ERWIN, Tenn. (WJHL) — The Town of Erwin and an officer involved in an April 2021 shooting were met with a civil lawsuit that claims the suspect in that shooting had been complying when the officer pulled the trigger.
News Channel 11 obtained court documents filed on April 27 by the legal counsel of David J. Tipton Jr., who had been accused of leading Erwin police on a pursuit on April 30, 2021, following a reported disturbance on 3rd Street. The lawsuit identifies the policeman as Erwin Officer Josh Ollis and alleges he used excessive force in the incident.
The district attorney who reviewed the case said Tipton caused the gun to be fired while resisting arrest. The district attorney’s office chose not to prosecute Ollis.
In the days after the shooting, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reported that Tipton had been shot during an altercation between himself and the officer. Tipton was transported to a hospital, and the officer was treated for his own injuries.
The Lawsuit’s Claims
Tipton’s legal team of Hall & Lampros, LLP and Attorney James R. Miller penned the lawsuit, which alleges that when Ollis began chasing after Tipton, he “left his flashlight in his police car and, instead, used his handgun as a flashlight, pointing it directly at [Tipton] even though [Tipton] posed no immediate threat to [the officer] or the public.”
When Tipton “could no longer run,” the lawsuit reads, “he fell to the ground — first to his knees and then lying prone on his stomach.” Ollis allegedly kept his gun pointed at Tipton and then “placed his handgun on or within inches of the back of [Tipton’s] head” as he remained on his stomach.
The lawsuit alleges that Ollis shot Tipton in the face as he followed the officer’s order to place his hands behind his back, resulting in Tipton losing his left eye and having to undergo multiple surgical procedures to rebuild his nose.
Injuries from the shot, according to the lawsuit, include the following:
- Fracture of the left side medial orbital wall
- Fracture of the base of the skull
- Acute posthemorrhagic anemia
- Ocular laceration and rupture with prolapse and loss of the left eye
- Fracture of the left side of the orbital floor
- Fracture of nasal bones
- Laceration of the left eyelid and the periocular area
- Conjunctival hemorrhage of the left eye
- Conjunctival edema of the left eye
“[Tipton] was required to be hospitalized and undergo surgical procedures,” the lawsuit stated, adding that Tipton is also losing vision in his right eye. “He will require additional medical treatment in the future.”
The lawsuit accuses Ollis of violating Tipton’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and alleges that the Town of Erwin failed to train its police force to follow existing gun safety and response policies. The plaintiff claims that police did not have a reason to believe that Tipton had committed a felony or that he was a threat.
“A handgun should not be drawn and pointed at any individual except when the use of force is reasonably necessary and certainly not as a substitute for a flashlight,” the civil suit states. The court documents included a list of gun safety procedures that the plaintiff alleged were not used on the night of the incident.
Tipton and his legal team aim to have the case presented before a jury trial.
Law Enforcement’s Claims
Officer Ollis was found by the district attorney’s office to be justified in the shooting on April 30, 2021. The office chose not to prosecute Ollis.
District Attorney General Ken Balwin was not available for an interview regarding the lawsuit; however, he did provide a statement in which he maintained that the officer was not in the wrong throughout the encounter.
“I have reviewed the casefile concerning the shooting of David Jack Tipton, which occurred in Erwin, TN. David Jack Tipton eluded arrest from the Erwin Police Department and upon attempting to apprehend David Jack Tipton, he resisted arrest. During the act of resisting, David Jack Tipton struck the arm of the officer, causing his service weapon to discharge, striking David Jack Tipton in the facial area. Based on the review of the evidence, there is no criminal complicity on the part of the officer and no criminal charges against the officer are warranted in this matter.”First Judicial District Attorney General Ken Baldwin
Chief Tilson told News Channel 11 that Tipton was ultimately charged on several counts following the incident. As of Thursday, Tipton remains involved in court proceedings in the Unicoi County Criminal Court, Tilson said.
An Erwin Police Department arrest report for Tipton states that he was arrested on May 24, 2021 on the following charges after being indicted by a grand jury:
- 2 counts of aggravated assault
- Attempted aggravated assault
- Vehicle-involved evading arrest causing risk of death or injury
- Felony reckless endangerment
- Resisting arrest
- Possession of drug paraphernalia
- Driving while license revoked
Tilson also said that Ollis suffered a broken leg during the alleged struggle to arrest Tipton. Ollis was placed on administrative leave following the shooting, which Tilson confirmed is standard protocol for officers who have been involved in a shooting. After going through the necessary steps and recovering from his broken leg, Ollis returned to the police department.
Following the acquisition of the lawsuit, News Channel 11 reached out to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for an update on the investigation.
“The TBI acts solely as fact-finders in its cases and does not determine whether the actions of an officer were justified in these types of matters,” a TBI spokesperson said in a statement. “That decision rests solely with the District Attorney General requesting TBI’s involvement.”