MEMPHIS, Tenn. — It was a tragedy that changed the face of Memphis Police procedures.
Thirty-three years ago a deadly police stand-off etched a place in Memphis history books.
The Shannon Street massacre is still talked about today, and now a Memphis filmmaker hopes it can help heal some of the issues Memphis still faces 33 years later.
Time passes. Scenery changes. Memories fade.
Or do they?
“That’s what haunts me. I didn’t get him out. That is something I must live with,” said retired Memphis Police Officer Russ Aiken.
What happened 33 years ago on Shannon Street in Memphis still seems to shout out from the grave.
A Memphis Police Officer`s pleas for help as he was tortured.
“I am inside the house being held hostage. Stay away from the house. They are holding me hostage. I repeat. Stay away from the house,” the officer could be heard saying on his police radio from the house where he was held hostage.
His captors were moments away from dying too.
If you don’t remember what happened that January day 1983 you’ve likely heard about it.
“If I had questions about this, I think other people had questions,” said Memphis filmmaker Marie Pizano.
The stories compelled her to dig deeper.
“It really intrigued me to find out what really did happen here,” she said.
For two years, she researched reports, reached out to many who have since turned in their badges and quilted together ‘Shannon Street: Echoes Under a Blood Red Moon.’
“I wanted everyone to have a voice. I felt like I had a responsibility for some reason,” said Pizano.
WREG was there as present and retired police officers got their first look at the finished film based in part on former Police Officer James Howell`s book ‘Echos of Shannon Street’.
It retraces how Officers Bobby Hester and Ray Schwill were checking out a call about a purse snatching when they rolled up to 2239 Shannon Street.
What transpired over the next 30 hours was pure mayhem.
“Officer in the house. Need officers at 2939 Shannon…pinned down..need more cars on the scene,” came the call from police dispatchers.
The homeowner was Lindberg Sanders, described by police as a mentally ill, religious zealot who hated police.
“Lindburg didn’t like police. He didn’t care whether you were white or black. Police were the devil. I mean the devil,” said author and former Police Officer James Howell in the film.
Lindberg Sander’s family told a different story.
They maintain it was the attitude of Police Officer Ray Schwill when they went into the Sanders’ house that started everything.
“He was the one that started the fight. He went in there pushing my father,” said Luncinda Sanders, Sanders’ daughter.
“He probably got the call and I know one of the officers. Ray Schwill used to mimic blacks. ‘Yo man. What it be man? What it be’…not realizing you are dealing with a –ing idiot in there,” said former Police Officer and Shannon Street Police negotiator Stanley Shotwell in the film.
Schwill would get out of the house alive.
His partner Bobby Hester never did.
“As I walked in the door they shot him. As I went forward they shot him again,” said Russ Aiken, the first patrolman to go in and attempt to rescue Officer Bobby Hester.
“I saw a police officer’s legs from the waist down, saw his pants. So I knew he was a police officer. So that’s when the shooting started,” said Aiken in the film.
The film also delves into the how the massacre ended, with police storming the house killing all 7 captors inside.
“Sweep team came in. That’s when the shots started ringing out. Sweep team came in and we heard automatic gunfire. We started hearing double pops. We heard pop, pop, pop, pop, pop. That was it,” reflected another negotiator during the documentary.
It also raised questions.
“People felt that everyone in that house didn’t decide to kill that officer. As a result, some people just being in the wrong place shouldn’t have been shot. All 6 of them were. All of them in the home including Sanders,” said Memphis Attorney Walter Bailey who was also a part of the documentary.
The Sanders family had questions the night of the tragedy, as they were kept at bay in a school across the street.
“I wondered why they never let his kids talk to him. We asked to talk to him while we were in that school. They said it would upset him,” said Linda Sanders, Sanders’ daughter.
They believe the others in the house were lined up and killed by police.
The Sanders agreed to take part in the documentary, to get out the truth about their father, who encouraged the young man police were looking for to call the police department and let them know he was not the purse snatcher they were looking for.
“I just want the people of Memphis to know my father was not a mad man. He was a genuine person and he called police there just for peace,” said Luncinda Sanders.
WREG talked to the family after they saw the final version of the documentary.
“I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it. There was so much speculation going on in there. So many stories people thought they knew. They made assumptions,” said Dana Sanders, Sanders’ granddaughter.
“The police trying to cover up. A cover up. A simple cover up. They tried to make him look like a mad man, which he wasn’t,” added Lucinda Sanders.
Sander’s granddaughter was only 6-years-old when the tragedy happened in the home where she also lived.
She was one of the last family members to speak with him by phone just as things started.
“I was like ‘are you okay? I saw the house on TV.’ He said ‘yeah. Go fix you a sandwich. I will be to get you in a little while,'” said the granddaughter who is also named Lucinda.
She never saw her grand dad again.
The family admitted Sanders spent time in a mental facility and they claim police who took him there beat him, but they say what started the tragic turn on Shannon Street and brought on the attack on Hester was when police positioned outside the house began shooting through a window early on and killed Sanders’ son.
“She (a police officer outside) went and shot my brother. How would you feel if your son was laying in the house with you all those hours dead,” said daughter Lucinda Sanders.
WREG was in the theater as police officers and retired officers got their first look at the finished film.
Many still have questions about how the stand-off turned political.
“During hostage negotiations you try not to have your higher up command on the scene. They had the Mayor all the way down out there next door to the situation. That was a no-no,” said hostage negotiator Stanley Shotwell. ” It started taking on a tenor of some type of social affair.”
Instead of going in officers pulled back.
“Have an officer being held inside the house. Get all cars off Shannon Street,” said a voice on the police radio.
“As soon as the hostage was being threatened, was being injured negotiations stop. TACT Unit immediately goes in. They didn’t do that in this case. It wasn’t the negotiator’s fault. Somebody made that decision for whatever reason,” said retired Memphis Police Sergeant Tim Helldorfer in the documentary.
Shannon Street changed Memphis and Memphis Police.
“Times have changed. Back then it was negotiate. Contain. But there is no negotiations if hostages are being injured. Now you go,” said former Police Director Larry Godwin, who was new to the TACT Squad when Shannon Street happened.
He saw what it produced.
“We started the change after that. We started different training tactics. We started working with negotiations. We started doing things a little differently. What can we do differently? What can we do better? ” said Godwin.
It led to Crisis Intervention Training.
Now officers know how to de-escalate situations especially involving the mentally ill.
“Thirty years ago things were totally different than today. People have a totally different attitude toward police,” said Russ Aiken.
Or do they?
With more cases of police shootings, calls of Black Lives Matter and pushes across the country for body cameras, many say some of the same issues in 1983 exist today.
“I can still to this day see remnants of some of the problems that occurred back then. I see the remnants today in law enforcement and they way law enforcement deals with the public,” said retired Police Officer Stanley Shotwell.
So can looking back help with going forward?
“My entire career that’s what I heard about, what happened on Shannon Street,” said Interim Memphis Police Director Mike Rallings, after seeing the documentary. “It makes me try to think and say okay what do we have to do more and bridge the gap with this community so we all understand where each other is coming from?”
“I see things that happen now through the news…black lives matter. All lives matter,” said Aiken.
One film director hopes ‘Echoes of Shannon Street’ can help with the healing.
“I hope it really makes you think how to change. How are we gonna change this society from this point on?” said Pizano.
The documentary ‘Shannon Street: Echoes Under a Blood Red Moon’ is set to be released next month.
A movie is also in pre-production.
Sanders’ family said they hope that in addition to the Police Memorial Fund, part of the proceeds will also go to families who have lost loved ones at the hands of police.