NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The wife of Grammy-winning sound engineer Mark Capps, who was killed by police in January, filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Nashville and police Officer Ashley Coon on Monday.
Three police officers, including Coon, said Capps was killed after pointing a handgun at them. But Capps’ family says details from the body camera footage suggest he didn’t aim a weapon. The suit alleges Coon used “excessive, unreasonable force by shooting and killing Capps when he was not posing an active threat of imminent harm.” It also argues the city is to blame for Capps’ death because it allowed the Metro Nashville Police Department to operate with a “culture of fear, violence, and impunity.”
The city had no comment on the suit, said Metro Nashville Associate Director of Law-Litigation Allison Bussell.
“We have not been served with the Capps lawsuit and have not reviewed or investigated the allegations,” she wrote in an email.
The lawsuit seeks a jury trial with damages to be determined by the jurors.
Capps, who won four Grammys for his work on polka albums more than a decade earlier, was depressed and suicidal in the weeks leading up to his death, according to police investigative files. That was exacerbated by the death of his brother on Jan. 3. At around 2 a.m. on Jan. 5, after a night of drinking and taking pills, Capps pulled a pair of pistols out of a bedside drawer and began berating his wife.
He then moved into the living room where he held his wife, her adult daughter and the daughter's boyfriend captive at gunpoint, threatening to kill them and even the dogs. Capps finally agreed to put the guns away around 5 a.m. Back to his bedroom, he continued to verbally abuse his wife, Tara Capps, for several hours until he fell asleep. Tara Capps and her daughter, McKenzie Acuff, went to their local police precinct for help.
The lawsuit says Officer Patrick Lancaster interviewed the women and, on the advice of the domestic violence unit, he proposed going to the house and knocking on the door to take Capps into custody even before swearing out a warrant.
“Nothing in Lancaster’s statements or tone indicated any fear that going to the Capps’s house to take him into custody would expose Lancaster to a likelihood of being injured or killed,” states the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in the Middle District of Tennessee.
In the end, Lancaster was directed to obtain warrants, and a 13-person SWAT team was sent to serve them, according to the lawsuit. Nashville Police have a program called Partners in Care that teams counselors from the city’s Mental Health Cooperative with officers to respond to mental health emergencies where there is a gun or other danger present, but those counsellors were not called to the scene.
Police planned to place explosive charges at the front and back doors, then announce the home was surrounded. Instead, Capps opened the front door as police were placing a charge there. Coon, a SWAT team member, shot and killed him.
The three officers who were near the door all told investigators that Capps was pointing a gun at them, with Coon even saying Capps' finger was on the trigger. The investigation found the shooting was justified, and no one was charged.
The lawsuit alleges the scene at the door played out differently.
“Capps was not pointing a gun at them or taking any other action that posed an imminent threat of harm,”