ALAMO — A man described by newspapers in Tennessee as a New Orleans man has died after a Crockett County deputy shot him Thursday afternoon on the exit ramp of Highway 412 and Highway 88 in Alamo.
The man who was killed, identified as 36-year-old Rodney James Hess, apparently recorded and broadcast the incident on Facebook Live (*Warning, it is disturbing video). It has also been posted to YouTube.
Police said Hess had blocked traffic on the Highway 412 East ramp by parking his car sideways. When deputies responded due to traffic being blocked, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokesman Josh DeVine said Hess became "erratic."
"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."
The additional officers told TBI agents that Hess was refusing their commands and making erratic statements.
"Preliminary information indicates Hess attempted to use his vehicle, his SUV, to strike the officers at least twice," DeVine said.
The fiancee of Rodney Hess wants people to know that Hess was a great father and loved life, and now his family wants answers about how he died.
"He was not on a suicide mission," Johnisha Provost said Friday from her Texas home where she lived with Rodney Hess. "He was not trying to harm anybody. He was asking them for help and they shot him down."
WARNING: The following video contains content some viewers might find disturbing.
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At least one Crockett County deputy shot Hess through the front windshield of Hess' car, hitting him. Hess was able to drive his car across the Highway 88 overpass before he crashed in a ditch off Highway 412 near the opposite exit ramp.
"He subsequently died at The Med after being airlifted," DeVine said.
Family members of Hess posted a video of their own to YouTube, commenting on the incident and asking anyone who saw it occur to come forward.
"Just asking everyone would pray for the family, praying that justice will be served," said a man who identified himself as Hess' grandfather, named Lee. "If there’s anything that’s covered up, that it be brought to light. That it’s not just another black man shot by police officers all we are asking for is justice."
"I found out as it was happening," Provost said. "I was at work and my aunt called me and was like, 'Rodney is in trouble.' He was on Facebook and I logged on and I watched it."
Provost said Hess suffered from bipolar disorder 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."
The incident began around 2:15 p.m., and no deputies were injured.
Provost said Hess was in Tennessee visiting his mother, who lives in the Memphis area. She said he moved to Memphis when he was a teenager and graduated from Kirby High School.
"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."
Rodney was in New Orleans to find work, according to his uncle Donald Hess. Rodney recently got laid off and came to New Orleans to do some work with his uncle. He left early Thursday to go visit his mom in Memphis, but his mom was on her way to New Orleans, where she arrived Thursday afternoon.
“Definitely like losing my own, a part of me. I will never be the same nor will my family,” said Donald Hess.
"We’re devastated, we’re brokenhearted, we’re lost, we miss him. I don’t think words can actually explain how we feel. I remember the day Rodney was born, actually I was there when he was born.”
Donald said Rodney has a mental illness and was disoriented because he got lost in Tennessee. He was engaged to get married at the end of the year to Provost. He leaves 3 kids behind, one-year-old Maliya, 8-year-old Kennedi and 14-year-old Rodney Jr.
“I can’t explain how she is. She would be like any mother who watched her son die on television or via a broadcast. I didn’t want my sister to see the video. She is a mess,” said Donald Hess.
“Rodney loved his children and everything he wanted to do was for his children.”
Through tears, Provost said Friday she wants justice for the man she shared her life with for the last three years.
"I want people to know he was not a threat. He was a great person. A great dad. A great provider. He just suffered from mental illness and people need to be aware of how to deal with mental illness," Provost said. "They could have just shot his tires out or they could have handled it differently. They didn't have to kill him."
DeVine said between four and six Crockett County Sheriff's Office deputies responded to the scene. Multiple officers were around Hess' vehicle during the altercation.
It is unknown if the Alamo Police Department responded to assist the Sheriff's Office.
DeVine said it was unknown if there were any other weapons in the car, or if Hess may have been under the influence when he blocked the exit ramp.
"We're working to examine what he might have said, what he might have done. The work at this point is preliminary," he said.
The roadway was still blocked at 9 p.m. while TBI agents continued their investigation.
TBI does not identify officers involved in shootings.
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