NASHVILLE — Video from a Nashville police officer’s body-worn and dashboard cameras shows the harrowing confrontation in which he and a Black woman shot one another Friday morning in the parking lot of a Dollar General store.
Officer Josh Baker fatally shot Nika Nicole Holbert, 31, around 9:30 a.m. after pulling over the Chevrolet Camaro she was driving. Baker, a 14-year veteran of the department, was critically injured by a gunshot wound to the torso.
The bullet struck Baker under his bulletproof vest, said Don Aaron, public affairs manager for the Nashville Metropolitan Police Department. Baker underwent surgery and was listed in stable condition at Vanderbilt Medical Center over the weekend.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is investigating the officer-involved shooting. Aaron said the Davidson County District Attorney’s Office’s will determine if criminal charges are warranted.
Nashville police officials are also conducting an internal review of Baker’s actions to determine if he followed policy during his interaction with Holbert. According to WSMV, police Chief John Drake told reporters Saturday that he believes Baker did everything he could to de-escalate the situation.
Holbert’s biological mother, who spoke to the news station about the shooting, said her daughter sounded calm when they spoke just before she was killed. Baker’s body camera footage shows Holbert calling the older woman during the traffic stop to tell her she was being detained, and to ask her to come to the scene.
The woman told the news station she did not believe Holbert shot the officer.
“I’m not understanding, how did this turn into a shooting, and all it was is you pulled her over because you looking for the person the car belonged to? That’s my issue,” the woman, whose name was not given, said in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, according to WSMV. “They need to explain it to me. Tell me like I’m a fourth grader, why is my daughter dead?”
On Sunday, Holbert’s aunt and adoptive mother, Lisa Holbert-Gooch, told the Tennessean that Holbert was wrong for pulling a gun on Baker. She questioned, however, whether the officer followed proper traffic stop safety during the incident.
That includes allowing Holbert to walk freely around the parking lot as he searched her purse. Holbert also went back into her car several times to retrieve items like her cellphone and a cigarette lighter.
“She didn’t have to die, and he didn’t have to get shot,” Holbert-Gooch said.
‘We’re getting off on the wrong foot’
Aaron said in a video news release that Baker, a field training officer stationed at the city’s east precinct, pulled into the Dollar General behind Holbert because he recognized the black 2015 Camaro she was driving as one owned by Demond Buchanan, a convicted felon wanted on six drug warrants.
Buchanan was not in the car, and Baker initially radioed that everything was “10-4,” or that the situation was under control.
The officer continued to question Holbert, however, and News Channel 5 in Nashville reported that the uncut body camera footage, which it obtained following the shooting, shows Holbert telling Baker the car is now hers.
The footage released by police Friday was a shorter version of the unedited video. WKRN in Nashville, which also obtained the full video, reported that it shows Holbert admit to the officer that she has marijuana in her purse.
She also told Baker she did not have identification with her, the news station reported.
Baker had to tell Holbert multiple times to stay out of the vehicle as they spoke, the station reported. Ashley Upkins, managing partner of the Cochran Firm’s Nashville office, told WKRN that Holbert made some “very, very bad decisions” in her interactions with the officer, but that the slain woman was obviously scared as things escalated.
Upkins said the footage of Baker, who is white, interacting with Holbert shows no indication that either the stop or the subsequent shooting was racially motivated. She chalked Holbert’s fear up to systemic racism.
“I don’t think anyone can watch that video and not believe that she looked terrified and petrified,” Upkins said.
Watch the body camera and dashcam footage on YouTube below. Editor’s note: The footage contains graphic images.
In the footage made public by police, Baker is heard telling Holbert to stop rifling through her purse, at which point she questions why he stopped her.
“Just bring your bag out here,” Baker told the woman. “Ma’am, stop going through it.”
“What did you take out of it?” he asked as she complied.
“Nothing,” Holbert said, trailing off as she turned back toward the car.
“All right, listen. Just come back here,” the officer said. “I think we’re getting off on the wrong foot.”
“Because I’m really confused on why I’m getting stopped,” Holbert said.
“He’s got several warrants,” Baker said, indicating Buchanan.
“OK, that has nothing to do with me,” she said.
“You don’t know who’s in the car,” Baker said.
“Nobody’s in my car,” she said.
“Well, now I know that,” he said. “However, I’m going to address the other problems.”
“OK, so you want my bag and all my belongings,” Holbert said.
Baker tells her to step to the back of the Camaro, which Holbert does. He informs her that their interaction is being recorded as she asks to use the restroom.
As the officer searches Holbert’s purse, she calls her mother and asks her to come to the scene. As Baker pulls a baggie of marijuana from her bag, Holbert can be heard telling her mother that she had “weed” on her when she was stopped.
Baker secures the marijuana in his patrol car, at which point Holbert grabs her purse off the trunk of the Camaro.
“I’m not done with that,” Baker tells her, and she asks if she can get her cigarette lighter out of the car.
“I’ll get it for you in just a second, OK?” Baker says.
Holbert retrieves the lighter from the car’s interior door handle. Baker, who is continuing the search of her purse, finds a plastic baggie of what Aaron described in the video statement as a white “powder substance.”
When the officer asks Holbert to turn around and attempts to place handcuffs on her wrists, she pulls away, and that’s when things turn violent.
‘I didn’t do nothing!’
“Don’t put me in handcuffs,” Holbert says, a cigarette dangling from her mouth. “I haven’t done anything wrong.”
She grabs her purse from the trunk of the car and begins running around the vehicle as Baker shouts that she’s about to be Tasered. One of her sandals flies off her foot as she runs.
“No! No! No!” Holbert screams as she appears to panic.
As Baker orders her to get down on the ground, Holbert reaches for her keys in her purse and gets back into the car. Cash falls out onto her lap as she struggles to start the car.
Electric current from Baker’s Taser can be heard crackling as he deploys the less-than-lethal weapon from a few feet away. Holbert screams in pain, but the stun gun does not appear to completely immobilize her.
“I didn’t do nothing!” Holbert cries as the officer continues using the Taser. “Help me! Help!”
She stops screaming as Baker moves closer and tugs on her arm, ordering her to step out of the car. He is seen pressing the stun gun directly onto her arm, and Holbert’s body appears to stiffen.
Baker is still holding onto Holbert’s left arm, but her right hand is not visible. Her arm moves slightly, however, as she reaches to her right side, where her purse now sits.
Baker, who once again tells her to step out of the car, suddenly backs away. He simultaneously pulls his handgun.
“Ma’am, put the gun down! Put the gun down!” he screams.
“I didn’t do nothing!” Holbert cries again.
Gunfire rings out.
The driver’s side window of the Camaro shatters as Baker stumbles backward, falling to the pavement and crying out in pain.
“Shots fired! Shots fired!” he radios to dispatchers as he struggles to get up off the ground.
The Camaro’s engine comes to life, and the mortally wounded Holbert backs out of her parking space, the driver’s side door still open. It closes as she drives away.
“Twenty-three, I’m hit,” Baker tells dispatchers. Still on his knees, he cries out in pain again as Holbert drives out of the body camera’s frame.
Holbert’s gun was not readily visible in the body camera footage, but the footage from Baker’s dashboard camera, which recorded the shooting from behind and slightly to the left of the Camaro, captures what seems to be the barrel of the weapon pointed toward the officer for a split second just as the volley of gunshots begins.
The gun either falls from Holbert’s lap or she tosses it to the asphalt as she backs the Camaro away from Baker. In the dashboard footage, blood pours from a wound on her thigh.
Holbert didn’t get far, crashing the Camaro into a ditch about a block away, Aaron said.
“Officers rendered aid for her gunshot wounds until an ambulance arrived,” the spokesman said.
Holbert died later that afternoon at Skyline Medical Center. It was not immediately clear how many times she was shot or where her wounds were.
‘I just wasn’t prepared to watch her die on TV’
TBI officials, in response to multiple local news outlets’ requests, released Holbert’s criminal history on Saturday. Though she had multiple arrests, none of them were for violent crimes.
She had arrests for drug and traffic violations, including driving without a license or on a revoked license, and her most recent charge was a public indecency charge in September 2017.
Holbert-Gooch told the Tennessean that she adopted Holbert and her siblings when Holbert was 8 years old. Holbert, who went by her middle name, Nicole, never seemed to adjust to being removed from her birth home.
Holbert dropped out of high school at 18, after she had already taken her senior portrait. From there, Holbert-Gooch said, things went downhill.
In 2017, Holbert’s brother, David Holbert, was charged with murder in the death of his roommate. He is now serving 25 years in prison, the newspaper reported.
Now, Holbert-Gooch is mourning the tragedy that has befallen another of the children she took into her home.
“I’m not saying Nicole was right,” Holbert-Gooch said. “Nicole was wrong. Totally. She had no business in that situation. But this is the life she chose, and nobody could do anything about that until she decided to change.
“Now when I look at this, there is no opportunity for change. It’s over. I just wasn’t prepared to watch her die on TV.”