OAK RIDGE With four Bibles bookmarked and opened nearby, plus a black velvet painting of Jesus Christ on the hood of his car, Rodney Eugene Harris was “conversing with the Lord” Sunday afternoon, a neighbor said.
Harris, 48, was walking up and down Hillside Road in front of his home, “looking up in the sky and talking,” Scott McGuire said.
Minutes later, the man neighbors said everyone knew had mental problems was lying mortally wounded in a neighbor’s yard, shot several times by police.
Oak Ridge Police Chief David H. Beams said Harris was advancing toward four officers, large knife in hand, and refusing repeated commands to drop the weapon.
Harris had just stabbed a police dog and yanked an embedded Taser barb out of his body that had been fired by one officer in a bid to subdue him, Beams said.
“I could hear the cops yelling to drop the knife,” neighbor Samara McBride said. “From where we were standing, it looked like he was backing up.”
McBride said Harris was standing in his neighbor’s yard, and it appeared police were about 10-15 feet away.
“He was shot down like a dog,” neighbor Daniel Lee Davenport Sr. said. “He didn’t bother nobody. Everybody knows he has serious psychiatric problems.”
Neighbor Scott McGuire said that police had “problems with him in the past.”
Harris died minutes later at Methodist Medical Center, Beams said. The body was taken to University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville for an autopsy.
Beams said he didn’t know how many times Harris was shot. He said the four officers, whom he declined to identify, have been placed on paid leave.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has been given custody of three police department-issued .40-caliber Glock pistols used in the shooting, Beams said.
The first officer arrived about 4:50 p.m. in response to a neighbor’s request for a welfare check, Beams said. The three other officers quickly followed, he said.
The canine, a female Belgian Malinois named Zoej, was taken to an emergency veterinary clinic in Knoxville and treated and released.
Harris had a history of mental illness, said his brother, John Harris, who had been living with him in the small duplex in Oak Ridge’s Highland View community.
“He talks to the Lord,” John Harris said of his brother. “He’s been to Ridgeview and Lakeshore,” he said, referring to local mental health institutions.
He said his brother kept his medication inside his car. Three prescription bottles, including one medication for depression, were seen inside the vehicle Monday.
Harris said his brother was upset because his wife and 17-year-old son were living in Jefferson City, where her mother was undergoing kidney dialysis.
Passersby rescued Rodney Harris in January after police said he deliberately drove his pickup truck into Melton Hill Lake near the Oak Ridge Marina.
Harris was briefly hospitalized after that incident. He told police officers he was “distraught over family problems and had tried to kill himself,” Beams said.
Harris was jailed in June after he used a large wooden stick to damage the grill, headlights and bumper of his neighbor’s truck, Beams said. Police found him in possession of a stick embedded with glass fragments.
He said Harris has a long criminal history and has been in the state prison system “for lengthy periods of time.”
Bob Fowler, News Sentinel Anderson County editor, may be reached at 865-481-3625.