Investigation closed, officers cleared after ax-wielding woman shot dead

Courtesy: Gallatin Police Department

GALLATIN, Tenn. (WKRN) – A Gallatin police officer involved in a shooting last week has been cleared of any wrong-doing and the case is now officially closed.

Sumner County district Attorney General Ray Whitley made that announcement Thursday after reviewing the investigation submitted by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

The shooting happened last Wednesday in a public housing area on Chaffin Court where investigators say Laronda Sweatt was being evicted.

Laronda Sweatt (Courtesy: Sweatt's mother)
Laronda Sweatt (Courtesy: Sweatt’s mother)

Investigators say four members of the housing authority arrived with Deputy Gary Pickard and the mother-of-one allegedly sliced the 66-year-old deputy with an ax.

The sheriff said Deputy Pickard was not wearing a vest and his cut required 20 stitches.

Back-up was called to scene and, before other officers arrived, Sweatt allegedly paced on her front lawn for nearly four minutes.

The first officer that arrived as James Spray, who got out of his car and ordered the woman to stop and drop and weapon.

Dash cam video shows her aggressively come toward the officer with the battle ax. The officer then begins to retreat and opens fire as she closes the space between them.

He fired two shots. According to the investigation findings, the first was fatal and the second struck the handle of the ax Sweatt was carrying.

Officers performed CPR until an ambulance arrived. The 40-year-old was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.

Gary Pickard (Courtesy: Gallatin News)
Gary Pickard (Courtesy: Gallatin News)

District Attorney Whitley said he reviewed the case and the dash cam video helped him decide the officer was defending himself. He considered the shooting justified and closed the case.

“Eight seconds to decide what to do. The officer had no choice but to do what he did. He saw her with an ax and she was closing in and he was backing up. He went back as far as he could. She ignored his orders to stop. He did what he was trained to do ,” Whitley explained, adding, “As terrible as it is that a person lost her life, Officer Spray had no choice but to do what he did.”

On the day of the shooting, Sweatt’s mother, Ella Sweatt, told News 2 her daughter was a sweet and caring person “until you pushed her.”

“Laronda was not violent unless you made her violent. She is bipolar, and they knew she was bipolar; they didn’t have to shoot her like that,” Ella Sweatt explained.

“Yes, this could have been avoided. The housing project knew she was bipolar,” she added.

The Sumner County sheriff told News 2 he plans to re-evaluate how they serve eviction notices, perhaps using multiple officers to do it.

While Gallatin police is armed with body cameras, the Sumner County Sheriff’s Department is not. It is a 100 thousand dollar expense that the sheriff says he plans to ask his county commissioners to fund.

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