They hadn’t planned to come to Memphis that day – they were headed home. But in the warm, early afternoon of June 12, 2019, a tip led a Mississippi-based fugitive squad to turn around and head north to Tennessee to confront Brandon Webber.
They found him in his mother’s driveway.
“I heard Gun! Gun! Gun!’’ recalled one officer who said his colleagues unleashed a barrage of gunfire – some shots fired at near point-blank range – that killed Webber after he pointed a weapon at them.
Webber, a 20-year-old African American, died shortly before 7 p.m. that day in an encounter with five white men wearing helmets and bullet-resistant vests, triggering wide unrest that still smolders here today.
The officer’s account – his name blacked out – appears in a heavily redacted investigative report by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. The report was obtained by the Institute for Public Service Reporting and The Daily Memphian days after District Attorney Amy Weirich announced that no charges will be filed against officers involved in the shooting.
Though the officers’ names are redacted, one is identified as a son of former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore.
According to the report, members of the fugitive task force opened fire after Webber pointed a pistol-grip tactical rifle at them from inside a red Infiniti sports coupe. Webber was wanted for stealing the car days earlier in Hernando, Mississippi, where he allegedly shot its owner and left him for dead.
Among numbers of photographs included in the report are pictures of Webber’s semi-automatic rifle on the pavement outside the open door of the Infiniti. Those pictures chronicle a frantic encounter between Webber and members of the U.S. Marshals Gulf Coast Fugitive Task Force:
The Infiniti was riddled with 20 or more bullet holes; more holes pocked the side of an unmarked Ford F-150 pickup truck used by officers during the encounter.
The report paints a damning portrait of Webber as a violent criminal with a seeming death wish.
But it may also offer details helpful to attorneys who’ve filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Webber’s family, contending the encounter was impetuous and reckless.
“They didn’t need to shoot him to death in his mother’s driveway,’’ said Webber family attorney Jacob Webster Brown, who questions tactics officers used in a busy residential neighborhood filled with children and pedestrians in Memphis’ Frayser area.
Accounts officers gave the TBI indicate the fugitive squad came here without a written plan of action and confronted Webber following a speedy surveillance. The officers employed a daring tactic that sent one law enforcement vehicle bounding across a lawn while two others roared up to the front of the Infiniti in an effort to “pin’’ Webber in the driveway.
“It was unreasonable, excessive force,’’ said Brown. He challenges many assertions in the official account including contentions that Webber rammed law enforcement officers with the Infiniti. Unnamed witnesses not interviewed by the TBI say the officers rammed Webber, Brown said.
The attorney said he doesn’t know how bullets struck an F-150 pickup truck driven by an officer. He said he doesn’t believe Webber fired any shots because he appeared to have had his hands up based on bullet wound patterns.
There was no video.
Brown said reconciling the contradictions is a daunting task that starts with studying the TBI report, a thick compendium encompassing hundreds of pages of witness statements, background information and supplemental reports.
The confrontation was set in motion days earlier, on June 3, 2019, when a man was shot in Hernando, about 26 miles south of Memphis. According to the report of an unnamed Hernando Police Department detective, a man was shot once in the chest and twice in the back with a .22-caliber handgun.
The victim, who survived, told police he’d met a man through Facebook who was interested in buying his red 2006 Infiniti G35 sports coup. The man showed up for a test drive and then shot the owner, driving away with the car. Police later identified Webber and a co-defendant by tracing Facebook messages. The owner later identified Webber as the shooter in a photo lineup.
Hernando police then sought help from the U.S. Marshals Gulf Coast Fugitive Task Force. Headquartered in Birmingham with satellite offices in North Mississippi, the task force comprises federal marshals and deputized local police officers. It operates largely in Alabama and Mississippi, but ventures at times into Memphis.
Ironically, the task force hadn’t planned to go to Memphis the day Webber died. According to a Starkville, Mississippi, police officer who is a member of the task force, the team had just arrested a man on an unrelated case shortly after lunch that day in Indianola, about 2.5 hours south of Memphis.
“Following that arrest, (the Starkville officer) explained they started to head home. He stated it was at that time that (another officer) made contact with the team via the radio stating that they needed to go to Memphis to work the Brandon Webber case,’’ a report says.
Plans changed after Hernando police detected Facebook posts by Webber that featured the stolen Infiniti.
“Webber was seen with other males in the car and they were armed,’’ a U.S. Marshal inspector told TBI investigators.
The Starkville officer described the Facebook post as a live video in which Webber is seen “acting erratic, flashing guns, and threatening police.’’ Authorities have said the video shows Webber driving past a patrol car saying, “F— 12 (meaning the police). If they turn their dumb ass around it’s on. This s— going to be fun.’’
The Facebook posts had an address associated with it: the home of Webber’s mother, Jaleta Clark.
“At that time, (a supervisor) felt it was in the best interest for public safety and officer safety for them (to) come to Memphis and attempt to apprehend Webber that day,’’ a report said.
The names of the officers involved in the operation are redacted as are those of law enforcement personnel and material witnesses interviewed in the TBI investigation. However, the report describes the five officers who shot at Webber as white males.
Once in Memphis, the officers branched out. They checked three separate addresses they had for Webber. Finally, about 4 p.m., they spotted Webber backing the stolen red Infiniti into his mother’s driveway in Frayser. A second man was seen getting out of the car and going into the house. Webber remained in the Infiniti.
Asked if the team had “a written operations plan,’’ an officer said the team had a “verbal plan that was done over the radio.’’
The plan involved something called a “vehicle pin.’’ Two officers driving Ford F-150 pickup trucks would pull into the driveway to block Webber from leaving. A third vehicle would come across the lawn to prevent Webber from driving to his left across the grass. A natural barrier of trees and hedges prevented him from exiting to his right.
An officer driving one of the pickups described how he and a second officer pulled into the driveway to block Webber.
“I placed the front of my bumper right up close to the red vehicle left side bumper,’’ the officer said in a June 20, 2019, audiotaped interview.
The officer was accompanied to the interview by his attorney, “who is also his father,’’ the report said. The report says the father “stated he was the former Attorney General for State of Mississippi from 1988 – 2004’’ – a description that matches former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore. The officer described his own occupation as “a state investigator with the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office assigned fulltime to the United States Marshal’s Fugitive Task Force.’’
According to the officer, he engaged his red and blue lights in the truck’s grill and visor areas as he pulled into the driveway.
Webber family attorney Brown said his witnesses dispute that.
“When I pulled into the driveway,” the officer said, “… the sun was causing a glare on the suspect’s front windshield, and I could not see anything inside the vehicle. So, when the vehicle started moving I realized someone was inside the vehicle.’’
The officer said Webber then “rammed’’ his truck – a characterization repeated by authorities from the onset of the controversy. Photos in evidence show the front of an F-150 truck with what appears to be relatively minor scratches on the front and bullet holes in the right front panel. The officer said he did not know if Webber fired any shots or whose bullets struck his vehicle.
But he was unequivocal in stating that his task force teammates attempted to apprehend Webber without firing shots: “I could hear them yelling ‘Show me your hands! Show me your hands! Police! Get out of the car!”
The Starkville officer said the Infiniti lurched “forward and backward to attempt to flee’’ before hitting the pickup.
With that, the Starkville officer raced on foot to the driver-side door of the Infiniti.
A report describes his account like this:
“Once he opened the door, (the officer) stated that Webber looked directly at him, and he reached in and told Webber to get out of the vehicle. At that time, (the officer) advised that Webber turned away from him and dove into the passenger side seat of the vehicle where there was a rifle. (The officer) saw Webber grab the handle of the rifle and at that moment he knew Webber’s intent was to start firing shots at officers.’’
The Starkville officer said he tried “to push off Webber’’ to fire his weapon “to neutralize the threat.’’
According to the report:
“As (the officer) went for his weapon, he saw Webber move the rifle directly up and point it toward (a task force) vehicle. At that point, (the officer) fired his first shot. The muzzle of the rifle Webber had was then pointed at (the officer who) stated that he was in shock because he had already fired approximately 5-6 rounds at Webber and Webber continued to come at officers with the rifle.’’
The officer “advised that he then continued to fire shots emptying his magazine. He then yelled for cover and did a magazine reload. (The officer) explained that he continued to hear shots being fired as he was reloading. Once he finished reloading, he could see Webber still engaging with officers and the rifle still pointed up at them.’’
Within moments, the officer said, Webber began “succumbing to his wounds.’’
The officer said “he remembered seeing the muzzle drift down into the center console of the car and Webber’s hands were still on the pistol grip of the rifle.’’ Then Webber’s hand fell off the gun, and the officer “carefully went back into the car and removed the rifle and placed it on the ground,’’ the report said.
Yet another officer recalled firing through the car’s windows.
“When his arms came up with the gun I engaged the suspect with my AR-15 rifle and I shot through the window until all movement ceased,” he said.
An autopsy report released last winter said Webber was shot 16 times. A supplement in the TBI report said investigators recovered two bullets from his right arm, two from his left, one from his left thigh and one from his left knee along with bullet fragments from his head.
Webber’s mother, Jaleta Clark, told investigators she last saw her son minutes before the shooting sitting in a red vehicle in her driveway “rolling a blunt.’’ According to reports, she said Webber had the car for two to three weeks, but “could not provide any information on where or how’’ he got the car. She said she left to purchase items at a nearby store, where she first heard about a “shootout with the police.’’
Longtime Memphis civil rights attorney Bruce Kramer, who is also representing the Webber family, said the TBI report poses daunting hurdles in the quest to prove that Webber was recklessly killed in a hastily planned operation. But, he said, the legal team will fight hard to get to dissect the official account.
“The report that was issued – and that Amy (Weirich) relied upon – was written from their perspective,’’ he said. “We’ll find out where the truth lies.’’
This story first appeared at dailymemphian.com under exclusive use agreement with The Institute. Photos reprinted with permission of The Daily Memphian.