Authorities: Tenn. gunman motivated by police shootings
Bristol, Tenn. — A black Army veteran accused of shooting indiscriminately at passing cars and police on a Tennessee highway told investigators he was troubled by incidents involving black people and law enforcement officers, such as those in Minnesota and Louisiana, authorities said Friday.
It was one of several spasms of violence across the country this week amid boiling tensions over policing and race. One woman died and three others, including one police officer, were injured in the rampage early Thursday morning.
Meanwhile, police say officers have also been targeted in Georgia and Missouri in the aftermath of two high-profile killings of black men by law enforcement and the Dallas attack that left five officers dead and seven more wounded. Other departments reported being bombarded with threats and some implemented new policies requiring officers to patrol in pairs.
Civilians also have been caught in the fray. The woman who died in Tennessee was a newspaper carrier driving down the highway.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said in a news release that initial conversations with the suspect, 37-year-old former soldier Lakeem Keon Scott, revealed he was troubled by the incidents in other states, hundreds of miles away. All those shot were white, police said.
His cousin Sarah Scott said she is so close to him he called her “sister.” She said she is shocked by the allegation he was enraged by police violence against African-Americans.
“He’s into his culture, he really is; but never would he hurt anybody,” she said. She called him an “open, big-hearted person.”
Scott — allegedly armed with an assault rifle, a pistol and a large amount of ammunition — was wounded in a shootout with police early Thursday and remains hospitalized. Police were not able to interview him until late Friday morning, according to a statement from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
Hours before, as Scott was in the hospital, 12 officers were shot at a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas. Police say the sniper declared he was angry about the police shootings of black men and wanted to exterminate whites. Five of the officers died.
In south Georgia, police said one officer was ambushed Friday when he came to an apartment complex to investigate a report of a break-in. Another officer was fired upon by a motorist north of Atlanta. And just outside St. Louis, police say an officer was ambushed during a traffic stop.
Scott, who has no criminal history, grew up in New York City and moved to Tennessee fairly recently. His cousin said he has relatives in Tennessee and likely moved there because of a lower cost of living. She said he was in the Army but was injured at some point, collected disability payments and did not have a job.
Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Jennifer Johnson confirmed he served from January 1998 to June 1999. He was a private in the 5th Battalion 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, stationed in South Korea.
One of Scott’s brothers, Gerard Griffin, said Scott has three brothers and two sisters and often acted as their “protector.”
Griffin said his brother “was a little angry” when he came back from the military.
“He seemed to be getting more and more frustrated with the condition of black people in America,” Griffin said.
One of those wounded was the longtime front desk clerk at a Days Inn hotel, Deborah Watts, who was in serious but stable condition. Investigators say Scott fired first at the hotel.
“She is like a family to us,” said Days Inn owner Kiran Patel. “It’s horrible. I don’t know how to explain how horrible.”
Newspaper carrier Jennifer Rooney, a 44-year-old mother of two, was on her way to pick up papers for the morning delivery when a bullet struck her. The Bristol Herald-Courier reported that her car careened over a median and crashed through a chain link fence.
“I don’t think she had an enemy in her life,” her husband, David Rooney, told the newspaper. “She was the type of person that could have a disagreement with someone and 10 minutes later turn around and help them, and that rubbed off on everybody who she came in contact with.”
David Whitman Davis was also injured by flying glass from the gunfire, the TBI said.
Officer Matthew Cousins was hit in the leg. He was treated for superficial injuries and released.
Scott was stuck by the officers returning fire. He remains in the hospital in serious but stable condition.
Griffin said he’s struggling to understand how his brother’s frustration may have led to violence.
“Don’t get me wrong, everything he did was wrong,” Griffin said. “I ain’t condoning nothing he did, at all. But frustration, we can all understand that.”