Monday, August 16, 2021

How did 31-year-old Daniel Crowley, of Trussville, end up fatally shot after Nashville cops "checked on him" while he was sitting in his SUV at a shopping center?

Daniel Crowley's SUV (Trussville Tribune)
 

A 31-year-old man from Trussville, AL, is dead after police in Nashville, TN, shot him for . . . well, we really don't know why the cops shot Daniel Turney Crowley. According to press reports, police gave a reason for shooting Crowley, but it's hard to understand why they considered lethal force to be necessary. And we are left with this disturbing question: Why did police initiate an encounter with Crowley when there appears to be no evidence he was doing anything remotely unlawful?

The incident started around 5 a.m.last Wednesday when an officer with a K-9 unit conducted a business check at a shopping center and noticed a black SUV parked near a Cricket store. The officer apparently considered the vehicle suspicious -- possibly because of the time of day -- and approached it, finding Crowley inside, reportedly holding a pocket knife. Much of the incident apparently was caught on body-camera video, although one news report said it has been the practice of Nashville police to edit such footage before it is released to the public. (Video is embedded at the end of this post.) From a report at WPLN, Nashville Public Radio:

The three Metro police officers involved in a fatal shooting near the West Precinct Wednesday morning have been identified. And the man who was killed is tentatively ID’d as a 31-year-old from outside Birmingham. 

Police have released edited body camera footage, in what has now become standard practice for MNPD.

The video shows that K-9 Officer Richard Clemmons, who has spent eight years with the department, approached the man (whose face is blurred) as he sat in a Toyota 4Runner outside a Cricket store on Charlotte Avenue near White Bridge Road. Police had deemed the parked vehicle suspicious.

Questions: Why is a vehicle parked outside a store, even at 5 a.m., considered suspicious? Is that in line with Nashville PD policy? Did the "suspicious" designation color everything that happened next?

The video shows Clemmons told the driver to drop a knife, which is not visible from any of the camera angles. If he responded, he could not be heard on the footage. When he didn’t comply, the video shows Clemmons calling for backup. Officers Jonathan Phipps and Colin Blee arrived within minutes.

As soon as they pulled up, the video shows the man started to open the door to his SUV and run toward officers who are still shouting at him. Police say all three fired at the man who fell to the ground.  

Everyone involved appears to be white. Police have released photos of a black pocket knife they say the man was holding.

Question: Why did the initial officer call for backup? Why did the officer tell Crowley to drop the knife, when he was alone inside his own vehicle and apparently not threatening anyone? Did calling two additional officers to the scene -- with no apparent crime in progress -- escalate a minor situation into a fatal encounter?

This does seem to answer one of our questions above. The arrival of two additional officers -- with Crowley now facing three officers instead of one -- clearly seems to have escalated the situation. Also, there is this oddity: The account says Crowley was holding a knife while he was inside his vehicle, but it does not say he had the knife when he exited the vehicle and reportedly ran at police. That story changes with this account from newschannel5.com:

Metro Nashville police say three of its police officers shot and killed a man who charged at them with a knife early Wednesday morning.

The call came in shortly after 5 a.m. along Charlotte Pike in West Nashville.

Kristin Mumford with the Metro Nashville Police Department said K9 officer Richard Clemmons stopped at a Cricket Wireless store after seeing a Toyota 4Runner sitting in the parking lot at 5:05 a.m. Police said when K9 officers aren't on an active call, they conduct business checks.

When Officer Clemmons approached the SUV, he saw that the man was armed with a knife. He ordered the suspect to put down the weapon and radioed for backup.

Officer Clemmons can be heard on the bodycam video telling the man to "put the knife down." He continues saying, "C'mon man, I'm just here checking on you. Put the knife down. I'm just here to help you bro. Put the knife down... it's not worth it man."

Two additional officers arrive just before the man gets out of the SUV and charges at officers. That's when the three officers fire at the suspect and he falls to the ground.

The man was taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where he died.

Questions: Let's be charitable to the cops and assume a vehicle parked outside a Cricket store at 5 a.m. looks suspicious, at least a little odd. Shouldn't that suspicion fade when an officer approaches and sees one man, alone, in the SUV, clearly not bothering anyone or anything? The officer says he's there "just checking on you" and adds "I'm just here to help you, bro." If that was the case, why didn't Clemmons say, "Hey, just checking on you, man. You OK?" If that drew no response why not pull a card out of his pocket and say," This is my card, with my name and contact info on it. I'm going to slide it under your windshield wiper, and if you need help of any kind, please contact me. I'll be in the area." 

While it might seem strange to see an SUV parked outside a Cricket store at 5 a.m., I can think of several reasons a driver might wind up in such a spot. Perhaps he was driving, realized he was getting sleepy, and pulled into what appeared to be a safe spot for a nap. Perhaps he had been out with friends for a few beers, realized he was impaired, and pulled over to get off the road. Perhaps he just was not feeling well and decided to take a break from driving, in hopes he would start feeling better.

Maybe we will never know if any of these scenarios were in play, but it's hard not to wonder if the cops even considered any of this. They seemed obsessed with two things: (1) The knife, which doesn't appear to be visible at any point in the video; and (2) Shooting Crowley as quickly, and as often, as possible once he exited the vehicle -- even though Crowley never appears to get close enough to the officers to stab any of them -- even if he had a knife, which based on released images, looks more to me like a utility knife than a pocket knife.

Here are the most troubling questions of all: Why did a young man have to lose his life in a situation where, perhaps he was acting outside the norm, but there was no sign of unlawful activity on his part? Why can't cops, in an era of gross police misconduct, handle situations like this in a way that doesn't leave someone dead?

 

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

This was so unnecessary. A guy sitting alone in his vehicle, not bothering a soul, winds up shot and killed by police? Awful.

Anonymous said...

I feel awful for the Crowley family. Can't imagine the pain they must be feeling right now. May God be with them.

Anonymous said...

If the officer was conducting a business check, why does that include checking on vehicles parked nearby. Couldn't he just look in the window of the Cricket store, or check the back door, and see that everything was fine?

legalschnauzer said...

You ask a good question, @9:17. I'm not sure about MNPD policy, but seems to me a business check should include a check on the business and nothing else -- unless something unlawful obviously is in progress or about to take place in the area. It sounds to me like the cops treated Mr. Crowley like a suspected burglar, when there apparently was no evidence to support that. The victim still would be alive if not for the cops "suspicions," which apparently weren't based on much of anything.

legalschnauzer said...

There might be some interesting legal issues here. I assume shopping center parking lots are open to the public 24/7, whether the businesses are open or not. If that were not the case, Mr. Crowley might have been trespassing (an extremely low-level offense; it's a violation in Alabama, not even a misdemeanor), but the cop gave no indication a trespassing violation was involved. He could have said, "Sir, this area is closed to the public right now, so you need to find somewhere else to park."

Anonymous said...

It's obvious to me that Crowley did not want to talk to the cops. Isn't that his lawful right? We all hear about the "right to remain silent" with law enforcement. I don't know if that applies to a situation like this, but it seems to me that it should. I don't see why he had an obligation to respond to the first cop, especially if the cop could not point to anything unlawful he was doing.

legalschnauzer said...

Like you, I don't know how far "the right to remain silent" goes under the law. But if Crowley kept up with the news at all, he probably knew postmodern cops aren't always the most trustworthy people around, so I can see why he might not want to talk to them. My memory of watching the video is that the first cop did not really try to initiate a conversation or ask any questions. He mainly kept repeating, "Drop the knife." I don't know what Crowley was thinking, but technically speaking, I'm pretty sure it's not a crime to be holding a knife when you are alone in your own vehicle, not threatening anyone. In that situation, do you have to obey a cop's command to drop a knife that you are lawfully possessing? I don't see why you would, but this gets into areas of the law where I'm certainly not an expert.

legalschnauzer said...

If I had been in Crowley's shoes, I would have taken "drop the knife" to mean the cop was planning on coming in my SUV. I do have a pretty good grip on traffic-stop law, and I believe the key component is this: A cop cannot enter or search your vehicle without probable cause (reasonable suspicion might be the proper term) that it is, or has been, connected to a crime. It comes down to the cop's senses. The classic cases are a cop smelling marijuana or seeing a driver's glassy eyes, or smelling alcohol on a driver's breath, or looking through the window to see contraband of some kind. In the reports I've read or the video I've seen, I don't believe the cops had any grounds to enter Crowley's vehicle. They apparently didn't articulate any grounds for entering the vehicle, so I'm not sure Crowley had any reason to respond.

legalschnauzer said...

Here is my understanding of the law, and I welcome correction if I'm wrong: A parked vehicle, in a space that is open to the public, is not "suspicious," as a matter of law. Suspicion related to a vehicle generally comes from the way it is driven or from sights, smells, conditions, etc., that an officer can sense. Without that, I'm pretty sure there are no grounds to deem a vehicle "suspicious." If cops in this case had not labeled the parked vehicle as "suspicious," Mr. Crowley still would be alive. A number of terrible events flowed from cops treating Crowley as a suspect in some undefined crime, for which evidence was pretty much nonexistent.

legalschnauzer said...

Here is Daniel Crowley's obituary from Kilgroe Funeral Home:

https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/leeds-al/daniel-crowley-10307628

Crowley, Daniel T. age 31, of Trussville, AL passed away on Wednesday, August 11, 2021. He is the son of Randall Crowley and the late Paula Crowley. He was a lifetime resident of Trussville, he graduated from Trussville High School and continued his education at UAB where he graduated with a degree in accounting. He was employed at Triple Lawn Care. Visitation will be held on Monday, August 16, 2021 at Kilgroe Funeral Home, Leeds from 6:00PM until 8:00PM. Graveside services will be held on Tuesday, August 17, 2021 at Forest Crest Cemetery beginning at 11:00AM. Kilgroe Funeral Home, Leeds to direct services.
dm-flowers

Anonymous said...

On video, this shooting looks a lot like an execution to me.

legalschnauzer said...

A Facebook message from Daniel Crowley's employer:

Triple Care Lawn and Landscape
·
Unfortunately we were struck with some sad news yesterday that shocked our world. Our employees are not only our friends but they are family and we unexpectedly lost one of our Triple Care family yesterday. Daniel Crowley was one of a kind. As we all sat around outside after work and talked about all the good times we’ve had the list was never ending. From our times of just being kids growing up, trips we’ve taken, to things he would do/say at work like “is this White House potential?” or wanting to save a cat with a mayonnaise jar stuck on it’s head. The guys could tell endless stories. He was actually one of Triple Care’s first employees back in the day 16 years ago. Through the years he came and went as an employee but he always remained a dear friend. Through the years you have friends that you grow apart from and lose touch with but Daniel was not one of those people because every time you would see him no matter the amount of time that passed you picked up right where you left off. The older you get you cherish those types of friendships more and more. Daniel had a good heart, could always make you smile, always down for some fun, and would have your back in an instant without hesitation or even thinking twice. Daniel will always hold a special place in all of our hearts and as we were looking through old pictures this one came up. This was from a couple of months ago on the day the most vivid rainbow looked as if you could walk straight to the end of it. He was so genuinely happy in this picture grinning from ear to ear and this is how our Triple Care family would like to remember our dear friend and family, Daniel Crowley. We know you and your mom are flying high together again. We love you Daniel! Please join us in sending all your thoughts, prayers, love, and peaceful energy to all of his family and friends for this tragic loss. He will be greatly missed!

Anonymous said...

Don't cops get training in how to disarm someone with a knife? Can't you kick it out of his hand or tackle him and take it away? Heck, couldn't you use a taser to knock the knife away? Why did they have to shoot this young man?

Anonymous said...

I think there are quite a few cops out there who enjoy hurting people. And news of the damage probably gets back to their peers and it enhances their tough-guy cred.

legalschnauzer said...

Thanks for a sad, but very thoughtful, comment, @12:32. In this case, I sense the first cop was not about to just walk away and let this go. That would have been the right thing to do, given there was no evidence of criminal activity, but the cop's mind probably sees that as a defeat -- and we can't have that. So what does the first cop do? He radios for backup, and shortly after two more officers arrive, a young man dies in a hail of gunfire.

Anonymous said...

Geez, this guy had an accounting degree from UAB. That tells me he wasn't a dunderhead, and he certainly wasn't a slacker.

legalschnauzer said...

You are absolutely right, @12:40. From my years working at UAB, I know a thing or two about the accounting program. I edited the School of Business Magazine for several years, and I know the accounting curriculum is tough and the program is widely respected -- probably one of UAB's strongest academic programs on the undergraduate side. I've heard many alums talk about Ollie Powers and other faculty members in reverential tones. UAB doesn't just hand out accounting degrees. Crowley had to earn it, and probably busted his tail to get it. Thanks to Nashville cops, he's now gone. A terrible loss for Birmingham and society in general. This was a smart, hard-working guy who was shot like a common thug -- and not even a common thug, however you define that, should have been treated this way.

legalschnauzer said...

A Facebook message from Brandie Weaver, a high-school friend of Crowley's:

Brandie Weaver
·
🙏❤️•Please keep the family members and close friends of Daniel Crowley, in your thoughts and prayers these next two days, as the family and friends will have to say their final goodbye to him .💔😢Crowley, you where definitely a close friend that I will never forget! You had a good heart, the best sense of humor and always gave me a hard time, by aggravating me, with your jokes making fun of me. I’ll especially, never forget that unique laugh of yours... I still remember and can hear the sound of it today. Laughing is and will always be, the best form of therapy. We always had that form of therapy in our friendship, every time we all hung out together. I love you friend and I will miss you dearly!

Anonymous said...

The image if the knife is clearly a pocket knife, not a utility knife. With nothing for scale, it's hard to say for certain blade length, but I would guess it's appropriately 4 inches.
I would say that that vehicle is definitely suspicious and the officer had a duty to check it. Imagine if he had just drove around it, looked at the business and moved on. Then later it was discovered that as soon as the officer drove off, the driver broke in, or that there was a passenger that had broken 8n the back door. You would side with the business owner. What if the officer had put his business card under the wiper and hours later the driver was found dead from self inflicted wounds. You would have been all over the officer for failing to stop him from killing himself and not doing his job.
One of you scenarios that led to the driver pulling over because he was intoxicated. That in and of itself is a crime that needed to be investigated.
This guy clearly had issues of some sort and I agree the officer probably should have used different commands when drop the knife didn't work for the 40th time. But the shooting was justified. You can't run at anyone with a knife and if you do, you should expect to get shot. Cops are not super human and no they aren't trained to disarm a knife wielding attacker, that is the movies. They are trained to stop the threat. Whioe tasers are effective, they aren't a miracle fix. There are 2 probes that must find their target to work, not an easy task when someone is running at you with deadly force.
I wonder if the driver was already suicidal, he couldn't do it himself and this was a suicide by cop.

legalschnauzer said...

@6:54 --
You and I differ on a number of issues here, but that' fine. I would like to respond to a few of your points: (1) In a couple of spots, you seem to assume how I would react if events had taken a certain turn. First, how I would react isn't a major issue in his story; far more important stuff is going on. But for the record, I would side with the officer if all looked fine on his business check, and a burglary happened after he left. If a business wants to be sure to prevent burglary, it probably needs to hire competent 24-hour security. I don't know that it's reasonable to think cops can prevent all burglaries; (2) As I state in the post, I don't believe the vehicle was suspicious as a matter of law. As a matter of opinion, we all can have different takes on that. My problem is not so much with the officer noticing Crowley and checking on him. But it should have been in the tone of "are you all right? Do you need help?" (2) Based on press reports, I don't see any sign that Crowley was threatening to kill himself. Why he had a knife, and why he didn't drop it, I don't know. But I don't see how the officer could be held accountable for an eventual suicide when the individual, upon inspection, was not threatening himself or anyone else; (3) As for the DUI scenario, I don't think officers would have any lawful grounds to investigate that if they did not see Crowley driving erratically. In this case, they did not see him driving at all. (4) You take the cops' word that Crowley charged at them with a knife, but I'm much slower than you are to take a cop at his word. In the video, I can't tell if Crowley is holding a knife inside the vehicle or if he was holding one when he exited. Running toward the cops was a bad idea, and I don't know why Crowley did that. Was it suicide by cop? Maybe. That's your proposal, and it's as valid as the scenarios I proposed. With the events taken in totality, I disagree the shooting was justified. Perhaps once Crowley exited the vehicle and charged at cops, it was justified. But it never should have gotten to that point. Once Crowley showed he didn't want to communicate, and apparently didn't need assistance -- and there was no probable cause of a crime being committed -- walk away and leave him alone. In my view, Cop No. 1 botched this whole thing, and a young man, with a lot of life ahead of him, is dead because of it.

Anonymous said...

If he were drunk, I can assure you that him sitting behind the wheel of an operable vehicle would be grounds for a DUI.
Also, bring a public parking lot, the officer has the right to stand there and talk if he wanted to. In fact any citizen could stand there and do the same thing. This guy chose to get out and run at the officers and they have a right to defend themselves. This guy did not have a right to attack anyone. He could have driven off, he could have answered question, he could have sat there and done nothing, but he didn't have the right to attack anyone. If the video had a clear image of the knife, would you agree it was justified??

legalschnauzer said...

1. You can assure me all you want, but you are wrong on the first point. It's called driving while intoxicated for a reason. To have probable cause, a concept you seem to struggle with, he's got to be observed driving. At most, it might be public intoxication, but I don't see how you prove that if the guy is just sitting in a vehicle. The cops would have to enter the vehicle and make him walk a straight line or some such, and they had no lawful grounds to do that.

2. Of course, the officer could stand there and talk. I never said he couldn't. On the flip side, I suppose Crowley had every right not to respond since the officer could not articulate any offense that was taking place. It's possible Crowley did respond, but it can't be heard on the video.

3. On the video, it appears to me that Crowley ran toward one officer, but not the other two. Looks like all three shot him, even though two of them (maybe one, video is unclear on this to me) did not appear to be in danger. I'm not sure any of them were in danger, given that a knife wasn't visible, and Crowley might have just been trying to run away. You claim Crowley attacked someone. I don't see him make contact with anyone. You seem to be "assuming facts that aren't in evidence."

4. As for your knife question, there is no clear image, so it's kind of beside the point. As I've said before, it never should have gotten to that point. I find it interesting that when the first cop calls for backup, he doesn't tell the dispatcher why, and she doesn't ask. As noted before, he can't articulate anything even resembling an offense, but backup is sent anyway, and a young man loses his life because of it. Terrible policing, and I'm surprised the needless loss of life doesn't bother you. It sure bothers me. With no articulated offense at any point, I don't see how this could be called "justified."

Anonymous said...

Many people mistakenly believe that in order to be charged with driving under the influence, a law enforcement officer must catch you in the act of driving a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This is not the case.

In Tennessee, the courts operate under specific language that has been defined for the purposes of enacting and enforcing law. To that end, the Tennessee court system has decided that “driving” and “operating” are essentially equal to being behind the wheel or even in close proximity of an operable vehicle when it comes to DUI. If you are sitting in the driver’s seat of a car with the key in the ignition and the engine idling, you are “operating” that vehicle, according to the language of the law. Further, if you are sleeping in your car with your keys in your pocket, this could be enough to be found in “physical control” of a motor vehicle and guilty of DUI in Tennessee.

I do agree it shouldn't have gotten that far, he shouldn't have ran at the officer. The other officers were justified because they are allowed to use force to protect some one else. But please answer the question, if he had a knife and was charging the officer would he be justified?

legalschnauzer said...

If you can find the Tennessee statute and share it here in the comments, I would like to read it. The language you cite sounds peculiar to me, maybe unconstitutional.

Re: your question on the knife, I think I've already said that -- considering the totality of events -- the shooting was not justified. That's my opinion; I don't know if it matches the law that might apply to this case.

Glad to see you agree the incident should not have gotten as far as it did. Perhaps you and I are more on the same page than we realized.

Anonymous said...

To be clear, I blame the offender and you blame the cop. He charged the officer with a knife. I say that with certainty because around 4 minutes and 18 seconds you can see the knife he dropped on the pavement near his foot. Don't run at anyone with a knife in your hand. Thats a good rule.
As far as the law in Tennessee for DUI, its mirrored in other states. If it were unconstitutional, one would think it would have ready been challenged as such.

legalschnauzer said...

I see the image of the knife on the pavement, but to me, that doesn't mean Crowley had it in his hand. Two points about Crowley's behavior: (1) If he had a knife while in the SUV, it probably would have been a good idea to just drop it, in hopes that might prompt cop No. 1 to go away; (2) It was a bad idea for Crowley to run from the vehicle. That put his life in the hands of trigger-happy cops, and that ended tragically. (Note: In the video, Crowley appears to raise his right hand and move it toward the back of his head. I see no knife in his hand, although it happens quickly and is hard to tell for sure.)

I still see the primary fault being with Cop No. 1: He radioed for backup when he could not even articulate a possible offense, of any kind. That forced Crowley to make decisions -- probably some bad ones -- that he shouldn't have had to make.

Cop No. 1's own words -- "Man, it's not worth it" -- suggests to me he knew this might not end well, but he kept ramping up the situation. Plus, why did he have a gun pointed at someone who was not committing any apparent offense. That likely escalated things to a great degree. Terrible policing in my view, and no life should ever been lost in an incident like this.

Anonymous said...

https://law.justia.com/cases/tennessee/supreme-court/1993/849-s-w-2d-761-2.html

Located this on quick search.

The controlling statute, T.C.A. § 55-10-401(a) provides that "[i]t shall be unlawful for any person or persons to drive or to be in physical control of any automobile or any motor driven vehicle on any of the public roads and highways of the State of Tennessee, or on any streets or alleys ... or any other premises which is generally frequented by the public at large, while under the influence of any intoxicant... ." (Emphasis added.) The plain language of T.C.A. § 55-10-401(a) suggests that the statute can be violated in one of two ways by "driving" or by being in "physical control" of an automobile while intoxicated. The courts below found that the Defendant violated the statute by being in physical control.

legalschnauzer said...

Thanks for sharing. Interesting and informative. Of course, we don't know if alcohol was a factor in the Crowley case at all.

Anonymous said...

I would actually argue against alcohol being involved. While I have seen many a drunk try to run that hard and fast at someone, I don't think I have seen an intoxicated person do it with such coordination and aim (he ran directly at the officer). My aim was that one possible scenario you threw out as being a good thing was actually still a crime. So to be clear the best bet is not to drink and drive, if you do end up in your vehicle make sure not to have the keys on you or in the vehicle at all and get in the passenger seat. Another side note, I believe DUI and reckless driving are the only 2 moving citations you can get on private property.

legalschnauzer said...

I'm absolutely with you about drinking and driving, and it's interesting to learn that DUI laws in some states (maybe many states) are broader and more encompassing than I thought they were. Also, your point about Crowley's ability to run during the incident suggests alcohol was not involved, I think, is spot on. Makes me think even more that this should not have turned into a fatal encounter, or much of an encounter at all. Maybe Crowley was just scared. I suspect many cops tend to see themselves as "the good guys," but perhaps they need to realize their presence can be alarming to some. Perhaps Crowley freaked out when he realized he was surrounded by cops. Sadly, we probably will never know the full story behind this.

Anonymous said...

I saw the video. Bottom line is this: don’t run at the cops with a knife in your hand when they all have guns pointed at you and you’ll probably live. I think anybody with the sense of a peanut my grasp this concept. Regardless of whether they should’ve met with the guy sitting in his car or not, It’s not a good idea to charge at cops with guns drawn with or without a knife in your hand. And that’s the bottom line.