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


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — 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. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation put him on its most wanted list with a reward of up to $2,500 for information leading to his arrest.

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. He said his son has not been part of his life for some time.

“Despite my efforts and guidance in the early and teenage years, my son, John Drake Jr., now 38-years-old, resorted to years of criminal activity and is a convicted felon,” Drake said. “He now needs to be found and held accountable for his actions.”

Now, Drake is in a tough spot where the suspect he wants brought to justice is his own son. Drake declined an interview, and authorities have not said how he might use his intimate knowledge about his son to help find him.

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. Earlier this year, Drake was the law enforcement official in front of cameras informing the public about how three young elementary school students and three adults were shot dead at The Covenant School.

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,” he said, “and all three wound up going to prison.”

The experience with his 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.

As chief, Drake brought the program back, this time as the Police Activities League, in recognition that not all kids want to play sports. Although still in its infancy, the league held a day camp for kids over fall break. It is also developing boxing, basketball, tutoring and mentoring programs and recruiting students for a Cops & Kids Chorus, according to police spokesperson Kristin Mumford.

Drake, who was already interim chief at the time of the 2020 interview, 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?”

Drake Jr. pleaded guilty to felonies for a 2008 aggravated rape and a 2017 aggravated assault, court records show. He has faced a variety of criminal charges over a span of more than 17 years, with a mix of convictions and dismissals.

In the aggravated rape case, Drake Jr. was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2009 and was released in 2015 to community supervision for life, said Tennessee Department of Correction spokesperson Dorinda Carter. The aggravated assault case resulted in a six-year sentence in 2018, a split confinement in which a judge ordered him to serve a year in jail and the rest of the sentence on probation, Carter said.

According to an arrest affidavit in the 2017 aggravated assault, Drake Jr. attacked his then-girlfriend while the child they had together was in the car with them. The woman told police he choked her until she lost consciousness and later hit her when she awoke in the street and tried to defend herself. Two weeks later, an officer had to chase down Drake Jr. as he fled his arrest on the outstanding aggravated assault warrant, an affidavit shows.

In 2007, an arrest affidavit says Drake Jr. broke into his mother’s house, moving around items before he was discovered and fled. Drake Jr. pleaded guilty to aggravated criminal trespass, a misdemeanor.

Three attorneys who represented Drake Jr. in previous criminal cases did not respond to requests for comment.

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 La Vergne 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. ”

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