Todd Browning died as a result of the Aug. 19, 2016, shooting, carried out by East Ridge police lieutenant Daniel Stephenson. While dashcam video released this week shows Browning approaching Stephenson with a metal rod before being shot, the district attorney who found the shooting justified hasn’t explained why Stephenson was there in the first place.
Capt. Tim Mullinax of the East Ridge Police Department told The Daily Beast that Stephenson was called to an AutoZone near Browning’s home just before 6 p.m. that day, where Browning was allegedly acting erratic and threatening employees with a knife. After 30 seconds inside the store, Stephenson emerges and appears to be talking to Browning.
As Browning gets in his pickup and drives away, Stephenson can be seen on the dashcam video talking into his radio and calmly walking toward his squad car.
After a three-minute drive, Stephenson arrives at Browning’s home. The cop gets out of his car, opens up the trunk, and can be heard grabbing the AR-15. A little more than a minute after that, Stephenson is seen pointing the assault rifle at Browning, who is off screen.
“You wanna shoot me? Do it!” Browning yells, holding a metal rod that authorities say was a water key.
“Stay there! Stay in the yard!” Stephenson replies.
And now more than six minutes after Stephenson first confronted him, the officer fires five bullets into Stephenson at at almost point-blank range. Four bullets struck him in the chest, one entered his back.
“Lt. Stephenson acted well within the law and, as a result, should not face any charges,” District Attorney Neal Pinkston said in a statement.
What East Ridge police and the Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office won’t talk about is what happened inside the AutoZone. The only account of that alleged altercation came from Stephenson’s attorney in September.
Authorities did not answer questions from The Daily Beast regarding the existence of security footage from inside the store.
“Our office has released all the information we have regarding this incident,” district attorney spokeswoman Melydia Clewell said.
In September, Stephenson’s attorney Bryan Hoss told local media that Browning was threatening store employees and Stephenson with a knife inside the AutoZone. As he threatened to kill Stephenson and himself, Browning’s eyes were “bulging out of his head,” Hoss said.
Browning then charged at the cop, according to Hoss’s version of events.
“He very likely could have used deadly force against this guy inside the store,” the attorney told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “He showed some restraint by holstering his weapon.”
On the dashcam video, Stephenson looks incredibly restrained for someone who had just had his life threatened by a knife-wielding lunatic.
When asked why Stephenson appears so calm following such an allegedly violent confrontation, Clewell did not answer.
Todd’s mother, Launa Browning, said the dashcam video doesn’t reflect the descriptions of her son she’s read in media reports.
“I was prepared to see this irate person coming at the officer as he’s been described,” she told The Daily Beast. “I just didn’t see that.”
Where is the security footage? Where are photos of the knife Browning was allegedly wielding?
If any evidence does exist that might answer these questions, the district attorney doesn’t have it, Clewell, the spokesperson, said. Even if the district attorney’s office did have such evidence, Clewell said, the Tennessee Open Records Act “does not require” that it be produced.
And even if such evidence did exist and the district attorney were willing to produce it, the state’s open records act is “written in such a way that any agency can require proof of a valid Tennessee driver’s license” before it could be handed over, Clewell said.
Maybe Browning’s mother, Launa, can take her license down to the sheriff’s office in between trips to Atlanta for glaucoma treatment to try to get more evidence regarding her son’s death.
“I suppose that’s the only thing they have,” she said of the dashcam video.
Both the district attorney’s office and East Ridge police leaned on the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office for further evidence and documents related to the shooting. The Hamilton County sheriff’s detective who investigated the shooting—and provided the evidence that led to the district attorney’s decision that Stephenson was justified—could not immediately be reached for comment.
“I am devastated by the way my son had to died,” Launa said by phone on Wednesday. “This whole thing is just a terrible, horrible mishap of justice.”