NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Newly released investigative files in the police shooting death of a Grammy-winning sound engineer reveal there was an armed Tennessee Bureau of Investigation officer in the home when Mark Capps began threatening his family with guns Jan. 5.
The officer, Zachery Silva, was the boyfriend of Mark Capps’ stepdaughter, McKenzie Acuff, according to the records. Silva told investigators he attempted to de-escalate the situation, eventually leaving the house around 5:30 a.m. after Mark Capps put down the weapons and returned to his bedroom. When Mark Capps, 54, fell asleep several hours later, and Acuff and her mother Tara Capps, Mark Capps’ wife, were able to leave the house and file a police report. Police later shot and killed Mark Capps when he pointed a gun at an officer after they tried to arrest him at his home.
Mark Capps, who had won four Grammys for his work on polka albums more than a decade earlier, was depressed and suicidal and had reached out to several people in the days and hours before taking his family hostage, according to the report. The depression had been going on for months but got worse after his brother died Jan. 3. He had refused to give his brother, Jeff Capps, money and the two had been fighting. In a video call with Jeff Capps three weeks earlier, Mark Capps had put a gun to his own head. That same day Mark Capps had sent a photo of him pointing a gun to his head to friend Juanita Copeland.
At least three other people knew Mark Capps was suicidal. Jeff Capps had told his former roommate, Tracey West, about the video.
Meanwhile, Colleen Walters, who was a family friend, spoke with Mark Capps the day before his death. Walters told investigators Mark Capps made a FaceTime call to her where she saw a drawer full of pill bottles and he placed several guns on a bed. He told her the guns were for protection, but also that he had thought about suicide.
Mark Capps also called his friend Josh Swift that same day, saying, “Tell me not to do it.” Swift told investigators he told him that he was loved and eventually heard what sounded like guns being unloaded. Mark Capps called again that night complaining that his career was over. He called once more around 1:10 a.m. on Jan. 5, but his speech was difficult to understand and Swift told him to go to sleep.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention suggests that if someone is threatening suicide they should be taken seriously. Steps to help include calling or texting the 988 suicide prevention lifeline or accompanying them to a mental health facility or emergency room. The group also suggests helping to keep them safely away from lethal means like firearms.
Tennessee does not have a red flag law that would allow police to temporarily take away a person’s guns if they were judged to be a danger to themselves or others. After a deadly shooting at a private Christian elementary school in Nashville in March, Republican Gov. Bill Lee proposed something similar — what he called an extreme risk protection order. When the legislature declined to take it up in the last days of the regular session, Lee called a special session for the end of August. But the Republican-dominated General Assembly once again failed to even consider Lee’s proposal.
In the hours before Mark Capps began threatening his family, he had been drinking and taking pills, Tara Capps and Acuff told investigators. Around 2 a.m. Mark Capps pulled a pair of pistols out of a drawer. He began berating his wife and threatening to kill everyone in the house, including the dogs. Acuff went downstairs, but Silva, the officer, was still in an upstairs bedroom, listening to what was going on. Mark Capps said if they called law enforcement, they would all die. Eventually, he demanded that Silva come downstairs without his gun. Silva, Acuff and Tara Capps all worked to de-escalate the situation, according to the report.
Silva told Mark Capps he was a good man and that he knew he “wouldn’t do anything to harm someone he loves,” according to the report. Around 5 a.m., Mark Capps agreed to put the guns back in the bedroom. He finally went to bed about 30 minutes later and Silva left for work. However, Mark Capps continued to verbally abuse his wife until he fell asleep at around 8:30 a.m., according to the report. That’s when Tara Capps and Acuff took the dogs and went to a nearby police station.
David Dyer, CEO of the National De-escalation Training Center, which offers de-escalation training to law enforcement agencies and private sector enterprises, shared his observations of Silva’s engagement with Mark Capps with The Associated Press.
“The fact that he was armed but didn’t go in guns ablazing — kudos to him for thinking, ‘Let’s talk this guy down,'” Dyer said.
Dyer said de-escalation exists on a continuum with use of force, and they teach officers to be “reasonable and prudent.” He also said that domestic violence situations are some of the most deadly for officers responding to calls for service. Dyer said he did not want to second guess the police response later that day.
Nashville has a project called Partners in Care that teams counselors from the city’s Mental Health Cooperative with officers to respond to mental health emergencies where there is a gun or other danger present. Instead, members of the Metro Nashville Police Special Response Tactical team returned to the Capps’ home around 2 p.m. They planned to place charges at the doors and then announce that the home was surrounded and that Mark Capps should surrender. Instead, Mark Capps opened the front door as police were placing a charge there. One of the officers shot and killed him. The three officers who were near the door all told investigators that Mark Capps was pointing a gun at them.
Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to look into the shooting and determined that no criminal charges would be filed against any of the law enforcement officers. Asked whether the Bureau looked into why police chose to approach the house with a SWAT team, TBI spokesman Josh DeVine said in an email that “the investigation was purely focused on the facts of what happened for the district attorney to review.” Metro Nashville Police, in turn, directed the AP to the TBI report for any questions about the operation.