Two Coffee County Sheriff’s Department deputies have been injured and one suspect, an escaped inmate, is dead after a struggle for a weapon that took place in the Coffee County Justice Center in Manchester on Monday.
The suspect has been identified as Michael Bell, 37.
Deputy Wade Bassett was transported to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville and deputy Wendell Bowen was transported from the scene to Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga for medical attention. Though their conditions were both reported as stable, of approximately 7 p.m. Monday, Bowen was still undergoing surgery.
Sheriff Steve Graves is with Bowen at Erlanger Medical Center, according to the department.
“This is a difficult day for the citizens here in Coffee County. We have had an officer-involved shooting at our courthouse,” said Coffee County District Attorney General Craig Northcott.
“We appreciate prayers for the officers that were injured as well as their families.”
Bell died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound following his escape from the justice center, Northcott and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation confirmed during a Monday press conference.
The struggle began following a court hearing for Bell, who faced charges of kidnapping, evading arrest and “other similar charges,” said Northcott, who added that the kidnapping charge was “domestic-related.” After being taken to the third floor of the center to be segregated from other inmates and transported to the Coffee County Jail, Bell began the struggle for Bassett’s weapon.
“Bell attacked the deputy and a significant struggle ensued, at which time inmate Bell was able to obtain [Bassett’s] firearm. He then shot the deputy once and fled from that location,” Northcott said. “He went down to the first floor and as he was exiting the front of the building, in a very unnecessary and cowardly way, he shot [Bowen] on his way out.”
After fleeing to Madison Street, he entered an inhabited home, exited and stopped behind an adjacent house. There, he committed suicide, Northcott said.
“A short time later, about two blocks away from the courthouse, as officers were in pursuit, he stopped and he shot himself in the head. He is dead.”
TBI Director Mark Gwyn said the bureau is looking into the case and the investigation is in its early stages.
“The TBI will be conducting a criminal investigation of the officer-involved shooting. Our violent crime response team will also be working two primary crime scenes – one at the courthouse and the other at 701 Madison St.,” Gwyn said.
Northcott said that because of the ongoing investigation, the justice center court will be closed Tuesday, June 20.
CCSD Captain Danny Ferrell said the department is saddened by what happened and is working to help carry out the necessary investigations.
“I’m sorry that it’s happened. I wish it didn’t happen. Mr. Bell took it into his own hands to shoot one deputy and then another deputy sitting in the foyer here at the courthouse, and as he went by, he fired two rounds at that deputy, striking him at least once,” Ferrell said. “Right now I just want to make sure everything is taken care of and that we assist TBI and the DA’s office with the investigation.”
Officials with the Coffee Co. Sheriff’s Department have confirmed that Bassett’s bulletproof vest stopped the bullet from entering his body, but he is bruised and sore at the impact site. He did suffer thumb damage from the struggle.