Nine police officers in Tennessee opened fire on a 37-year-old man on Thursday afternoon after a confrontation on an interstate highway in Nashville. The man, who police said had been sitting on a guardrail on the busy roadway, died.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation identified the victim late Thursday as Landon Eastep. Samantha McGill-Barge, Eastep’s sister-in-law, told The Daily Beast she was baffled that he was on the highway Thursday.
“I wasn’t aware there was anything wrong,” she said. She added that Eastep’s widow Chelesy Eastep was in contact with a lawyer but had no plans to take legal action. The two had dated for nearly four years and been married just shy of a year, McGill-Barge said.
“He loved my sister and my kids very much and, to my knowledge, was a good guy. It’s a very unfortunate situation. I’m in shock. I was at home with my kids when I found out,” she said.
McGill-Barge wrote in a fundraiser for Eastep and his wife that he had been “murdered by several officers.”
“This man had only a box cutter and had already shown it to officers before they killed him in cold blood,” she said. “He was shot for no good reason at all and he did not deserve to die. He has left behind his wife, and she has no means to financially care for herself during grieving, bury Landon, or even provide any services for her husband.”
Nashville court records indicate Eastep had an outstanding charge of domestic assault with bodily injury from November. His next court date was scheduled for April.
In a video filmed by a bystander and posted to Twitter by news outlet WSMV, Eastep can be seen standing still in the right lane of the highway as almost a dozen Tennessee Highway Patrolmen and Nashville Police look on, guns drawn. The entire highway is blocked on both sides. Eastep raises his arms towards police, and the video pauses. Multiple gunshots can then be heard.
In a press briefing, Nashville Metro Police spokesman Don Aaron said a Tennessee Highway Patrol officer was traveling along the interstate on Thursday afternoon when he noticed Eastep sitting on the guardrail.
When the trooper stopped and spoke to Eastep, trying to get him off the highway, the man pulled out a box cutter, Aaron said. An off-duty Mt. Juliet police officer, who was traveling home with his family, saw what was happening and stopped.
The two tried to deescalate the situation for the better part of half an hour, according to Aaron.
“The man was holding a box cutter in his left hand. His right hand was in his pocket,” Aaron said. But as police officers arrived and continued speaking to Eastep, he “suddenly” pulled an unidentified “shiny, silver cylindrical object” out of his right pocket, Aaron said.
Nine officers then shot Eastep, according to Aaron, who added that police have not yet determined what the object was but that it was not a firearm. No Tasers were used before the gunfire, though at least one officer had one on standby, he added.
“Once the shiny cylindrical object was seen, the officers fired. Not knowing what that was, the officers were firing in defense of themselves, not knowing what potential threat could have been in that right hand as it quickly emerged out of his pocket,” said Aaron.
Eastep was taken to a nearby hospital and pronounced dead.
“Through the conversation, the trooper believed it would be OK. It was the pushing away from the trooper and producing the box cutter that escalated it up to a greater law enforcement response,” he said.
Traffic on both sides of the highway was backed up for miles following the confrontation, according to The Tennessean.