Nashville police chief has spent a career mentoring youths but couldn’t keep his son from trouble

Nashville Police Chief John Drake has spent much of his career trying to steer young people away from crime. Inspired by mentors who helped him as a young man, Drake has tried to pay it forward.

But sadly, he was unable to keep his own son out of trouble.

John C. Drake Jr., 38, stands accused of shooting two police officers outside of a Dollar General store in the nearby city of La Vergne on Saturday afternoon. He was still the subject of a manhunt on Monday, and police said they consider him to be armed and dangerous.

Officers Ashely Boleyjack and Gregory Kern were investigating a stolen vehicle outside the store when they struggled with the suspect, who pulled a handgun and shot them, said La Vergne Police Chief Christopher Moews. Both officers were treated and released from Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Chief Drake issued a statement Saturday confirming his son was the suspect in the shooting. Drake said he was estranged from his son and had only minimal contact with him for many years. The younger Drake is a convicted felon who “resorted to years of criminal activity,” he said.

“He now needs to be found and held accountable for his actions,” Drake said in the statement.

The elder Drake grew up in a working class area of Nashville where he credits several mentors, including coaches and a neighbor, with helping him become a success. In a video made by the police department where he speaks about his early life, Drake said that as a young man he “could have gone either way. I walked to school with three other kids … and all three wound up going to prison.”

The experience with those early role models “led me to want to help other people, too,” he said.

Drake has been particularly interested in using the police force as a vehicle for keeping young people out of trouble. As an officer, he worked for 15 years with the Police Athletic League “helping kids, building kids, building their relationships. Working on some of their environmental factors by having coaches as mentors,” he said in 2020 during an interview for the job of police chief. Some of those kids today are playing pro sports or working as teachers and principals, he said.

Drake, who was already interim chief at the time, said he abolished the so-called “flex teams” that worked as crime suppression units and utilized tactics like stopping people for minor traffic infractions.

“I wanted to get away from the warrior mentality, to the guardian,” he said. “We are here to help you. We want to have movie night with you. We want to have ice cream day. We want to tutor you and get to know your family.”

Drake told his officers to walk the communities and get to know people. He wanted them “getting in those neighborhoods — walking, talking, playing basketball,” he said. “Also look at tutoring kids. How do we impact them at an early stage?”

The chief did not immediately respond to a request for an interview by The Associated Press.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said in a social media post on Saturday that a statewide alert had been issued for John C. Drake Jr., who is wanted on two counts of attempted first-degree murder. Anne Smith, a spokesperson for the city of La Vergne, said about a dozen law enforcement agencies are involved in the search.

Nashville Mayor Freddie O’Connell issued a statement in support of the police chief.

“My heart goes out to Chief Drake, his family, and the two wounded LaVergne police officers. I know that despite our best efforts — including in their early years — we can’t be responsible for the choices of family members,” O’Connell said. “I support Chief Drake and stand by him at this difficult time. ”


Republished with permission from The Associated Press.

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