ALAMO, Tenn. — At least one Crockett County sheriff's deputy killed a bipolar black man parked sideways on a ramp to a U.S. highway as the man recorded the shooting on live streaming video.
Rodney James Hess, 36, a New Orleans native who had been living in Texas City, Texas, with his fiancée, was shot at around 2:15 p.m. CT Thursday and was transported to Regional One Health medical center in Memphis where he died.
When deputies responded to the area about 75 miles northeast of Memphis because traffic was being blocked, Hess became "erratic," said spokesman Josh DeVine of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. The agency did not say whether investigators found any firearms in Hess' vehicle.
"A Crockett County deputy arrived after drivers were obviously not able to get where they wanted to go," DeVine said. "He then determined that he needed backup. Preliminary information indicates Hess attempted to use his vehicle, his SUV, to strike the officers at least twice."
Hess' videos do not show him attempting to hit the officers who responded though part of the interaction with police does not appear to have been recorded.
Hess recorded two videos on his Facebook page. The first was nearly 20 minutes long and leads up to the confrontation with law enforcement. Hess drives his white SUV around the intersection of Tennessee 88 and U.S. 412 on the overpass, periodically blocking traffic with his car.
“He was not on a suicide mission. He was not trying to harm anybody. He was asking them for help and they shot him down.”
Johnisha Provost, Texas City, Texas
It ends as the first Crockett County deputy arrives and parks near Hess' vehicle.
The second video last about 4 minutes, Hess asks to speak with a commander and drops his phone just before several shots are fired into the SUV.
"He was not on a suicide mission," Johnisha Provost said Friday from their Texas home. "He was not trying to harm anybody. He was asking them for help and they shot him down."
She found out Hess was in trouble when her aunt called her at work to tell her about the Facebook Live post, she said.
"He was on Facebook, and I logged on and I watched it," Provost said.
Hess suffered from bipolar disorder, she said. And she could tell from looking at the videos that he was disoriented and lost.
"He couldn't get his mind together. That's why he asked for a higher command," she said. "I always told him, 'Babe, if you are ever in a situation where you need help, ask the person in charge for the higher command to help you,' and that's what he kept saying."
Hess was in Tennessee visiting his mother, who lives in the Memphis area, Provost said. He had moved to Memphis when he was a teenager and graduated from high school there.
Investigators did not know why Hess was in Alamo, DeVine said.
"He had been in Memphis for two days after leaving New Orleans," she said. "He was on his way back home to me and his daughter when they killed him."
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is aware of the recording but cannot confirm its authenticity, DeVine said.
"I want people to know he was not a threat," Provost said through tears. "He was a great person, a great dad, a great provider."
They had been together for the past three years.
"He just suffered from mental illness and people need to be aware of how to deal with mental illness," she said. "They could have just shot his tires out or they could have handled it differently. They didn't have to kill him."