This story has been updated.
Members of a prominent Nashville community organization say that the Metro Nashville Police Department has continued to use excessive force and failed to comply with de-escalation tactics, leading to two recent shootings, one fatal.
Nashville Organized For Action and Hope (NOAH) held a press conference on Thursday to protest what advocates saw as preventable events in two separate shootings that led to one woman in critical condition, one woman dead and one police officer injured.
“We are no strangers to police brutality,” said Shaveh Jackson, a NOAH member.
On March 13, police were called on a Goodlettsville woman, Melissa Wooden, who threatened suicide before charging at police officers with a pick-axe. Wooden was shot and remains in stable condition. In a separate incident, Nika Holbert resisted arrest before shooting at a police officer who in turn, fatally shot her.
The Rev. Jane Boram, co-chair of the NOAH criminal justice task force, said the MNPD needs to reinforce the need for police officers to follow procedures that de-escalate and avoid the use excessive force when dealing with citizens, especially those with a history of mental illness.
“Nashville cannot continue to kill innocent women,” said Boram. “We have to have a better way of handling people in a mental health crisis.”
NOAH advocates said that police officers had no reason to stop and search Holbert and that these actions were a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Holbert was driving a car registered to a man with outstanding warrants for drug possession. The man was initially believed to be driving the car.
Boram proposed an alternative to Metro police or an additional program that would act in cooperation with police to de-escalate situations without violence. The program, Health Engagement & Liaison Services (HEALS), is a community-based behavioral health crisis intervention program that will be staffed by Nashville-based mental health centers.
HEALS has been presented to Chief John Drake, who is currently using a co-response model that sends mental health experts and police officers to respond simultaneously.
NOAH advocates hope the MNPD will consider their program in the near future, which is modeled after the successful Crisis Assistance Helping Out On the Streets (CAHOOTS) program in Eugene, Oregon.