The wife of Grammy-winning country engineer Mark Capps has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Metro Nashville Police Department and SWAT Officer Ashley Kendall Coon stemming from the killing of Mark Capps on January 5th. Acting on the behalf of the Mark Capps estate, Capps’ widow Tara Capps is seeking nominal, compensatory and punitive damages in the case.
Mark Capps was shot and killed through the closed door of his home in the Hermitage neighborhood of Nashville after his wife and stepdaughter fled to the Hermitage police precinct, claiming that Mark Capps had kidnapped them and threatened them at gunpoint. Capps was under mental duress at the time after the death of his brother two days prior, and was also heavily medicated and intoxicated.
However, as Saving Country Music has reported since January, there was also an off-duty officer for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) named Noah Silva who was also in the house at the time of the incident. Silva was the boyfriend of Mark’s stepdaughter, and was able to leave the house during the alleged kidnapping. After he left, he did not feel compelled to alert authorities to the incident. According to a TBI investigation, there had been a de-escalation prior to him leaving the residence.
The lawsuit alleges that even though Tara Capps sought the assistance of the police, she did not want her husband put in danger or killed, and the MNPD escalated the situation by employing the SWAT team as opposed to treating the incident as a mental health emergency through the department’s Partners in Care program, or through their Domestic Violence protocols.
The lawsuit also claims that police made no effort to contact Mark Capps through his cell phone and negotiate with him before sending SWAT officers to the property, and instead deciding to treat him as a barricaded suspect despite undercover officers at the property observing Capps leaving the house unarmed on multiple occasions before SWAT arrived.
The lawsuit states:
MNPD dispatched a 13-officer “SWAT” team to serve the warrants on Capps at home. Although Hermitage Precinct was one of the original Partners in Care pilot precincts, and its program had been operational for well over a year, MNPD did not involve Partners in Care in the warrant service attempt. Rather, the team included SWAT units under the premise that Capps was to be treated as a “barricaded” suspect, even though Capps was not actually barricaded.
Even though MNPD had Capps’ cell phone number, MNPD SWAT Sgt. Jonathan Frost decided that rather than attempt to call Capps to talk it out, the two SWAT teams would begin the operation by setting breaching charges on both the front and back doors. Ostensibly, MNPD’s plan was for the two SWAT teams to withdraw to cover after setting the breaching charges and then attempt to talk to Capps. However, the SWAT team would end up killing Capps without ever attempting dialogue.
In the meantime, MNPD had already put undercover surveillance officers in place outside the Capps home. Over the course of the next few hours these officers reported that Capps was home, his car was in the driveway, and they observed him walk outside unarmed to both the front driveway and back porch before returning to the house.
The lawsuit also disputes the characterization of the Metro Nashville Police Department that Mark Capps pointed a gun at officers when he came to the door while SWAT officers were installing the breaching charges, or that he even had a gun on his person at the time.
At the time [Ashley] Coon began firing, only two seconds had elapsed since the door had first opened. On information and behalf, Capps was not pointing a gun at them or taking any other action that posed an imminent threat of harm. Coon hit Capps with three out of four shots, all of which struck Capps in the chest. Capps’s door swung closed as Capps collapsed on the floor, his head falling toward the right while his feet landed on the left.
The officers entered Capps’s home, finding Capps lying on the floor. Coon headed immediately to an adjoining office that was adjacent to the Capps’s entryway, without stopping to inspect or secure Capps. The SWAT members tied Capps’s hands and dragged him out of the house. The SWAT officers did not find a gun [in] Capps’s hands, in his clothing, or on his body, and said absolutely nothing about a gun while they were restraining and moving him. The only gun found near Capps, a pistol, was tucked halfway under a rug on the other side of the entryway from him, several feet away.
As Saving Country Music has also reported from the 175-page TBI Report about the killing of Mark Capps released in August, the two other SWAT officers involved in the killing—Timothy Brewer and Jason Rader—said they did not see a gun when they initially entered the house, zip-tied Mark as he lay dying or dead, and moved his body outside.
The photo of the gun supplied by Nashville police has also led to questions of how the weapon could end up in the attitude in which it was found (under a rug and a parcel) if only moments before it had been in Mark’s hand, pointed at officers. What was found on the person of Mark Capps was a black iPhone.
The lawsuit also questions why Officer Coon and the other officers shouted “Show Me Your Hands” in the body cam footage if they saw that Mark Capps already had a weapon. In that case, they should have yelled “Drop the weapon” instead.
The lawsuit states:
The teammates all claimed in their TBI interviews that Capps had been pointing a gun directly at them when Coon shot him, and that Capps had refused to put the gun down. However, none of the footage from the team’s Body cameras corroborated their claim. Coon actually went so far as to claim that he could see Capps’s finger on the trigger. To explain away the fact that he shouted, “Show me your hands” when Capps was supposedly pointing a gun at his team, Coon claimed that he said it was just his “natural response.”
On information and belief, the SWAT team concocted this story after the fact in order to justify having killed Mark Capps. Based on the claim that Capps was pointing a gun at the SWAT team when Coon shot him, the District Attorney’s Office declined to seek prosecution in the case.
The lawsuit also points out how the Metro Nashville’s Office of Professional Accountability rubber stamped the TBI’s investigation as opposed to conducting their own.
Pursuant to the 2017 Memorandum of Understanding between MNPD and the TBI, MNPD retained the right to conduct its own interviews of its officers in order to effectuate MNPD’s internal use of force review and administrative investigation. However, MNPD instead found that the Capps shooting was justified without conducting any of its own interviews of its employees.
There is currently no trial date set for the matter. Tara Capps is being represented by Relentless Advocacy of Nashville, and Moseley & Moseley of Murfreesboro.
In lieu of any disciplinary action or even acknowledgement of potential mistakes made by Metro Nashville Police in the incident, the new lawsuit is the only hope family and friends of Mark Capps have to find justice for the 54-year-old. A trial might also be the only way the public can find answers as to why someone in the midst of a mental health crisis with no prior criminal background was gunned down in the entryway of his own home.
With scores of credits to his name from working with artists such as Dolly Parton, The Oak Ridge Boys, Ronnie Milsap, The Isaacs, and many others, Mark Capps was well-known and beloved throughout the country music community. Mark Capps also came from a prominent country music family. He was the son of Grand Ole Opry legend and Musicians Hall of Fame member Jimmy Capps, known as “The Man In Back.”
More information from Saving Country Music’s continuing investigation into the killing of Mark Capps when it comes available.