A police shooting that led to the death of a Black woman last week has sparked a larger debate about best practices by law enforcement and who was in the wrong first in the fateful encounter in Nashville.
Nika Holbert crashed her car after Nashville Field Training Officer Josh Baker shot her at close range following a traffic stop on Friday morning. The 31-year-old woman later died from her injuries. Baker is expected to recover. But it was everything else that led to the shooting that was being scrutinized.
Baker initiated a traffic stop in a strip mall parking lot because the car Holbert was driving was registered to a man who has outstanding rug warrants, according to the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department. The rest was captured on Baker’s body camera as well as the camera on the dashboard of his police vehicle.
The footage showed Baker approaching Holbert, who was initially compliant and allowed the officer to search her bag, ultimately turning up a small baggie of marijuana. Baker took it, turned his back on Holbert to walk to his car to secure the bag of marijuana before he returned to the driver, who was standing there waiting for him.
Baker allowed Holbert to use her cellphone and make a call to tell someone she had been pulled over. But it was when Baker went to handcuff Holbert — purportedly after finding an additional small bag of “powder” that is not seen on the video footage — that she resisted and ran away, around her car and then back to the driver’s side, where she entered.
With the door still open, Baker used his Taser to unsuccessfully stop her. That’s when the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department said Holbert reached for a gun, prompting Baker to pull out his firearm and shoot at her from about two feet away. The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department said Holbert also fired a gun and hit Baker in the abdomen with a shot that went under his bulletproof vest.
The camera from Baker’s dashboard showed Holbert throw a gun out of her and drive off before crashing nearby. It was not immediately clear if her deadly injuries were sustained in the crash or from Baker’s gunshots.
The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department released the footage later the same day on Friday. It follows below and is extremely graphic.
While consensus is likely that Holbert should have complied with Baker when he tried to handcuff her, critics on social media suggested there was no need for the traffic stop to have escalated that far.
The Nashville District Attorney’s Office announced last summer that it would no longer prosecute for possession of less than a half-ounce of marijuana. The weed Holbert had on her appeared to be a minuscule amount. Since Holbert was not the person Baker suspected was driving — Baker can even be heard saying on the police radio lamenting that “he’s not in here” — those same social media critics suggested the officer should have let her go with a warning or at most written a ticket and let her go on her way.
Others argued that Baker missed multiple opportunities to adequately and safely detain Holbert instead of allowing her to do as she pleased, such as go in and out of her car on several occasions before the shooting happened.
According to the city of Nashville, drivers “must remain in your vehicles at all times unless told to do otherwise” and cannot “become argumentative.” Both are grounds for handcuffing, but Baker decided against doing so multiple times. The argument is that had Baker restrained her properly and in a timely manner then she never would have been able to flee, let alone enter her car, withstand getting Tasered, reach for a gun and fire it at him.
It didn’t help matters that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation decided to make Holbert’s criminal record public on the same day she died, subliminally suggesting there was a link between the incident and her rap sheet.
Holbert’s family has also reportedly asked the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department to investigate Baker for “using excessive force while making a traffic stop,” pointing to the video footage as proof.
The shooting in Nashville came days after the release of a report finding that most of the instances of deadly police violence in the U.S. last year occurred during a suspected non-violent encounter or cases where no crime was reported — like with Holbert’s case. More than 120 people were killed after an officer stopped them over a traffic violation in 2020.
This story will be updated as additional information becomes available.