Loudon County grand jury clears Lenoir officer in fatal shooting

Bob Fowler of the Knoxville News Sentinel 

LENOIR CITY Loudon County grand jurors have spoken, clearing Lenoir City Police Department officer Tyrel Lorenz of four possible criminal charges stemming from the March 13 death of Joshua William Grubb, 30, of Clinton.

The incident remains a puzzler, the prosecutor said: How a 6-foot, 8-inch tall patrolman ended up in the bed of a small pickup as it sped off from a U.S. Highway 321 convenience store, and why the officer quickly opted to shoot the driver nine times through the back window, killing him.

Jurors in secret session Tuesday, after hearing a half-hour of testimony from Lorenz, visiting the shooting scene, viewing body camera footage and other videos, voted 13-0 on four occasions not to indict the officer, who was released from paid administrative leave and put back on the street Thursday.

Jurors considered indictments ranging from reckless homicide to voluntary manslaughter before deciding behind closed doors with no officials present not to indict.

"It is unusual that an officer would put himself in that situation," 9th Judicial District Attorney General Russell Johnson said during a news conference Thursday afternoon. "Were there other things he could have done? Yes. But I can definitely see how the grand jury arrived at their decisions."

The grand jury, in an addendum to its report from the April 11-12 session, concluded that Lorenz, after ending up in the truck bed, fired the gunshots at Grubb in "an attempt to stop Grubb as Lorenz was in fear for his life and the safety of others on Highway 321."

An autopsy showed Grubb was on a mix of alcohol and drugs, including methamphetamine, morphine and Valium. He was shot in the back, in the head, three times in either the right arm or shoulder, and once in the left shoulder and left forearm.

Those gunshots were fired by Lorenz about four seconds after he either fell or leaped into the bed of Grubb's pickup and twice yelled for Grubb to stop the vehicle, according to the in-cruiser video.

The mortally wounded Grubb drove across a median separating the four lanes of U.S. Highway 321 and traveled nearly a mile going the wrong way on the road before crashing into a utility pole. The uninjured Lorenz, breathing heavily, is then heard searching for his handgun, which was dropped during the chaos.

Lorenz had been called to a report of a suspected drunken driver at Bimbo's, a convenience store on Highway 321, and was in the process of arresting a passenger on suspicion of public intoxication when Grubb started driving away. Johnson said because of his height, Lorenz could have easily fallen into the truck, but he might also have leaped in.

Attorney T. Scott Jones, who represents Grubb's family, said in a statement they dispute the grand jury's findings and hinted at the possibility of a lawsuit.

"We have employed our own use of force expert and have opened a dialogue with the requisite authorities concerning the civil aspect of this wrongful taking of a human life," Jones said. "We anticipate 'the rest of the story' to be born out by the audio and video as well as the condemnation of the officer's actions by nationally recognized pro-law enforcement experts.

"Officer Lorenz's "cowboy cop" attitude and actions cannot be condoned in a modern civilized free society, and his day of reckoning will come in a court of law sooner rather than later."

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4/18/16