By Ben Lawson
The Tuesday evening shooting death of a shoplifter by a Knoxville Police Department officer at the South Knoxville Walmart is under investigation.
Officers John Mays and Tolliver Robertson responded to a 6:42 p.m. call by Walmart loss prevention employees after two men were stopped on suspicion of shoplifting. The suspects were taken to the loss prevention office for questioning when the officers arrived.
According to KPD Public Information Officer Darrell DeBusk, one of the suspects, identified as 21-year-old Zachary Blaine Russell, of Freund Street in Knoxville, became agitated when the officers attempted to take the suspects into custody.
“As officers attempted to secure the suspect, the suspect pulled a small caliber handgun and pointed it towards the officers,” DeBusk said. “Officer Mays fired his weapon in defense of the officers' lives as well as the lives of Walmart personnel and the second suspect.”
Russell was fatally wounded, but no one else was injured. Investigators indicated that Russell had consumed non-prescribed schedule pain medication before the incident. He was on probation from multiple theft convictions and has a history of charges including multiple thefts, reckless endangerment, aggravated burglary, simple possession and possession of drug paraphernalia. An autopsy has been scheduled.
The second suspect, who has not been identified, was interviewed and released. DeBusk indicated that charges against the second suspect are pending.
The suspects had purchased antifreeze, but were stopped by Walmart employees after hiding several small appliance-type light bulbs in their clothing and attempting to leave the store.
“Evidence recovered from the scene including surveillance video of the incident is still being examined by investigators,” DeBusk said on Wednesday. “Additional interviews will also be conducted today.”
Per KPD policy regarding shootings, the officers were taken to the University of Tennessee Medical Center for blood tests. Mays, who is 44-years-old, has been with KPD since 1994 and is a firearms instructor. Robertson, who is 41-years-old, has been with the department since 1992.
Both officers have been recognized as Officer of the Month for the department in the past. They will remain on administrative leave with pay while the investigation is ongoing.
Investigation Ongoing in Walmart Shooting
By Ben Lawson