Crime

Two of 3 teens shot by Columbus officer in 2016 chase were on a ‘drug binge,’ records say

Two of the three teenagers a Columbus police officer shot in 2016, killing one after a 15-mile car chase that topped out at 107 mph, were on a “drug binge” that combined marijuana, cocaine, Xanax and a drugstore cold medicine, say court filings in three federal lawsuits alleging the officer used excessive force.

The revelations are based on depositions in lawsuits filed by Hunter Tillis, Hannah Wuenschel and Nancy Sorrells. Sorrells is the grandmother of Christian Redwine, 17, the fleeing driver then-Officer Allan Brown Jr. shot dead Nov. 6, 2016.

Wuenschel and Tillis, both 19 at the time, were passengers in a Pontiac G-6 that Redwine stole from Sorrells’ Cherokee Avenue home that night. Wuenschel is not alleged to have joined Tillis and Redwine on a weekend drug spree.

The city is asking U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land to rule in its favor on the suits, which Land last year consolidated into a single case. Attorneys filed additional documents this week as they seek what’s called “summary judgment.”

Meanwhile Tillis, who in 2017 was sentenced to 12 years’ probation on burglary, arson and other charges unrelated to Redwine’s death, has been arrested again, allegedly for threatening to shoot up a restaurant in September. That means his probation may be revoked, leaving to him sue the city from prison.

Christian Redwine
Christian Redwine Photo from the Muscogee County Jail

The plaintiffs’ attorneys dispute the city’s claims that cousins Tillis and Redwine were on a “drug binge,” arguing toxicology reports from Redwine’s autopsy don’t support such allegations, and they are irrelevant to the issues raised in the lawsuit.

The cousins’ heavy drug use is alleged in the city’s “statement of material facts” recounting events leading to the chase and fatal shooting.

According to that statement, which is based on depositions, 911 recordings and other material, this is what happened:

‘Triple C’s’

Redwine, who had lived with Sorrells since he was five months old, was at the 3311 Cherokee Ave. home he and Sorrells shared with Fred Levins when Tillis came by on Nov. 4, 2016. They walked to the Hilton Avenue CVS store to buy what’s called “triple Cs,” a cold medication that when taken in excess would cause them to “trip.”

They bought two boxes totaling 32 pills, smoked some marijuana when they got back to Sorrells’ home, and that night started taking the medication. Tillis swallowed 16 pills.

Afterward they each ate four bars of Xanax, some of which Redwine snorted. Tillis said he knew the Xanax would “carry him” for two days.

A single Xanax bar contains 2 milligrams of the relaxation drug used to treat anxiety.

The next morning, a Saturday, they took the rest of the cold medicine. Tillis told Redwine the additional pills so intensified his high that he needed sleep. Redwine called a friend to bring them some cocaine, which he told Tillis would “clear it up.”

After each did a line of cocaine, they smoked more marijuana.

At dusk, Wuenschel came by, intending to pick up her infant son, whom Redwine’s girlfriend was babysitting. But the girlfriend and Redwine had an argument that day, and the girlfriend had left with the baby.

Sorrells later drove the teens to a home on Third Avenue, where Wuenschel got her son and brought him back to Sorrells’ house. She put the child to bed and smoked marijuana with Tillis and Redwine, the city’s attorneys say.

Levins, who treated Redwine like a grandson, sold cars from the Cherokee Avenue residence. The Pontiac was among them. Levins went to bed about 11 p.m., and awoke about 1 a.m. to see the car was gone, as were Redwine, Tillis and Wuenschel, who left her child behind.

Redwine had no driver’s license, and no permission to take the Pontiac.

At 3:30 a.m., Levins called 911 to report the Pontiac stolen, but did not say who took it. When called back eight minutes later, he identified the three teens, but that information was never conveyed to the officers involved in the chase.

The pursuit

The teens were on Gentian Boulevard when Redwine stopped at a shopping plaza, turned off his headlights, and tried to call his girlfriend.

He’d chosen an area rife with business break-ins. At 4:25 a.m., police Capt. Bill Turner, driving an unmarked Chevrolet Impala, saw the Pontiac and followed when Redwine pulled away.

Tillis told Redwine police were behind him. When Redwine confirmed an officer was tailing him, he raced away to the neighborhood around Hardaway High School, speeding so recklessly he had to use the emergency brake to turn.

The 911 center informed officers the Pontiac was reported stolen.

Tillis and Wuenschel later said Redwine was desperate to escape because he’d just been released from jail and swore he would not go back.

Redwine led police down Talbotton Road to Veterans Parkway and briefly lost them near Ashley Station Apartments. He stopped there and told Tillis and Wuenschel to get out if they wanted. Both refused, and police soon were back on Redwine’s tail as he headed into downtown toward the 13th Street Bridge to Phenix City.

Brown was at the Public Safety Center on 10th Street when he heard the chase was close by. He joined it, and was the lead police car when Redwine crossed into Alabama, speeding up to 98 mph as he headed west to U.S. 280 and turned back toward Columbus on the J.R. Allen Parkway.

Officer First Class Allan Brown.jpg
Former Officer 1st Class Allan Brown Photo from the Columbus Police Department

The Pontiac hit 107 mph before Redwine abruptly exited onto Riverchase Drive and ran off the road into bushes in a front yard, with Brown right behind him.

Brown thought the Pontiac was wrecked and the driver would run away, so he quickly got out, anticipating a foot chase.

Brown drew his .45-caliber semi-automatic. Redwine looked at Wuenschel and said, “It’s them or me,” though she pleaded with him to give up.

“Nah, f—k that,” Redwine said. “You can either jump out or stay the f—k in the car.”

He shifted to reverse. Brown said he saw the white reverse lights come on, and believing Redwine would run him over, started shooting, firing 11 shots in three seconds as the Pontiac passed by.

Having emptied the gun, he put in a fresh clip.

Hannah Lynn Wuenschel

Two of the first shots killed Redwine as the Pontiac backed across the road. Brown said he was blinded by the headlights, and believed the driver would try to run him over again. He fired 10 more shots, leaving Redwine with multiple wounds.

Wuenschel was wounded in the first barrage, and Tillis was hit in the second. Both were hospitalized and arrested upon their release.

But the charges against Wuenschel and Tillis later were dismissed or dropped, clearing Wuenschel and leaving Tillis to face allegations only in earlier cases.

Brown resigned from the police force in May 2017. A Russell County grand jury reviewing the evidence cleared him of any wrongdoing in the shooting.

On Oct. 26, 2017, Tillis pleaded guilty to first-degree arson and second-degree burglary in connection with an April 21, 2016, break-in at 4332 Rosemont Drive, a building belonging to the Muscogee County School District. He pleaded guilty also to theft by receiving stolen property, second-degree criminal damage and simple battery stemming from two other incidents.

Judge Gil McBride sentenced him to 12 years probation.

In November 2018, Tillis, Sorrells and Wuenschel filed their lawsuits in U.S. District Court, claiming Brown violated the teens’ constitutional rights under both state and federal law. Judge Land consolidated the cases on Dec. 11, and in January set up a schedule for taking depositions and gathering other evidence.

Besides Wuenschel and Tillis, more than 20 witnesses were expected to be deposed, many of them police officers.

New charges

Now Tillis is in jail again.

During testimony Friday in Columbus Recorder’s Court, police Cpl. William Thornton said witnesses reported that around 5 p.m. Sept. 25, Tillis wore a gun into O’Charley’s Restaurant & Bar, 1528 Bradley Park Drive, looking for a woman who worked there, and threatening to “air the b---h out.”

Hunter Tillis 2019.jpg
Hunter Tillis, the cousin wounded the night a Columbus police officer fatally shot Christian Redwine, was arrested Oct. 10 for threatening to shoot up a local restaurant, authorities said. Muscogee County Sheriff's Office

Coworkers, who’d noticed the woman was bruised from a beating two days before, told her to hide in the back as they confronted Tillis, who threatened to shoot up the business and its patrons, Thornton said. Tillis left before officers arrived, the corporal said.

Tillis, now 22, was arrested Oct. 10 at his Chalfonte Drive home. In court Friday he faced charges of battery with physical harm, being a convicted felon with a firearm, and three counts of making terroristic threats. Judge Julius Hunter found probable cause to send the case to Muscogee Superior Court, noting Tillis also was being held for violating probation.

His attorney, Stacey Jackson, said Tillis also has prior offenses in Harris County. When Tillis returns to Superior Court, the judge has the authority to impose the maximum penalties for the offenses on which he already has been convicted.

Meanwhile attorneys in the federal lawsuits await Land’s ruling on the city’s motion for summary judgment, for which the judge has scheduled oral arguments for 10 a.m. Nov. 6 in his Columbus courtroom.

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Tim Chitwood is from Seale, Ala., and started as a police beat reporter with the Ledger-Enquirer in 1982. He since has covered Columbus’ serial killings and other homicides, following some from the scene of the crime to trial verdicts and ensuing appeals. He also has been a Ledger-Enquirer humor columnist since 1987. He’s a graduate of Auburn University, and started out working for the weekly Phenix Citizen in Phenix City, Ala.
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