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Crowd riots after white officer kills black suspect in Nashville

August 11, 1997

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ A discount department store near a public housing project was looted and burned early Sunday after a white police officer shot and killed a black murder suspect during a fight.

People gathered and some threw rocks and bottles at police after the shooting of Leon R. Fisher, 23, of Nashville, at about 2:45 a.m. Police put the crowd at under 100, but Margaret Turner, a witness, said 200 to 300 people were present.

About two hours later, a Dollar General Store was destroyed by fire. Nashville-based Dollar General Corp. has said it built the store near the housing project to give job opportunities to residents.

Nobody was reported hurt in the rioting or fire, there were no arrests and the area was quiet by Sunday night, said Officer Frank Leggett, assistant supervisor in police communications.

Police and witnesses gave conflicting accounts of what happened. Witnesses said Fisher was handcuffed when he was shot and police waited before trying to resuscitate him. But police said Fisher was handcuffed after he was shot and officers immediately administered aid.

``Everybody’s going to say (the officer) feared for his life,″ said Turner, who witnessed the shooting. ``How the hell can you fear for your life when this man is handcuffed and you done beat the hell out of him?″

At a news conference, Mayor Phil Bredesen defended Sgt. Randy Hickerson, who shot Fisher.

``I believe the officer did everything possible to resist using deadly force,″ he said. ``There is no racial component to this at all.″

He blamed the fire on people from outside the Settle Court neighborhood.

``This arson is not the work of residents of the area. We believe it was done by criminals and hoodlums who came back after the incident was over,″ he said.

Police gave this account of Hickerson’s confrontation with the suspect:

The officer attempted to pull over a speeding Chevrolet Suburban. It eventually stopped in the housing project and three riders fled. Hickerson ran after Fisher, who fell. Hickerson attempted to subdue him, but Fisher ran off.

Hickerson caught up and the two fought. Fisher, who was wearing a bulletproof vest, repeatedly punched Hickerson. The sergeant used his police baton to hit Fisher and gave ``continuous commands″ for him to surrender.

The men separated and Fisher put his hands in his pockets. Hickerson drew his gun and ordered Fisher to put up his hands. He did and Hickerson holstered his pistol.

Fisher then attacked Hickerson. Another officer arrived and tried unsuccessfully to subdue Fisher with pepper spray.

Hickerson then drew his gun and fired twice. One bullet was deflected by the vest and the other entered his upper chest, police said.

Hickerson immediately began resuscitation efforts and called for an ambulance, said Chief Emmett Turner, who is black.

Witness Margaret Turner disputed that. She said officers waited before trying to revive Fisher, though she did not say how long. She also said Fisher was handcuffed as he ran from Hickerson.

Another witness, Roxanne Williams, corroborated most of the police version, including that Fisher was not handcuffed until after he was shot. But she said Fisher stopped fighting when he was sprayed, but Hickerson fired anyway.

The crowd eventually dispersed and police left. At 5:30 a.m. the police returned and found Dollar General in flames. The police chief said the store had been looted, but could not provide any details.

A small amount of cocaine and marijuana was recovered from Fisher’s clothing, police said.

Fisher was a suspect in the June 22 shooting death of Michael Bradley. Hickerson was unaware of that when he chased him, according to police.

Hickerson, a nine-year police veteran, was placed on administrative leave while an investigation is conducted.

Update hourly