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Grand Jury Declines To Indict Somerville Police Officer In Deadly Shooting

(25TH District D.A. News Release) - On Monday, July 24, 2017, District Attorney General Mike Dunavant presented to the Fayette County Grand Jury the results of a T.B.I. investigation into the fatal shooting death of Michael Morris, age 54, by Somerville Police Officer Austin Howard, on June 14, 2017, in Somerville, Tennessee.  After a thorough review and consideration of all of the facts and circumstances of the incident, the Fayette Grand Jury agreed with the findings and recommendations of both the T.B.I. and the District Attorney that the use of deadly force by Officer Howard was justified, proper, and necessary to stop the further threat of deadly violence being presented at the time by Morris.  Therefore, the Grand Jury declined to return any indictment or presentment in the matter, or to assign any other criminal responsibility for the death of Morris. 

The results of the T.B.I. investigation reveal that on June 14, 2017, the Somerville Police Department dispatched officers to a residence located at 505 Woodbridge Road in Somerville, Fayette County, Tennessee, to respond to a report of a 54 year old intoxicated male subject who was armed with a knife and threatening to kill himself.  Upon officers’ arrival at the residence, the subject’s family members were located in the carport and driveway area of the residence.  Michael Morris then exited the residence, and confronted Officer Howard and Officer Mark Kee with a black steak knife in his right hand.  Officers gave numerous commands for Morris to drop the knife.  Morris disregarded all commands, threatened to kill the officers, and continued to advance toward officers.  Morris’ family members were standing within a short distance from Morris, and officers also gave commands for them to get back into the residence and away from Morris, who still held the knife in his hand in a threatening manner.  Morris advanced toward Officer Kee, who began walking backwards, continuing to tell Morris to drop the knife, giving Morris ample opportunity to comply with his commands to drop the knife.  Morris did not comply, and continued to advance toward the officer with the knife.  Officer Howard then followed behind Morris as he advanced, and deployed two (2) taser cartridges toward Morris to stop his advance, with no effect.  Morris then turned and advanced toward Officer Howard with the knife, all while pulling at lead wires of the taser cartridges.  Officer Howard then backed into the carport area of the residence, and Morris continued to advance toward him with the knife.  Officer Howard then fired three (3) shots from his service weapon to stop Morris’ threat with a deadly weapon.  As a result, Morris was shot and killed.  Officers’ in-car dash camera systems were activated upon their exit from patrol vehicles upon arrival to the residence.  The entire incident was captured on the video and audio recording from these systems.  The T.B.I. responded to the scene, where they processed and collected evidence, and questioned all witnesses to the incident, including Morris’ family members and other neighbors in the area.  An autopsy was requested and performed, and the final toxicology results are not yet available.  The T.B.I also obtained and reviewed Officer Howard’s law enforcement training records, and determined that his actions in this incident were consistent and in compliance with the Somerville Police Department’s use of force policy.  

Based upon the foregoing, the results of the T.B.I. investigation indicate that Officer Howard’s use of deadly force in shooting Morris was justified, proper, and necessary to stop the further threat of deadly violence being presented at the time by Morris.  It is also clear from the circumstances of the shooting incident that Morris was a dangerous and violent subject who posed a serious and immediate risk of serious bodily injury or death to both law enforcement officers as well as other family members in the immediate area.  “There is no question that Officer Howard acted legally, appropriately, and just as he was trained to do when confronted with such a dangerous situation”, said District Attorney Mike Dunavant.  As a result of the Fayette Grand Jury’s finding of justification in this matter, the Office of the District Attorney is closing its file in this case, and will request that the T.B.I. do the same upon the completion and receipt of the final autopsy report.     

 Pursuant to Public Chapter No. 277, which was enacted on May 4, 2017, after completion of a TBI investigation into an officer-involved shooting death, and after the completion of the prosecutorial function by the District Attorney General, the T.B.I. investigative file becomes a public record, and further, the District Attorney may release all or part of the investigative records to the public.  As a result of the Grand Jury action, this will confirm that the prosecutorial function by this office has now been concluded in this matter.  However, prior to any release of the T.B.I. investigative file pursuant to Public Chapter No. 277, certain statutory requirements and T.B.I. protocols for the proper redaction and final release of the investigative records must be followed.  Once that has been done and all of the records are available, the entire final T.B.I. investigative file will be provided upon request.



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