District Attorney Glenn Funk is defending state investigators’ decision not to re-interview a key witness in the fatal shooting of Jocques Clemmons by a city police officer. Funk said the investigation’s mission was to gather the facts independently, and he trusted state agents to do just that.
In February, a white officer fatally shot Clemmon in the back after he fled a traffic stop and tried to retrieve a gun he’d allegedly dropped.
Last week, WPLN reported that during their independent investigation of the case, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agents never re-interviewed the woman who saw the incident unfold looking over her shoulder from the front seat of her car. Instead, TBI agents relied on an interview conducted by Metro detectives — the same agency recused from the case due to potential conflict of interest.
A memo in the TBI file revealed that the city’s top prosecutor told agents it was not mandatory to interview witnesses who’d already spoken with Metro Police if they felt their questioning was “sufficient.”
Funk: 'I left the decision up to the TBI'
This week, District Attorney Glenn Funk said that state investigators ultimately made the decision.
“They made those decisions,” Funk says. “I rely on the TBI. I asked them to do the investigation, and they produced the reports that they submitted to this office."
Still, Funk insists he would not do anything differently. Though he admits that the investigation he promised would be complete and independent, could never have been “fully independent” to begin with. He says that was impossible since Metro Police had already begun interviewing witnesses six days before he asked the TBI to take over.
He insists this was a special circumstance and there will be no other “crossover investigations in the future.” Under a new agreement between the agencies, the TBI will investigate every fatal police shooting in Nashville and will begin their work immediately. Not a week later.
Referring to future investigations, Funk says they will be thorough, complete, independent and transparent. “We will not have any of the same issues we had this time where we had two different agencies conducting the investigation.”
But it may not be that simple.
The agreement, known as a Memorandum of Understanding, says the state agency will lead only in fatal use-of-force investigations. If a police officer causes a serious injury that does not result in death, the TBI may be turned away from the scene by Metro Police.
That was the case just last month when an Antioch man, his wife and 10-year-old daughter were critically injured by Metro Police gunfire during a domestic situation.
And if someone shot by police were to die later from those injuries, the TBI may once again find themselves coming into an investigation that has already been started by another agency.
Interviewing The Witness
In May, Funk announced he was not charging the officer with the death of Clemmons. And while TBI didn’t interview the key witness, Funk says he did. Though there is no public record of it.
Before making a decision on whether to clear the officer, Funk says he wanted to be sure the witness, who was watching over her shoulder from a car, really did see a gun. "It became clear she was the person who had the best first hand knowledge."
He interviewed her for 25-30 minutes in her home, and was accompanied by assistant district attorney Marcus Floyd, communications director Dorinda Carter and a TBI special agent.
Funk says he first noticed that there was no written report of that meeting when he received the TBI file. He says the TBI agent who accompanied him said he did not generate a report because the meeting was viewed “as an attorney interview as opposed to a TBI investigative interview.” Funk says it is not his responsibility as a prosecutor to tell an investigator how to conduct their job.
Funk knows he’s facing heightened scrutiny over fatal shootings by police. The death of Jocques Clemmons comes in the wake of a number of similar cases in cities like Ferguson, Staten Island and Baltimore.
“Some people will look at this incident and say somebody ran a stop sign and ended up getting shot in the back three times,” said Funk. “Other folks look at the exact same situation and say, well the man had a gun, picked up the gun in the middle of a physical altercation with a police officer — of course the police officer is going to shoot him. Both narratives have truth to them.”