Ever since the officer-involved shooting and killing of four-time Grammy-winning music engineer Mark Capps at his Nashville home on January 5th, members of the music community have been raising questions about the circumstances surrounding his death, and they are not the only ones. Nashville’s Community Oversight Board is also raising concerns of how they were notified about the killing, along with raising other issues about how the incident was handled by Metro Nashville Police.
Meanwhile, new issues have been raised about the previous conduct of the officer who shot Mark Capps, and a new petition has been launched by members of the music community looking for answers and accountability.
Nashville Community Oversight Board Issues
Some of the many questions that friends and colleagues of Mark Capps are asking is why was a SWAT team used to serve a warranted against Mark Capps when he had no prior criminal history? Why did SWAT officers not try to open a line of communication with Mark and coax him out of the residence? Why weren’t mental health professionals involved, or close friends and family members brought in who potentially could have been used to de-escalate the situation? Why didn’t police announce their presence in the area?
Instead, while SWAT Officers were attempting to perform a self-described “covert operation” to place an explosive device on the front door of his house, Mark Capps opened the door, allegedly with a gun in his hand, causing one of three SWAT officers on the porch to open fire, killing the 54-year-old.
The Nashville Community Oversight Board was impaneled in 2018 as an official entity of the Nashville city government with the power to investigate allegations into Metro Nashville Police Department officers committing misconduct against members of the public, as well as issue policy advisory and resolution reports assessing allegations of misconduct by the Metro Nashville Police Department.
Any time there is an officer involved shooting, the Community Oversight Board and its Executive Director Jill Fitcheard are supposed to receive notification through an official channel. That did not happen in the case of Mark Capps until well after the incident. Fitcheard instead heard from the board’s police liaison, and then called office of The Director of Emergency Communication at the Metro Nashville Police Department to find out why she had not been notified. After she did not get an answer through that line, she then called a separate supervisor’s line. At that point Fitcheard was told that there had not been an officer involved shooting.
“I was a little taken aback by that because I’m not understanding why that wasn’t connected through the department of emergency communications,” Jill Fitcheard said at the Community Oversight Board meeting on January 25th. “[The Supervisor’s line] didn’t really have any good answers, and then said that officers were on the scene, but had not called [any officer involved shooting] in. That was startling.”
When Jill Fitcheard and other members of the Community Oversight Board arrived, Fitcheard says, “The local news media was already set up, the TBI (Tennessee Board of Investigations) was there, the FOP attorneys (Fraternal Order of Police) were there, the FOP investigators were there. It was a full scene. All of these people are on the scene prior to us arriving, and already set up.”
Commander Lauren of the Metro Nashville Police clarified at the January 25th meeting that Fitcheard had been notified, just not through the proper channel, but could not explain why it had taken longer for the Community Oversight Board to be notified compared to other entities, including the media. “I could not tell you how [the media] got notified, unless it went through the PIO office,” Commander Lauren said. “But I don’t want to speak on that because I don’t know who notified them.”
After Director Jill Fitcheard arrived, she said that she observed multiple SWAT team officers already speaking to FOP attorneys, including the shooting officer Ashley Coon who was in a van with a FOP attorney for 30 minutes. “Both attorneys and the officers were allowed to go beyond the tape and into the perimeter, and were able to enter the incident scene, walk to the front of the residence where the shooting occurred with the assistance of the TBI.”
At that time, none of the evidence had numbered placards on it yet to catalog where it was in the crime scene. “They are able to walk through the scene and view it with the attorney with a TBI agent. It’s very peculiar,” Fitcheard said, who also raised questions about why the body of Mark Capps was removed so quickly after the shooting, concerned that it might also hamper the investigation.
Community Oversight Board Secretary Drew Goddard asked for a detailed timeline of when individuals were notified about the shooting to be constructed, while board member Walter Holloway—a retired Metro police officer with over three decades of experience—characterized the delay in notifying the Community Oversight Board about the killing by saying, “Sounds like you need to clean up something before you get there,” implying that the delay in notifying the board was intentional.
The relevant portion of the January 25th Community Oversight Board meeting can be seen below.
Concerns with TBI (Tennessee Bureau of Investigations) Handling The Investigation
In all cases of officer involved shootings in Tennessee, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is put in charge of the investigation. The killing of Mark Capps is no different. However, questions have been raised about the objectivity of the TBI investigating the incident after it was revealed that a TBI police officer was in the home when the alleged threats and kidnappings that resulted in the arrest warrants for Mark Capps occurred.
Neither in the press conference held by Metro Nashville Police Public Affairs Director Don Aaron on January 5th after the shooting, nor in the Critical Incident Briefing accompanying the body camera footage release did anyone intimate that there was a fourth individual in the home when the alleged kidnapping and threats occurred. Saving Country Music verified on January 18th that the boyfriend of the 23-year-old stepdaughter was also in the home at the time, and that the boyfriend is an officer for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
“We can confirm an off-duty TBI police officer (whose primary job is to provide security at TBI offices) was at the home as a guest of the step-daughter referenced in media reports the night prior to Friday afternoon’s shooting,” said TBI spokesperson Susan Niland. “He left the home before the two women reported their concerns to Metro Police. The TBI notified District Attorney General Glenn Funk of this information when it surfaced and he requested we remain in an investigative capacity in this ongoing case.”
Not only was it a surprise to many that a fourth individual was in the home at the time of the alleged kidnapping, the information that the boyfriend left during the period when the wife and stepdaughter of Mark Capps were allegedly being held against their raises questions about the characterization of Mark Capps kidnapping the individuals, along with the question of why the boyfriend/TBI Officer did not report the ongoing incident to police after he left the house, or when he arrived at work at the TBI as was his sworn duty.
The next Community Oversight Board meeting is on Wednesday, February 22nd. Though individuals are not allowed to address the committee and they will not be able to divulge certain details about an active investigation, they are expected to broach the Mark Capps incident once again during the meeting. Saving Country Music has reached out to the Community Oversight Board for comment, and to attempt to obtain the report from Director Jill Fitcheard, but has not heard back at the time of this article.
Previous Incidents with Officer Ashley Coon
Also this week, Nashville’s NPR affiliate WPLN was able to obtain the personnel file for Officer Ashley Coon, who was the SWAT officer who shot and killed Mark Capps. According to the report, Officer Coon has filled out at least 20 use-of-force reports over his 14-year career, with each incident reviewed by a supervisor, and deemed appropriate.
However, Coon was suspended eight times in the first five years of his tenure on the force for various infractions according to WPLN, including a couple of incidents where he allegedly inappropriately touched women while in the line of duty, and another for a dangerous vehicle pursuit of a suspect. Coon has not been suspended since 2013.
One case that bears a resemblance to the Mark Capps incident occurred when Officer Coon and other Metro Nashville officers were involved in a “knock and talk” procedure with a neighbor. After not receiving a response at the front door, Coon went to a side door. The homeowner reportedly though Coon was an intruder and came to the door with a firearm. Coon and other officers pulled their weapons on the homeowner. However, unlike in the Mark Capps incident, they did not shoot, though the homeowner was not considered a suspect at that time, just a potential witness.
Saving Country Music cannot independently verify the information in the WPLN report, and has made its own request via the Metro Nashville Police for the personnel file of Ashley Coon, as well as the two other officers that were present on the porch of the home of Mark Capps in Nashville’s Hermitage neighborhood when the shooting occurred.
Body Camera Footage
Friends and colleagues of Mark Capps are also frustrated that the full body camera footage from all three of the SWAT officers involved in the incident has not been released to the public. Though a portion of the body camera footage from Officer Ashley Coon was released hours after the shooting in a Metro Nashville incident report, it does not accurately show if Mark Capps was holding a gun, or if he brandished the gun, or made any other aggressive moves toward the officers. It does show that Mark was given less than a second after Officer Coon shouted “Show me your hands!” before he was shot three or four times.
Metro Nashville Police Public Information Office Executive Assistant Noelle Yazdani tells Saving Country Music that due to the ongoing investigation, further body cam footage will not be made available to the public. Saving Country Music also spoke to Leslie Kimbel of the Metro Nashville Police Records Department that handles the release of body camera footage. Kimbel explained that due to the amount of requests, body cam footage requests take an average of six months to fulfill, and that footage involving either deceased individuals, or significant footage inside a private residence would be redacted.
In other words, the likelihood of the public obtaining further body camera footage from the incident to help answer the lingering questions about the Mark Capps killing is unlikely in the near term, unless a lawsuit or other legal action is able to expedite the process. However, Saving Country Music has made open records requests for all of the body camera footage.
Asking for the full body camera footage to be released, and the answers to other lingering questions is the focus of an online petition started by Friends of Mark Capps. “As we wait for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the MNPD Office of Professional Accountability to complete their work, there have been no answers to any of the central questions,” the petition states before laying out a host of questions many people in the Nashville music community and beyond continue to ask.
The Backstory of the Incident
According to Metro Nashville Public Affairs Director Don Aaron, the incident began when Mark Capps allegedly went on a tirade at his home in Nashville around 3 AM on January 5th, throwing things in the house and ultimately holding both his 60-year-old wife and 23-year-old stepdaughter at gunpoint, allegedly telling them that if they tried to call anyone or flee the home, he would kill them. When Capps eventually fell asleep around sunup, the two women were said to have escaped with their pets to the Hermitage police precinct where they explained to police what happened.
Four total warrants were issued for Mark Capps, two for aggravated assault and two for kidnapping, and a request for a protection order was also processed. It was due to the concern for the firearm Capps had allegedly used to threaten the two women and the presence of other firearms at the residence that Metro Nashville Police chose to use the SWAT team to serve the warrants.
The incident occurred at a time when Mark Capps was said to be under great duress. Mark’s brother Jeffery Allen Capps had died two days prior to the incident. Mark Capps worked as the sound engineer for Grand Ole Opry members The Isaacs. On December 15th, Becky Isaacs was hit head-on in a two car collision in Hendersonville, Tennessee, and hospitalized. This resulted in the Isaacs having to cancel numerous tour dates, which put Mark Capps out of work right around the Holidays.
Mark Capps was a prolific studio engineer with engineering credits tracing back to 1991. Alabama, The [Dixie] Chicks, The Mavericks, Brooks & Dunn, Clay Walker, and Elizabeth Cook are some of the many artists Capps worked with in his career. Capps was also a co-winner of Grammy Awards for Best Polka Album in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. His father was legendary Grand Ole Opry guitar player Jimmy Capps, also known as “The Man In Back.”
Mark Capps never fired a shot in the incident, police had never been called to the house before for a domestic disturbance or anything else, and Mark Capps had no prior criminal record.
Officer Ashley Coon has not returned requests for comment on the incident, or released any official statement about the incident.