He pulled "a metal cylindrical object" from his pocket and adopted a firing stance, police say.
Nashville motorists watched in horror on Thursday as a man was shot dead by nine police officers after a standoff in the middle of the freeway.
Shocking video shows the man, identified as Landon Eastep, surrounded by more than a dozen armed officers, as they plead with him to drop the boxcutter he is holding.
In a GoFundMe, the victim's sister-in-law branded the killing a "cold-blooded execution". But police body cam clearly shows Eastep refusing to remove his hand from his pocket, before pulling "a metal cylindrical object" and adopting a firing stance before officers open fire.
The unidentified object was later determined not to be a firearm. Eyewitness footage was posted to social media as well.
The horrific incident began shortly before 2PM on Thursday, when a Tennessee Highway Patrol officer driving along the Interstate 65 spotted 37-year-old Eastep sitting on a guardrail on the shoulder. The Trooper said he stopped and approached him with the intention of giving him a ride off the freeway.
After a brief interaction, he said Eastep pulled out a boxcutter, so he called for back-up. A passing off-duty Mt. Juliet officer saw what was happening and stopped to try help before Metro Nashville Police Department arrived on the scene.
"The Mt. Juliet Officer attempted to de-escalate the situation in dialogue with Eastep for some 30 minutes, as he held the boxcutter in his left hand, and kept his right hand in his pocket," MNPD spokesman Don Aaron said.
Body cam worn by Officer James Kidd hears him plead with Eastep to drop the knife multiple times.
"Landon don't let me go home with this today brother, please," he begs. "I give you my word. My word means something, I keep it. You will not go to jail today. I promise you. Whatever you're worried about, we can fix it."
"This is not the answer, you and I know it. You don't want to hurt me, I know you don't. And I damn sure don't want to hurt you."
Officer Kidd tells him there are children in the cars watching: "Don't give them that show, brother. Please. They're gonna have to live with this too, not just me and you. Please?"
"I got kids to go to, I got a family to go home to. And I was on my way doing that! But my God put me here so I could help you out today. Please brother don't do this."
Eastep appears to say something about the officers' sunglasses, as Kidd removes his to put him at ease, and even confesses he's not wearing a protective vest.
Kidd tells him "if that's a gun" in his pocket, not to worry about it, "we'll fix it. I'm not too worried about that right now, I'm worried about you."
But as another officer's body cam shows, Eastep suddenly pulls an object from his pocket and adopts a firing stance, before nine of the officers immediately open fire.
Eastep died at the scene.
"The metal cylindrical object Eastep pulled from his pocket was not a firearm," Aaron said in a breakdown video published by MNPD. "Nine law enforcement personal fired their weapons after Eastep took a stance as if he had a firearm."
Mt. Juliet Captain Tyler Chandler told The Tennessean that Officer Kidd's family was in a car on the interstate and witnessed the shooting.
"The officer is very upset the family had to see the interaction," Tyler said. "A lot of people on this interstate saw this take place. The man's family, our prayers and thoughts go out to them."
All MNPD officers involved have been placed on administrative duty while the incident is being investigated, as is standard practice.
Eastep's sister-in-law Samantha McGill-Barge told The Daily Beast she didn't know why he was on the highway on Thursday.
"I wasn't aware there was anything wrong," she said. "He loved my sister and my kids very much and, to my knowledge, was a good guy. It's a very unfortunate situation. I'm in shock. I was at home with my kids when I found out."
She said her sister and Eastep had been together four years, and were approaching their one-year wedding anniversary. She added her sister had been in contact with a lawyer, but had no plans to take legal action.
But in a GoFundMe, McGill-Barge said she was seeking justice for her late brother-in-law.
"On January 27th, at approximately 3 pm Landon Eastep was unjustly executed with over 20 shots in very close rage by Metro Nashville officers, and THP," she wrote. "This man had only a box cutter and had already shown it to officers before they killed him in cold blood."
"Landon was sitting on the side of the guard rail, bothering no one when a THP had stopped and tried to talk him into leaving the guardrail and going with him. This man was murdered by several officers."
"He was shot for no good reason at all and he did not deserve to die. He has left behind his wife, and she has no means to financially care for herself during grieving, bury Landon, or even provide any services for her husband. He had no life insurance and no other means of care after life. Please consider donating to help while Justice for Landon is sought after."