Deputy’s offer of aid nearly got him killed — (The Knoxville News-Sentinel)

SSRI Ed note: Young man on antidepressants fires gun at Sheriff's deputy who stops to help him on the road.

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The Knoxville News-Sentinel

May 17, 1999

Author: Don Jacobs, News-Sentinel staff writer

Knox County sheriff’s deputy Tim Blackburn never saw the .38-caliber pistol that was aimed at him when he stopped to help a stranded motorist.  “I just saw the flash,” Blackburn told Internal Affairs investigators with the Knox County Sheriff’s Department. “I didn’t comprehend what he was doing at first.”

But something must have registered in the 11-year veteran’s mind. Blackburn moved his head just enough for the first round to miss him and hit his headrest.

The second round struck his left arm near the elbow and traveled up the arm to his shoulder. He is still carrying that chunk of lead.

Blackburn didn’t have time to wonder what he had stumbled upon during the incident that occurred shortly after midnight on March 14. The deputy had completed his evening-shift patrol duties in South Knox County a few minutes earlier and was on his way home when he encountered the disabled car.

The emergency flashers on the red 1991 Honda CRX had been activated as it sat with a flat tire in front of Highland West Funeral Home and Cemetery at 9913 Sherrill Lane. Blackburn saw a man, later identified as Kevin Payne, walking away from the car and toward Cedar Bluff Road.

Because it was dark, cold and raining, Blackburn stopped to offer any aid he could to the 26-year-old man.

“Before I could get my vehicle stopped and out of the car, he was right there at my door,” Blackburn said in a six-minute interview with Internal Affairs the day after the shooting.

Blackburn rolled down his window and was reaching to open to door of his cruiser when he asked the man, “Can I help you? Is your car broke down?”

“At that time, he said, ‘Say what?’ and shot,” Blackburn said.

Blackburn estimated Payne was three to four feet from him when the shots were fired. The deputy immediately slid over to the passenger side of the car to get away from the muzzle flashes.

Blackburn said he watched as Payne “slowly just walked toward the front of” the cruiser. Fearing the assailant was going to reload, Blackburn grabbed his semiautomatic pistol and began firing through the windshield of his cruiser toward Payne.

“I fired until my gun jammed,” Blackburn told investigators.

After the officer fired eight rounds, the slide on his pistol apparently bumped the steering wheel, causing a round to get stuck in the ejection port.

Hearing the gunfire, Payne fled so quickly he literally ran out of shoes, leaving them sitting on the roadway. Blackburn wanted to chase the suspect but realized it wasn’t wise to do so with a jammed gun.

The deputy also couldn’t find his radio, which had fallen to the pavement when the shooting began.

Blackburn got out of the cruiser and sought cover at the rear of the car. He calmed himself and was able to clear the jammed cartridge from his weapon. The deputy found his radio, notified dispatchers he had been shot and gave a description of his assailant.

“At that time I was just hurting,” Blackburn said. He sat down against a rear wheel of his cruiser until he felt the cold rain chilling him. He got back in his car, turned on the heater and waited for help to arrive.

Records show the first officer arrived at Blackburn’s side three and one-half minutes after he radioed he had been shot.

An armada of city and county officers swarmed the area to search for Payne. Fifty minutes after the shooting the suspect, still armed with the gun, surrendered to officers behind Oakes Nursery on Sherrill Lane.

* * *

If Blackburn had kept his police radio tuned to the patrol channel after getting off work that night, he might have realized the man he saw was not a stranded motorist but rather a car theft and assault suspect.

Knox County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Dwight Van de Vate said Blackburn had switched his radio to a meeting channel when his shift ended. That channel is used by deputies signing off for the night with their supervisors.

Six minutes before Blackburn encountered Payne on Sherrill Lane, patrol officers were alerted that a 1991 Honda had been stolen from a man who also had been beaten. As the victim provided additional information to the E-911 call processor, those details were being added to the computer system.

However, the radio dispatcher did not broadcast to patrol officers the additional information that a gun had been taken during the incident and that the suspect was thus armed.

“When she called it up and broadcast it, that was about the same time the gun information was being added,” said Barry Furey, executive director of the E-911 Center.

Furey said when additional information is added to an ongoing event, the call processor is supposed to flag the computer screen with a special notation.

“Either the flag was there and she didn’t see it, or the flag wasn’t there,” Furey said. “The dispatcher can’t recall if the flag was there.”

Furey said he is evaluating the matter to prevent similar occurrences in the future. One resolution, he said, would be to have the call processor verbally share the incoming information with the radio dispatcher.

Furey, however, noted that the radio system’s emergency-button function worked well during the shooting. Each officer’s radio contains an orange button which can be depressed to alert dispatchers to an emergency.

Blackburn had radioed to dispatchers he was stopping to help a stranded motorist, but the dispatcher didn’t clearly hear his location. The shooting occurred so quickly that when the dispatcher asked Blackburn to repeat his location, the deputy was already under attack.

Despite his wound, to Blackburn instinctively pushed the emergency button on his radio before it fell to the pavement. Dispatchers and other deputies knew Blackburn was in trouble before he said he was shot, but they were unsure of his location. The emergency button feature does not provide the location of an officer.

* * *

When the owner of the stolen Honda encountered Payne walking along Magnolia Avenue about 9 p.m. March 13, he took a few minutes to talk to him first. The Honda owner, who wishes to be known only as David, knew it was risky business picking up strange men for sexual encounters.

But the 51-year-old man had been in Knoxville for only a few months and hadn’t yet established a circle of gay friends, so he sought men on the streets.

“There are two fears gays have,” David said, “the fear of catching something and the fear of meeting the wrong person.”

David, who requested anonymity because of a previous attack on his life, said he thought himself a good judge of character. “He seemed like a nice guy,” David said of Payne. “He was reasonably articulate and reasonably well groomed.”

When David took Payne to his West Knox County apartment, he said Payne informed him, “I usually get paid for this.” David said he told Payne he couldn’t afford to pay him for sex and offered to take him back downtown.

Instead, the men watched a video, David fixed barbecue chicken for Payne and they retired to the bedroom. As the men were getting dressed afterward, David said Payne, without a word, grabbed a glass coffee pot and smashed him across the head.

“It just like exploded when it hit my head,” David said.

Stunned by the blow and bleeding profusely, David then felt punches landing on his body. David tried to fight back, but the muscular Payne outweighed him by 80 pounds.

“I’m afraid he’s going to kill me, so now I’m thinking I have to get to my gun,” David said.

David said he feigned surrender, and Payne stopped the assault. That’s when David dived for the .38-caliber pistol hidden under his bed.

“I just pointed it at him, and he looked shocked at first and then he lunged at me,” David said. With the pistol aimed toward the ceiling as they fought for control of it, David squeezed off a round.

Then the men fell to the carpeted floor, and David again pulled the trigger again, sending a round into the floor.

“I was hoping to empty the chamber because I could see he was going to get the gun and I was positive he would kill me, once he got the gun away from me,” David said.

Payne got the gun from David and then demanded his car keys, David said. Payne also snatched a video camera from the bedroom. As he was marched downstairs at gun point, David darted for the front door.

When he pulled open the door, the apartment’s security system was activated and began whooping. David hoped the sound would alert his neighbors, but they weren’t home.

David said Payne must have shot at him then because he later found a bullet lodged in the floor at the door. With his ears already ringing from two gunshots, David said he never heard the report.

“Somebody must have been smiling down on me,” David said. “This appeared to be certain death. Why he didn’t shoot me and later shot the cop, I’ll never know.”

David surrendered his car keys, and Payne went out the front door. David said the alarm system on his Honda never sounded, so Payne must have disabled it.

* * *

Payne’s version of events with David was different.

The Memphis native said David picked him up on Cumberland Avenue, showed him a video movie, fixed him a meal and then drugged him.

When Payne asked to be returned to Cumberland Avenue, he told investigators, David pulled the pistol on him and ordered him to disrobe at gun point. Payne said in a deft move as he pulled off his boxer shorts he was able to strike David on the hand with a coffee pot.

While Payne claimed he was so drugged he later couldn’t drive David’s car, Payne said he was able to overpower David and take the gun.

Payne admitted he had smoked marijuana and five rocks of crack cocaine before he met David, but he maintained David had drugged one of the three beers he drank.

“I’m a drug addict,” Payne told investigators during a 29-minute interview the day after Blackburn was shot. “I do drugs every day. I know how I feel when I drink beer. I know how I feel when I smoke crack.”

In David’s car, Payne said he was scared and disoriented. He couldn’t control the car and ran “over everything everywhere,” he told investigators.

When the damaged Honda would go no farther, Payne got out. He said his he became more fearful when he realized he was in front of a cemetery because of “ghosts and stuff.”

Payne said his fear increased when he saw Blackburn’s cruiser approach. He said the deputy’s eyes “got really wild” when he saw the gun in Payne’s hand. Although Blackburn didn’t have his cruiser’s blue lights on, Payne said he knew Blackburn was a deputy. He said he began firing without speaking.

“I freaked,” he said. “It just really seemed like a dream. I’m not a killer. I ain’t never fired a handgun in my life.”

Payne said he knew at least one of his two bullets had struck Blackburn because of the “horror sound” the deputy made.

Asked if he would have shot at any motorist who approached, Payne said he didn’t know. “I don’t even know why I even shot this time,” he said.

* * *

Payne’s mother thinks she knows why her son shot Blackburn.    Her troubled son had been beaten once by Memphis police, said Janet Dotstry, 56, of Memphis.   “I think Kevin had a flashback,” Dotstry said. “I think his mind went back to Memphis.”

Payne comes from a strongly Christian family, Dotstry said. His father and stepfather are Baptist ministers, and his mother is active in the church. Dotstry said her four children were never on welfare, and the family is respected in the community.

“The son I know was a very caring person who wouldn’t want anybody hurt or killed,” she said. “But he also had some serious problems.” In her family, she said, Payne is the only child who has gotten into trouble. He was mixed up in drugs, fathered several children in Memphis, was kicked out of the Navy after 28 days and has rarely held a job.

According to criminal records, Payne’s first brush with the law was in 1996 when he was arrested on a theft charge in Memphis. Shortly after Payne came to Knoxville to stay with his truck-driving brother, he was arrested in August 1998 on another theft charge.

On October 2, 1998, Payne displayed one of the “crazy things” his mother mentioned when he went berserk in a Knox County courtroom. He was charged with vandalism, disorderly conduct and evading arrest because of that outburst.

Dotstry said Payne attempted suicide once and has been on anti-depressants to control his mood swings. She knew her son needed help, but finances prevented proper treatment.

In his statement to investigators, Payne said he saved one bullet in the pistol for himself.

Members of Payne’s family have visited him in jail to show their support, but they aren’t blind to the charges of attempted first-degree murder and aggravated robbery that he faces.

“We know he did wrong,” Dotstry said.

Don Jacobs may be reached at 423-521-8133 or