Gaynor Found Not Guilty In Henderson Shooting

Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Christopher Gaynor
Christopher Gaynor

A Criminal Court jury from Nashville on Thursday morning ruled former Chattanooga Police Officer Christopher Gaynor not guilty of criminally negligent homicide.

The jury had deliberated about an hour on Wednesday afternoon, then gave the verdict at 9:10 a.m. after another hour of talks.

Gaynor had told the jury Wednesday morning that when he saw he had shot an unarmed man he thought, "My God, what have I done?"

An emotional Gaynor described the traffic stop in May 2003 in which motorist John Eric Henderson was fatally shot in the shoulder.

Gaynor said he thought Henderson was reaching for a weapon, saying he saw something brown that looked like the butt of a gun. He said he walked over after Henderson slumped to the ground and saw that the brown object was a cologne bottle.

It was the second trial for Gaynor on the charge of criminally negligent homicide. The first one ended in a mistrial when the jury could not reach a decision.

Gaynor told the Nashville jury that he stopped Henderson on Newell Street after he was driving a car with a muffler so loud that it caused him to look up.

He told of following Henderson to a house he (Henderson) was remodeling on Newell Street.

The former officer told of Henderson getting out of the car, then heading back to his vehicle despite being told not to.

Gaynor said he yelled at Henderson to "Hold up!" but he said it was as if "he was not even listening to me."

He said he followed Henderson as he went to his car, leaned inside and got the object from the glove compartment.

Gaynor said he placed his hand on his gun and commanded Henderson, "Don't move! Hold it!"

But he said Henderson "started up with a real quick move. I thought he was coming at me with a gun."

He said, "I deholstered my gun and fired as I was moving back." He said he thought he had fired more than once, but was told later it was only a single shot.

He said after Henderson fell to the roadway, he went over and found the cologne bottle. He said, "I grabbed it and pretty much freaked out. I could have sworn it was a gun."

The defense called an expert witness, Michael Foreman, who said Gaynor responded just as he had been trained. He said Gaynor acted appropriately because he was in fear for his life.

The state called a rebuttal witness, Mark Rawlston of the Chattanooga Police Department's Internal Affairs unit, who said Gaynor used excessive force.

Gaynor was fired by then-Police Chief Jimmie Dotson after the incident. He later applied to get his job back, but then dropped the appeal. He now works for the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department.

Judge Jon Blackwood heard the case in the courtroom of Judge Steve Bevil, who is ill. Judge Bevil heard the first trial.

Defense attorneys were Lee Davis and Bryan Hoss.

Floyd Kilpatrick, president of the Chattanooga Chapter of Rainbow Push, issued this statement after the verdict:

"The proper purpose of a criminal justice system is to protect society and individuals, including victims and offenders from seriously harmful or dangerous conduct from any source--corporate, governmental, legal, institutional or individual.

"According to information gathered from various sources we estimate that approximately 49 individuals have lost their lives at the hands of either Chattanooga Police, local law enforcement or correction officials while in their custody since 1980. During this 25-year period not one Internal Affairs investigation has concluded that criminal charges were warranted.

"During this period not one criminal indictment or charge has issued from the 11th Judicial District with the exception of the present charge concerning Chattanooga Police Officer Christopher Gaynor. These circumstances have led many in the Chattanooga community to conclude that, over the years, the criminal justice system has turned a deaf ear to community concerns regarding the excessive use of force.

"The fact remains that Chattanooga Police were responsible for the shooting death of John Eric Henderson on Thursday May 29, 2003. However, recent testimony from Police Department officials during the course of this most recent trial would lead us to believe that the officer that shot John Eric Henderson has done nothing wrong, that he properly followed the Departments procedures and in fact, did what was appropriate under the circumstances.

"But when is it appropriate to shoot and kill an unarmed man. The fact that the officer may have been afraid does not provide justification to kill an unarmed man. The Department has an obligation to protect and serve every person in every community in the City of Chattanooga, regardless of race, age, income or appearance. This atmosphere where Public Service Agencies and Departments condone their agents’ and officers’ use of excessive force as a first alternative in conflict resolution should not go unchallenged.

"Unfortunately, when the criminal justice system fails to address the needs of certain segments of our communities, particularly with regards to the use of excessive and deadly force, then the apparent recourse becomes civil litigation against the Agencies and /or municipality(ies) responsible for causing the injuries for which redress is pursued. Under these circumstances it is the taxpayer, and not the offender, that is punished.

"Any award of damages obtained through civil litigation against a municipality or one of its agencies is paid out of public funds, which could otherwise be used to improve the level service delivery to our communities.

"As a community we need to re-examine certain dysfunctional law enforcement practices here in Hamilton County and advocate, through our elected officials in the executive and legislative branches of city government, for positive, constructive change. That is our challenge, and our responsibility as a community."



Upcoming City Council Agenda For Tuesday

Here is the upcoming City Council for Tuesday: I. Call to Order. II. Pledge of Allegiance/Invocation (Councilman Gilbert). III. Minute Approval. IV. Special Presentation. V. Ordinances – Final Reading: (None) VI. Ordinances – First Reading: PLANNING a. 2016-024 Belle Investment Company/Third Street Partners/Jimmy & Molly Seal (R-4 ... (click for more)

Fort Oglethorpe Arrest Report For May 12-19

Here is the Fort Oglethorpe arrest report for May 12-19: Samuel Reynolds Ledford, 26, of 1204 McBrien Road, Chattanooga was arrested May 12 on charges of driving under the influence of drugs, open container and violation of Georgia’s controlled substance act. Jessica Davain Brock, 28, of 406 Fargo Lane, Fort Oglethorpe was arrested May 12 on charges of driving while license ... (click for more)

Case Handled Like Any Other? - And Response

It is interesting that Chief Fletcher would deem the handling of the Mayor's encounter as typical or normal. Is the Chief asking the public to believe that all misdemeanor domestic violence arrests include a 4-hour taped interrogation, and delayed reporting after a visit to the Chief’s house. Of course, we believe that Chief Fletcher. April Eidson * * *  I ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: A Judge's Night Behind Bars

There is very little doubt that retired Army Sergeant Joe Serna has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after serving three tours as a Green Beret in Afghanistan. Once he barely avoided being blown up by a hidden IED and then there was another terrifying brush with a suicide bomber. But the worst was when a truck he was in slid off the roadway into a canal. “It was like ... (click for more)

Baylor Beats GPS Again For Second Straight D-II Title

MURFREESBORO – Baylor coach Kelli Smith was feeling no pain here at the Starplex Field No. 3 Friday afternoon after her team had beaten GPS for its second-straight D-II state softball crown, but that wasn’t the case late Thursday night. Smith, who now has two state titles as a Baylor player and eight as their coach, spent more than three hours in the local emergency room, only ... (click for more)

Silverdale Topples Meigs, 6-0, To Force Second Game For Class A Softball Title

(Story will be updated) MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Silverdale wanted a rematch with Meigs County. They got it Friday afternoon. The Lady Seahawks, who lost 3-1 to the Lady Tigers to open the Class A state softball tournament, fought back through the loser’s bracket and made the most of their second chance. Silverdale (42-4) scored six unearned runs – the outburst ... (click for more)