A New Orleans man streamed the moments of his own death at the hands of a Tennessee deputy on Facebook Live.
You can watch the disturbing video streamed by Ronald James Hess above. Be aware that it’s very troubling. You don’t actually see Hess shot in the video, but you hear his screams, and see shattered glass at the end.
Ronald Hess, 36, had blocked traffic on a freeway ramp, and Tennessee authorities say he became “erratic” and tried to strike officers twice with his vehicle. His family says he had mental health issues, was unarmed, and shouldn’t have been shot.
The agency involved was the Crockett County Sheriff’s Department in Alamo, Tennessee. No gun or other such weapon was found, authorities said in a news conference.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Video Hess Streamed Shows Police Surrounding His Car Before Chaos Occurs
“I would like the higher commands to come out,” Hess says repeatedly during the stream as officers surround his vehicle.
The video is still at the top of Hess’ Facebook page:
His screams soon fill the screen, and then chaos occurs on the video, as it randomly shows other things within the car before going still, with shattered glass seen in the background and music and a police radio heard.
Hess also streamed a lengthy video on Facebook a few minutes before the shooting occurred on March 16.
In that video, he appears to be parked along a roadway.
2. Authorities Say Hess Tried to Strike Officers With His Vehicle Before One Fired
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Public Information Officer Josh DeVine held a press conference with the news media, in which he said that the incident started around 2:15 p.m., when Hess “parked his SUV on the off ramp” of a freeway “perpendicular to traffic.”
A Crockett County deputy arrived after drivers were blocked from the ramp and “determined he needed backup.” Additional officers arrived and reported Hess was “refusing officer commands and making multiple erratic statements.”
Hess “appears to have attempted to use his vehicle, his SUV, to strike the officers at least twice. During that exchange, at least one deputy from Crockett County fired through the front windshield of the SUV, striking Hess,” DeVine said in the press conference.
After Hess was shot, he drove his vehicle and crashed over a ravine, DeVine said. There were multiple officers “at risk of injury when this situation escalated,” he said, adding that there were four or five officers involved.
3. Hess’ Family Insists He Wasn’t Breaking the Law & Was a Great Father
Hess’ family tells a different story from authorities.
“March 16, 2017 my nephew Rodney James Hess was gun down by Crockett County police,” wrote one relative on Facebook.
“He didn’t have any weapons he didn’t have any warrants he wasn’t breaking the law yet he was gun down. Dear Lord, please help me to stop trying to figure out this situation and just sit in quiet with you for a while. Take my anxiety and let it be replaced with your peace, wisdom and Security Amen.”
Hess’ fiancee, Johnisha Provost, told The Commercial Appeal 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,” Provost said to the newspaper. “He was not trying to harm anybody. He was asking them for help and they shot him down.”
“Hess suffered from bipolar disorder and she could tell from looking at the videos that he was disoriented and lost,” the Commercial Appeal of Provost, adding that she watched the stream as it unfolded.
4. Hess Was From New Orleans & Attended College in Memphis
According to his Facebook page, Hess studied at the University of Memphis, went to Oak Haven and Kirby High School, and was from New Orleans, Louisiana.
Authorities said that Hess still had a New Orleans address and they weren’t clear why he was in Tennessee, but Provost told the Commercial Appeal that Hess was in Tennessee to visit his mother near Memphis. The Commercial Appeal said he lived in Texas with his fiancee.
The Crockett County Sheriff’s Department’s chaplain wrote on its Facebook page, “As the chaplain for the Crockett County Sheriff’s Department, I humbly ask you to join me in praying for the family of the deceased as well as all officers/dispatchers/first responders/EMS involved in the shooting today. As you can imagine, this is a very difficult time for all involved. This is an ongoing investigation. The Crockett County Sheriff’s Department is fully cooperating with the TBI as they continue their investigation into this matter.”
5. The Hess Police Shooting Is Not the First to Be Streamed Over Facebook Live
The Hess shooting is not the first to be streamed over Facebook Live as the relatively new medium revolutionizes public perceptions of police shootings.
Last July, a Minnesota man, Philando Castile, was shot and killed during a traffic stop by a police officer. Castile’s girlfriend streamed video of the immediate aftermath of that shooting live on Facebook, driving national attention to the shooting and outrage. (The photo above is of Hess).
The police officer in that case was charged with manslaughter.