There are two versions of what happened after five-year New Orleans Police Department veteran Isaiah Shannon pulled over a man for a traffic stop in August 2013.
In Shannon’s telling, he was forced to fire on Terrell Chapman when the man grabbed for a gun at close quarters inside the stopped car.
But NOPD investigators, drawing on video footage of the shooting and interviews with witnesses, told a very different story. They concluded that Shannon was lying: He had actually fired as Chapman was fleeing the scene, unarmed, forcing bystanders to duck and dive.
In November, NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison accepted the Public Integrity Bureau’s findings and fired the officer.
Shannon’s case has won praise from a police watchdog for the thoroughness of the NOPD’s investigation. But it also raises questions about why his firing was never disclosed to the public, which the department now says was a simple oversight.
The termination is coming to light now as a result of a recently released annual report from the Independent Police Monitor’s Office , which documented two dismissals from the force in 2014. The NOPD previously reported one of them — the firing of an officer in September over allegations of payroll fraud — but not Shannon’s.
A Nov. 20 letter from Harrison in Shannon’s civil service file documents why the chief decided to fire the officer. NOPD Public Integrity Bureau investigators concluded that Shannon lied when he told them he was inside suspect Chapman’s vehicle when he fired.
Shannon said Chapman, sitting on the front passenger side of the car, reached for a gun. The rest of his account is unclear. Records containing a fuller description of the officer’s story have not been released. And his lawyer declined to comment on the case.
But NOPD investigators said they discovered video showing Chapman running away from the car. Then, at the moment when Shannon appears to have fired at Chapman, the tape shows witnesses dodging the shot.
“There were no strike marks or damage to any portion of the interior of the suspect vehicle consistent with you having discharged your firearm,” the letter states. “Several witnesses indicated you were outside of the vehicle when you discharged your firearm.”
During an internal disciplinary hearing in November, Shannon admitted that he violated department policy and offered nothing to justify his actions, according to Harrison’s letter.
Two weeks later, the chief fired the officer for using unauthorized force and lying about the incident.
Shannon does not appear to be facing any criminal charges over the incident, and he is appealing his dismissal to the Civil Service Commission.
The only other infractions listed in Shannon’s disciplinary file were a couple of one-day suspensions for failing to show up to testify in court in 2012 and 2013.
Kevin Boshea, the former officer’s attorney, declined to comment on his client’s appeal, citing the ongoing nature of the case.
“I can’t really comment on it until I see everything the city has,” he said.
An official at the agency set up to serve as a watchdog for the NOPD’s internal discipline mechanism, meanwhile, praised Harrison’s decision.
“That investigation was a very sound investigation,” Deputy Police Monitor Simone Levine said. “The department did the right thing.”
But Levine did express concern that Shannon’s case was never disclosed to the public.
Just last week, Harrison issued a statement after firing another officer over a use-of-force incident, even though it occurred while the officer was not on duty.
In contrast, Shannon’s November dismissal never made it into a news release.
“Where a case is not leading to an indictment, I do not see a reason why that information should not be disclosed to the public,” Levine said. “That enhances the transparency between the department and the community.”
NOPD spokesman Tyler Gamble said the lack of publicity in Shannon’s case was unintentional. “Generally, we’ve made a practice of issuing press releases when an officer is terminated,” he said.
Gamble noted that the monitor’s office was able to observe Shannon’s disciplinary proceedings and included his dismissal in its annual report.