MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is laying out how it conducts its investigations into fatal, officer-involved shootings in Memphis and Shelby County.
The insight comes in light of the shooting death of 20-year-old Brandon Webber in Frayser last month, by U.S. marshals. The incident sparked hours of unrest and protests.
“We want them to get there as soon as they can, but I’m not going to endanger their lives,” said Johnny Simmons, TBI Special Agent in Charge, Field Investigations Unit, West Tennessee.
Simmons said the Webber officer-involved shooting in Frayser June 12 was by far the most volatile he’s worked in three decades in law enforcement. Even though the incident occurred around the 7 p.m. hour, TBI agents couldn’t safely access the scene until the early morning hours.
“An officer involved shooting, we have to have the witnesses interviewed as soon as possible,” he said. “We don’t want those witnesses to disappear, we have to gather all the facts.”
The TBI said Webber was shot and killed by U.S. marshals after ramming his vehicle into law enforcement vehicles. Investigators also said Webber had a weapon. Webber was wanted for a robbery and shooting in Hernando, Mississippi earlier in June.
The TBI is currently investigating the circumstances surrounding his death.
“The officer-involved shootings are so manpower intense,” said Simmons.
Simmons said in an officer-involved shooting, the TBI typically sends four of its 12 West Tennessee agents to the scene.
The agency talked about its protocols with WMC Action News 5 Tuesday as part of a media day in Memphis to offer a closer view at its operations.
The TBI has investigated 23 officer-involved shootings, statewide, so far in 2019. Of those, two were in Memphis and one in Shelby County. All three were fatal.
The agency steps in to investigate fatal officer-involved shootings locally as part of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Shelby County District Attorney’s office, Shelby County Sheriff’s Office and Memphis Police.
There has been a push in Memphis to request that the TBI step in to investigate any officer-involved shootings. The TBI has repeatedly stated that would be nearly impossible given their current staffing. It’s a position officials reaffirmed Tuesday.
“If we were asked to investigate all those, there’s no way with the manpower we have,” said Simmons.
The TBI acts as an independent fact-finder in each incident and does not determine whether or not an officer’s use of force was justified. In Shelby County, that decision is left up to District Attorney General Amy Weirich, once her office received the TBI investigative case file.
Simmons said the TBI cannot discuss specifics of the case with anyone while the probe is open, including family members of the person shot by police.
“We just don’t provide information about the facts of the investigation as it’s ongoing,” he said. “And that can be frustrating to the families.”
TBI investigative files are confidential per state law. There is an exception for the files of fatal officer-involved shootings, which are made public at the conclusion of an investigation.