Police identify suspected shoplifter killed at Wal-Mart, officers involved

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- The suspected shoplifter and two officers connected to a fatal officer-involved shooting at a south Knoxville Wal-Mart were identified late Wednesday morning.

Zachary Blaine Russell, 21, was shot and killed when he allegedly pulled a gun on officers confronting him and another person about a suspected shoplifting, according to Knoxville Police spokesperson, Darrell DeBusk. He also identified the responding officers as Ofc. John Mays, 44, and Ofc. Tolliver Robertson, 41.

"If someone points a gun at our officer, that's the way we are going to respond, " said KPD Chief David Rausch.

The investigation into the shooting is still ongoing and the officers have been placed on Administrative leave with pay, which is standard operating procedure.

"When someone loses his life it's a sad thing," added Rausch. "But the impact is just as detrimental to our officer. The last thing they want to do is take a life."

Police will conduct additional interviews on Wednesday and plan to go over evidence recovered from the scene, which includes surveillance video of the incident. The second suspect, who was with Russell, was questioned and released, though could still face charges.

Ofcs. Mays and Tolliver were called to the Wal-Mart, 7420 Chapman Hwy., after Russell and the other suspect were stopped by the store's loss prevention personnel. They were accused of hiding several small appliance-type light bulbs in their clothes while purchasing anti-freeze.

According to DeBusk, that's when Russell became agitated. When officers tried to secure Russell, he reportedly pulled out a small-caliber gun and pointed it at them. That's when Mays fired and fatally wounded Russell. No one else was hurt.

Richard Graham was shopping for clothes when gunfire rang out. "All we heard was bang bang bang and they were like clear the store," Grahem recounted. "Everybody was screaming they were saying he's gonna shoot all of us go go go!! And there was people getting knocked down."

Investigators were told that Russell had taken some non-prescribed pain-medications earlier in the evening. An autopsy is expected Wednesday.

Police added he had a criminal history which included multiple thefts, reckless endangerment, aggravated burglary, simple possession and possession of drug paraphernalia and was currently on probation for multiple theft convictions.


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