A Tennessee sheriff is being sued for excessive force after he was recorded laughing and boasting about how he told his officers to shoot a man during a slow-speed chase rather than risk damaging police cars attempting to drive him off the road.
According to News Channel 5, White County Sheriff Oddie Shoupe did not know that he was being recorded by a body camera that another deputy had put in the back of a patrol car when he made the disturbing comments, but now those comments, which have been made public, have placed him at the center of a federal lawsuit.
“They said, ‘We’re ramming him,’” Shoupe can be heard saying after officers shot and killed unarmed motorist Michael Dial. “I said, ‘Don’t ram him, shoot him.’ Fuck that shit. Ain’t gonna tear up my cars.”
Shoupe was not part of the slow-speed chase that spanned two counties, but he arrived on scene shortly after his officers fired the deadly shots, which was when his comments were recorded.
“I love this shit,” he continues. “God, I tell you what, I thrive on it. If they don’t think I’ll give the damn order to kill that motherfucker, they’re full of shit. Take him out. I’m here on the damn wrong end of the county.”
Laughter can be heard as the sheriff makes his comments.
The incident began last April when Smithville, Tenn., police tried to pull Dial over for driving on a suspended license. At the time, he was driving a 1976 pickup with a fully loaded trailer being pulled at the back. The chase started in DeKalb County before crossing over into White County, where White County deputies took over the chase.
Dial’s wife, Robyn, says she is still not sure how the situation escalated so quickly, leading to the death of her husband.
“Why didn’t he stop?” Robyn Dial said. “He was scared. I know him enough to know that.”
The chase never reached high speeds. DeKalb County deputies told the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation that the chase was more like a funeral procession.
When asked by an investigator from the bureau how fast the cars were going, DeKalb County Detective Jimmy Martin responded, “We might have got up to 50 at one point. For the most part, it was 30 to 40 miles per hour.”
However, DeKalb deputies backed off at the county line and handed off the chase to White County, whose deputies tried to use their patrol cars to get Dial to stop. Reserve Deputy Adam West, who was driving his personal pickup at the time, also got involved in the chase.
As noted earlier, Shoupe was not part of the chase but gave the ultimately fatal orders.
“Per 59 [the sheriff], use deadly force if necessary. Take the subject out by any means necessary,” a radio dispatcher can be heard telling the deputies.
On that order, West took out his gun. According to News Channel 5, minutes later, deputies managed to push Dial’s truck off the road. West got out of his truck and immediately opened fire. Sparta Police Officer Charlie Simms also started shooting.
Dial was hit in the head.
“I feel with every part of me that’s exactly what they wanted to do, was kill him,” Robyn Dial told the news station.
The district attorney ruled the shooting justified, but Robyn Dial’s lawsuit is focused on the callous remarks the sheriff made after her husband was killed. She is suing not only the sheriff but also White County, West and Simms.
The lawsuit charges that Shoupe “preferred to shoot and kill Mr. Dial rather than risk damaging his patrol cars.”
“I don’t know how you can thrive on taking a human life. That’s not law enforcement,” attorney David Weissman told the news station. “If that’s the mentality of the highest policymaker in the county, that’s scary.”
Immediately after the shooting, Deputy West is clearly upset, but Shoupe can be heard comforting him, telling him that he had done right by following orders.
“You don’t have to worry about this. I made the decision. You don’t have to worry about it. I took that away from y’all. You don’t have to worry about nothing. Everything’s cool. You done exactly right,” the sheriff says.
Robyn Dial still doesn’t believe that her husband had to die.
“They could have let him go 10 more miles down the road; he probably would have run out of gas. ... I just hope he knows I loved him,” Dial said.
This is not the first time that Shoupe has been subject to a federal lawsuit. Late last year, both Shoupe and White County Judge Sam Benningfield were hit with suits accusing them of carrying out “modern-day eugenics” after Benningfield signed a standing order permitting inmates to get 30 days’ credit toward jail time if they agreed to a birth control procedure—either a vasectomy or a birth control implant.