MORRISTOWN, Tennessee — A Jefferson County family is suing the county government, Sheriff Esco Jarnigan and a deputy over the pre-dawn 2019 killing of a 19-year-old man.
Jimmie and Brandie Zappier, the parents of Anthony Zappier, seek millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages in U.S. District Court in Knoxville.
Hamblen County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Dewey Edward Horner Jr. shot Anthony Zappier three times on October 25, 2019, while the young man sat at the wheel of his cruiser in the Wuthering Heights neighborhood of Hamblen County, video shows.
In less than five and a half minutes of Horner arriving, Zappier would be dead.
911 calls claimed Zappier was yelling in a field and possibly had a gun and/or laser pointer.
The lawsuit claims Horner approached Zappier to check him for weapons. When he noticed a gun on the ground, he picked it up and pulled out his taser then threw the gun away from Zappier.
Horner fired his taser multiple times and proceeded to wrestle with Zappier who eventually freed himself and ran toward the deputy’s idling and unlocked cruiser.
As Zappier got into the car, Horner followed and was able to get into the passenger seat facing Zappier who began driving the car.
Horner took out his gun and fired at Zappier who lost control of the car.
The first bullet hit the shirtless Zappier in the right chest, nicked his right lung, perforated the vein that carries blood into his heart and ended up in his back, autopsy records show.
The car then hit a plastic boundary fence and slowed to a stop in some brush.
The lawsuit claims by this point the vehicle had stopped and Horner was outside the car when he fired the second and third shots.
The second shot hit him in the jaw and the third shot was fired into the top of his head as he began to slumped over, autopsy records show.
“The essential point and crux at the end of this video is where these shots come. The officer has retrieved to safety, he’s clearly outside the vehicle, arms extended and is telling a 19-year-old kid to relax. At no point during the entire encounter was the notion that ‘Hey, I’m going to shoot you if you don’t do this.’ That never happened. But the officer is standing outside, he is completely safe, Anthony is unarmed, the gun extends, the gun jams, he even takes the time and thought process to unclear the jam and then fires two more shots essentially execution style into the car killing Anthony,” said family attorney Lance Baker.
The TBI report said Zappier drug the deputy in the cruiser. The family said the video proves that isn’t true. They also said he never took the deputy’s weapon and three shots were not fired at once.
“Anthony and his parents and family were entitled to a real investigation and that’s not what they got,” said family attorney Clinton Little.
“Completely unjustified, unnecessary, didn’t have to happen. There were many many other options,” said Baker.
Authorities said at the time that Zappier had dragged Horner in his own cruiser, endangering his life after jumping into the idling vehicle and starting to drive away.
Horner told authorities that moments before he’d tossed a gun he’d seen near Zappier — before Zappier darted into his unlocked cruiser.
The parents allege Horner used excessive force and was poorly trained to respond to the situation.
“Many opportunities for the deputy to wait for backup and follow protocols had he been trained and had proper training,” said Jimmie Zappier. “We know our child, we know our son. He’s not a vindictive person, he’s not a hateful person and we knew with his family values he knew better than to do certain things.”
The TBI conducted an investigation of the incident last year and cleared Horner of wrongdoing.
The TBI said they act solely as fact-finders in cases and do not determine whether officer actions were justified in these matters. That rests solely with the District Attorney General requesting TBI’s involvement or, in this case, an empaneled Grand Jury reviewing their findings.
The TBI presented their investigation before a Hamblen County grand jury earlier this year which found the deputy did follow law enforcement procedures.
The parents allege in their lawsuit, however, that the TBI investigation was flawed, and say Horner’s own bodycam video contradicts some of what the TBI and Horner claimed happened.
“It’s never going to bring our son back but for us to help reiterate and get training for another family to never have to go through something like this would be an ultimate goal for us,” said Jimmie Zappier.
“The officer escalated the entire situation. From the tasing to the gun fire to everything was complete gratuitous on his part. Back up was en route. It was 30 seconds to a minute away. This is an unarmed teenager. A 19-year-old kid essentially,” said Baker.
Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain declined through a spokesperson to comment about the lawsuit.
Attorneys Lance Baker, Clinton Little and Luke Durham filed the complaint Monday.