Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott has released a statement concerning a shooting in Warren County.
I was appointed Special Prosecutor to oversee the investigation of the shooting death of Mr. Christopher Hollis. The investigation was conducted by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) and then, upon my appointment, investigators with my office assisted. It has taken several months to complete the investigation to ensure that all leads were fully pursued. During the pendency of the investigation, I was ethically prohibited from making public comments on it. The investigation has now concluded, and the following is a summary of the findings of the investigation and my legal conclusions.
On October 24, 2021, Christopher Hollis was driving his vehicle southbound on Sparta Highway. As he was passing the intersection of Shady Rest Road, McMinnville, Tennessee, Jeremiah Dearinger (aka Davis) pulled onto Sparta Highway cutting off Mr. Hollis. While driving in the left lane of traffic, Mr. Hollis pulled alongside Mr. Dearinger’s vehicle and, while brandishing a firearm, signaled for Mr. Dearinger to pull over. Mr. Dearinger slowed his vehicle, falling behind Mr. Hollis. Mr. Hollis then slowed his vehicle coming to a near stop while still brandishing his firearm. Mr. Dearinger called 911 seeking assistance. While on the phone with dispatchers and driving at a slow rate of speed, he overtook Mr. Hollis’ vehicle. Mr. Dearinger fired two (2) shots from inside his vehicle. Both shots entered the front passenger seat headrest of Mr. Hollis’s vehicle. One bullet came to rest in the headrest. The other bullet traveled through the headrest and struck Mr. Hollis in the face fatally wounding him. According to the medical examiner’s autopsy report, the bullet entered Mr. Hollis’s right eye and “the direction of the path of the projectile is front to back”. Mr. Hollis’s loaded handgun was found in the driver’s side floorboard. Mr. Dearinger immediately reported the shooting to the 911 dispatcher and remained on scene until police and other first responders arrived. The autopsy report also shows that Mr. Hollis was impaired by alcohol, marijuana and methamphetamine at the time of his death. These events occurred in a very short period of time and covered a distance of approximately half a mile. These facts are established through eyewitness accounts including a passenger in Mr. Hollis’s vehicle, the 911 audio recording, the physical evidence recovered and the autopsy report.
The pertinent question in this case is whether Mr. Dearinger is absolved of criminal responsibility for the death of Mr. Hollis due to self-defense. (See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-601.)
Tennessee law allows the use of deadly force in self-defense when (1) the person has a reasonable belief that there is an imminent danger of death, serious bodily injury, or grave sexual abuse; (2) the danger creating the belief of imminent death, serious bodily injury, or grave sexual abuse is real, or honestly believed to be real at the time; and (3) the belief of danger is founded upon reasonable grounds. (See Tenn. Code Ann. $ 39-11-611.) It is also important to note that Tennessee law imposes no duty to retreat before using deadly force in this circumstance even though it does appear that Mr. Dearinger took efforts to do so. (See Tenn. Code Ann. $ 39-11-611.) Further, it is the burden of the prosecution to disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. (Tenn. Code Ann. $ 39-11-203.)
Given the facts of this case, self-defense is fairly raised. It will be impossible to negate that Mr. Dearinger held an objectively and subjectively reasonable belief that he was in imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death. The evidence clearly demonstrates that he did have a real reason to be in fear of imminent serious bodily injury or death by the actions of Mr. Hollis. Because of that, I am ethically, legally and morally prohibited from bringing any charges against Mr. Dearinger in the death of Mr. Hollis.
I also evaluated whether Mr. Dearinger was criminally responsible for putting the individual in Mr. Hollis’s front passenger seat in harm’s way. Again, Tennessee law is clear on this issue. Unless there is injury to an innocent third party (in this case Mr. Hollis’s passenger), no charges can be brought against someone properly acting in self-defense for any crimes against that innocent bystander. (See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-604.) Because the passenger was not injured, I am again legally, ethically and morally prohibited from bringing any charges against Mr. Dearinger as it relates to the risk of harm that his conduct placed the innocent bystander.
Because of the reasons stated herein, no charges will be brought against Mr. Dearinger for the shooting that resulted in the death of Mr. Hollis. I do not make this decision lightly. I have taken the time to ensure that a full investigation was performed and personally met with everyone involved with the investigation. I have spoken with Mr. Hollis’s family on multiple occasions. Understandably, they are in terrible pain and are deeply disappointed that Mr. Dearinger cannot be criminally charged. I grieve for the loss of Mr. Hollis’s life and the pain that has caused his family, friends and others in this community. I ask for your prayers for them and to continue to respect their privacy as they deal with this difficult situation.