents, it has also become difficult for law enforcement to do their jobs, while a few bad actors can tarnish the reputation of the entire law enforcement profession—a profession that remains an essential part of society.

Two days before the the killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, 200 miles away in Nashville, four-time Grammy-winning engineer Mark Capps was killed by Metro Nashville SWAT Officers as they were conducting what was described as a “covert operation” to place an explosive device on the front door of Capps’ residence on Summit Run Place in the Hermitage neighborhood in Nashville. Though the 54-year-old Mark Capps had no prior criminal background and police had never been called to the residence before, the initial accusations that led police to the home were quite disturbing.

According to Metro Nashville Public Affairs Director Don Aaron, the incident began when Mark Capps allegedly went on a tirade at his home in Nashville around 3 a.m. on January 5th, throwing things in the house and ultimately holding both his 60-year-old wife and 23-year-old stepdaughter at gunpoint, allegedly telling them that if they tried to call anyone or flee the home, he would kill them. When Capps eventually fell asleep around sunup, the two women were said to have escaped with their pets to the Hermitage police precinct where they explained to police what happened.

Four total warrants were issued for Mark Capps, two for aggravated assault and two for kidnapping, and a request for a protection order was also processed. It was due to the concern for the firearm Capps had allegedly used to threaten the two women and the presence of other firearms at the residence that Metro Nashville Police chose to use the SWAT team to serve the warrants.

But when police arrived at the residence of Mark Capps in The Hermitage, they did not announce their presence. They did not make an attempt to service the warrants that had been issued. They did not attempt to set up a direct line of communication with Capps and request he give himself up. Instead, the first action Metro Nashville SWAT Officers took was to perform the “covert operation” where three officers tried to sneak onto the front porch of the home in broad daylight, and install an explosive device on the front door to either blow the front door, or to act as a diversionary device if Capps ultimately barricaded himself in the home.

While the three officers were on the front porch as part of the operation, Mark Capps—who had video surveillance cameras on the residence and may have noticed the officers naturally—came to the front door, allegedly holding a revolver. Officer Ashley Kendall Coon barked at Capps to drop the weapon, but less than a second after giving the order—and having never announced their presence as law enforcement—opened fire with an assault rife, shooting three or four rapid shots, killing Mark Capps.

In a press conference after the incident, Metro Nashville’s Don Aaron said that Mark Capps had brandished the gun at the officers, and released body camera footage that captured the incident. However, in the body camera footage, it’s unclear if Mark Capps is holding a gun, or if he brandished it at anyone. Metro Nashville Police also released a picture of the gun Mark Capps allegedly brandished, but the fact that it is lodged underneath a rug and a parcel under a table with no blood on it raises serious questions of how the gun would ultimately end up in that location if it had been in the hand of Mark Capps moments before, and as he was dying, or dead.

Shortly after the incident, Metro Nashville police convened the local media on the scene. In fact, the media had been notified about the incident even before the Nashville Community Oversight Board who investigates police matters had been notified. When Oversight Board Director Jill Fitcheard and other members of the board arrived, Fitcheard says, “The local news media was already set up, the TBI (Tennessee Board of Investigations) was there, the FOP attorneys (Fraternal Order of Police) were there, the FOP investigators were there. It was a full scene. All of these people are on the scene prior to us arriving, and already set up,” she said at a January 25th meeting.

The delay in notification of the Community Oversight Board even after the media was alerted was one of numerous concerns the oversight board raised. Board member Walter Holloway—a retired Metro police officer with over three decades of experience—characterized the delay in notifying the Community Oversight Board about the killing by saying, “Sounds like you need to clean up something before you get there,” implying that the delay in notifying the board was intentional by Metro Nashville Police.

Don Aaron convened a press conference where he presented the case for the killing of Mark Capps from the perspective of the Metro Nashville Police Department, including that Mark Capps possessed and brandished a gun at the officers. Aaron also mentioned that as is Metro Nashville policy, because it was a police-involved killing, the investigation was turned over to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations.

But what Don Aaron did not mention is that when the alleged kidnapping and threats occurred in the home of Mark Capps, there had been a TBI police officer in the home as well. Police also failed to mention that the TBI Officer had left the home at the time the alleged victims were told they couldn’t leave or they would be killed, and that when the TBI officer left, he did not report the incident either to local police, or to TBI superiors once he arrived at work at TBI Headquarters in Nashville.

Saving Country Music was able to confirm through the TBI on January 18th that TBI Officer Noah Silva was in the home at the time of the alleged kidnapping.

“We can confirm an off-duty TBI police officer (whose primary job is to provide security at TBI offices) was at the home as a guest of the step-daughter referenced in media reports the night prior to Friday afternoon’s shooting,” said TBI spokesperson Susan Niland. “He left the home before the two women reported their concerns to Metro Police. The TBI notified District Attorney General Glenn Funk of this information when it surfaced and he requested we remain in an investigative capacity in this ongoing case.”

The presence of a TBI Officer in the home not only undercuts the entire story that Metro Nashville Public Affairs Director Don Aaron and Metro Nashville Police tell of the incident, it calls into question the objectivity of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations to conduct an unbiased inquiry into the matter when it involves one of their own officers who strangely did not report the incident himself.

In the officer-involved killing of Breonna Taylor, the United States Justice Department got involved. In the officer-involved killing of Tyre Nichols two days after Mark Capps and also in Tennessee, the United States Justice Department got involved. On January 26th—19 days after the Tyre Nichols killing—the five officers involved were fired from the police force, charged with murder, kidnapping, and aggravated assault, while 13 other officers involved were also reprimanded.

Over two months after the killing of Mark Capps, we don’t even have any preliminary findings from the TBI investigation, let alone any disciplinary action taken against anyone involved. Metro Nashville and the TBI also continue to refuse to release body camera footage from the two other SWAT Officers involved in the shooting—Officers Timothy Brewer and Jason Rader. Saving Country Music was told it would take six months to process any requests for further body camera footage, and those requests can still be denied if the incident remains under investigation.

There is a very strong case that the civil rights of Mark Capps were violated in the incident, and that Metro Nashville did not follow Tennessee state law. When it comes to the arrest of individuals and the serving of warrants, Tennessee law clearly states:

40-7-106. Notice of authority and grounds for arrest — Telephone call.
(a) When arresting a person, the officer SHALL inform the person of the officer’s authority AND the cause of the arrest, AND exhibit the warrant if the officer has one, EXCEPT when the person is in the ACTUAL COMMISSION of the offense OR is pursued immediately after an escape.

40-7-108. Resistance to officer.
(a) A law enforcement officer, after giving notice of the officer’s identity as an officer, may use or threaten to use force that is reasonably necessary to accomplish the arrest of an individual suspected of a criminal act who resists or flees from the arrest.
(b) Notwithstanding subsection (a), the officer may use DEADLY FORCE to effect an arrest ONLY IF ALL other reasonable means of apprehension have been exhausted OR are unavailable, AND where feasible, the officer has given notice of the officer’s identity as an officer AND given a warning that deadly force may be used unless resistance or flight ceases, AND:
(1) The officer has probable cause to believe the individual to be arrested has committed a felony involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious bodily injury; or
(2) The officer has probable cause to believe that the individual to be arrested poses a threat of serious bodily injury, either to the officer or to others unless immediately apprehended.

40-7-107. Authority of officer to break in.
To make an arrest, either WITH or without a warrant, the officer may break open any outer or inner door or window of a dwelling house if, AFTER notice of the officer’s office, authority and purpose, the officer is refused admittance.

Metro Nashville Police have not indicated that any phone call was placed to Mark Capps. Officers did not inform Mark Capps of their authority, or the cause for his arrest when they entered his porch, and he was not in the actual commission of the crime at the time. The officers never gave notice of their identity before using deadly force, did not give warning that deadly force may be used, and all other means of reasonable apprehension had not been exhausted at the time of the shooting.

Why were the officers ordered onto the front porch of the Mark Capps home in the first place to install an explosive device, putting them in harm’s way if they believed Capps was a physical threat? Whomever ordered the “covert operation” put both Mark Capps, and the police officers in peril, especially if they knew surveillance cameras were present on the property. Why weren’t close friends or family members of Mark Capps utilized to compel him to turn himself in? Why weren’t mental health professionals or negotiators involved?

Meanwhile, not only has the killing of Mark Capps not raised any major blip in the national media, it’s not even being actively covered by the local media in Nashville, possibly in part because Metro Nashville portrayed the incident initially as such an open and shut case. Since the initial reports about the incident, Nashville NPR affiliate WPLN reported on the the personnel file of the shooting officer Kendall Coon, including how the officer had been suspended eight times during the first five years of his tenure on the force. But they did not mention the revelation of the presence of the TBI Officer. A similar report from Channel 5 in Nashville only mentions the TBI Officer as a footnote.

The presence of a TBI Officer in the Mark Capps home should have been a bombshell in the incident and national news, but it was only reported in-depth by an Austin, TX-based country music website (Saving Country Music). Even country music media seems to be completely uninterested in the incident, despite Mark Capps having been a prominent member of the country music community, and despite many country media members championing criminal justice reform and police accountability during the Black Lives Matter protests.

Mark Capps was a prolific studio engineer with engineering credits tracing back to 1991. Alabama, The [Dixie] Chicks, The Mavericks, Brooks & Dunn, Clay Walker, and Elizabeth Cook are some of the many artists Capps worked with in his career. Capps was also a co-winner of Grammy Awards for Best Polka Album in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. Mark’s father was Jimmy Capps, who played in the Grand Ole Opry house band for decades, portrayed the guitar-playing sheriff on the RFD-TV music show Larry’s Country Diner, and was affectionately known as “The Man in Back.”

Where Tyler Childers and scores of other prominent country music artists called for justice for Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Tyre Nichols—and for criminal justice reform overall—there has been virtually no recognition of the Mark Capps incident beyond the close knit group of performers and musicians that were in Mark’s inner circle. A similar scenario transpired around country artist Randy Howard, who was killed by bounty hunters in 2015 who were serving a bench warrant for a crime he was going to be exonerated of.

On his Grammy-nominated album Long Violent History, Tyler Childers implies that if what was happening to Black people at the hands of law enforcement was happening to White individuals, a “long violent history” would ensue. In truth what is happening is the exact opposite. The killings by law enforcement of individuals in the country music community—including a 4-time Grammy winner—continue to be mostly ignored by the public, by the press, and by the United States Department of Justice. They’re being swept under the rug, just like the revolver Mark Capps allegedly brandished at police.

The incident occurred at a time when Mark Capps was said to be under great duress. Mark’s brother Jeffery Allen Capps had died two days prior to the incident, and he was said to be distraught over his brother’s death.

Every case involving police officers and the killing of citizens is different, and the case of Mark Capps presents especially difficult circumstances for both the officers involved, and the investigators looking into the matter. But what seems unquestionable is that the matter should be looked into further, and by objective, third-party entities like the press and the United States Department of Justice.

Two months after the incident, friends and family of Mark Capps are wondering if they will ever receive any answers, or since much of the media and the public seem completely uniformed or only mildly interested the subject, if it will be forgotten, as opposed to hard questions answered, individuals held accountable if necessary, and reforms brought to Nashville Metro’s procedures so that a similar incident doesn’t imperil the lives of citizens or police officers in the future.

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An online petition has been set up demanding answers for the killing of Mark Capps. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigations says the investigation into the killing of Mark Capps is ongoing. Saving Country Music will continue to report on the incident.

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