By Hayes Hickman Knoxville News-Sentinel
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A suspected shoplifter was fatally shot by police when he allegedly pulled a handgun on an officer inside a Walmart in South Knoxville on Tuesday night.
The two Knoxville Police Department officers involved had responded at approximately 6:42 p.m. to an initial report of two theft suspects detained by store security in the loss prevention office of the Walmart, 7420 Chapman Highway, said Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch. "The indication at the time was that they were nonviolent," Rausch said. "As they were attempting to interview one of the suspects, that suspect began to struggle with officers. During the struggle, the suspect pulled a weapon. … At this point I just know it was a handgun."
One of the officers pulled his weapon and shot the man in self-defense, the chief said.
Rausch did not specify how many rounds were fired, nor was it immediately clear whether the suspect fired at the officers.
Dennis Morgan, volunteering for a third year as a Salvation Army bell ringer, was standing at the store’s north entrance, just beyond the security office door, when he heard the shots behind him.
"All I heard was about seven or eight gunshots, and by then I had already evacuated," Morgan said. "I wasn’t sticking around to see exactly what happened."
The second suspect was taken into custody, Rausch said.
Neither suspect has been named by police, pending notification of the deceased man’s next of kin.
The police chief described the shooting victim as a white male who appeared to be in his 20s.
The two KPD officers, who were not identified, were uninjured. Both were taken to the University of Tennessee Medical Center, though, for blood tests, per departmental policy.
Both will be put on administrative leave pending the outcome of the criminal and internal investigations, Rausch said.
Business continued inside the supersized store as KPD investigators and crime scene technicians worked behind yellow police tape Tuesday night.
Standing outside, Rausch lamented the terrible turn of events, but he did not question his officer’s judgment.
"Obviously our officer has to respond — if somebody points a gun at an officer, that’s the way we’re going to respond," the chief said.
"When someone loses a life, it’s a sorry thing. It’s sad. The impact it’s going to have on that family is going to be horrible. But the impact it’s going to have on these officers is just as detrimental. The last thing an officer wants to do is take someone’s life."
Copyright 2011 Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.
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