Around 3 a.m. one Saturday morning last month, Gerald Melton was trying to sleep — as he often did — on a sidewalk near Nashville’s Music Row, known as the heart of the city’s entertainment industry.
But the 54-year-old homeless man was “disturbed” by the smell of exhaust fumes and the sound of loud music emanating from a white Porsche SUV nearby, Nashville metro police said in a news release. He asked the driver to move the Porsche, prompting a shouting match between the two. At some point, Melton walked back to the area where he had been trying to sleep, he told police.
Then, the driver, a 26-year-old woman named Katie Quackenbush, allegedly stepped out of the Porsche and fired two gunshots at Melton, hitting him in the stomach, police said. She then got back in her SUV and fled the area.
On Monday, Quackenbush, an aspiring singer and songwriter, was charged with attempted murder in connection with the Aug. 26 shooting. She was booked into jail and released after posting a $25,000 bond. Melton was critically wounded and remains hospitalized at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, police said.
The news of Quackenbush’s arrest stirred outrage on social media and from advocates of the homeless. It’s also not her first time arrested in connection to a violent incident. In December, Quackenbush was charged with misdemeanor assault after striking a woman in the head with a drinking glass, according to records cited by the Tennessean. The case is still pending.
Almost four years ago, she was arrested on a misdemeanor domestic assault charge after hitting another woman. The charge was later dropped.
Her father, Jesse Quackenbush, a well-known defense attorney in Amarillo, Tex., spoke out against the allegations and provided a very different account of how the Aug. 26 events unfolded. In a statement to WTVF, he said his daughter was “actually acting in self defense.”
Jesse Quackenbush said in the statement that his daughter had been in her vehicle with another woman when Melton began “verbally accosting them.”
“The man was always on his feet and not asleep” as police had said, the father contended.
He told NewsChannel 5 that the homeless man banged on the car windows, screaming profanities and threatening to kill them unless she turned the music down.
His daughter told him, “I have a gun. Stay away from me,” Jesse Quackenbush said.
She then shot one “warning shot,” intended to scare him away, the father said in his written statement to WTVF. When he “kept coming,” she fired another shot.
After the second shot, “he still kept coming forward, she jumped in the driver side and sped away because she was afraid for her life,” Quackenbush told NewsChannel5.
“She’s a victim in this more so than Mr. Melton,” he said. “If anything he’s the one that should’ve stayed laying down on the ground and stayed away from young women that night.”
Speaking to the Tennessean, Quackenbush said his daughter “closed her eyes when she shot both times.” She said she did not know that the man was hit by the gunfire.
“She didn’t try and kill this guy,” Quackenbush told the Tennessean.
Katie Quackenbush’s defense attorney, Peter Strianse, told the newspaper, “She was dealing with somebody that came out of an extremely dark street in the early morning hours who comes out of nowhere and is banging violently on the car window.”
“Somebody who appears to be either deranged, somebody who may be on some sort of drug, who seems completely unhinged, and that’s why she reacted the way that she did,” he added.
Both Katie Quackenbush and the other woman in the Porsche contacted the district attorney’s office “shortly” after the encounter, and both “always agreed to cooperate fully with the investigation,” Jesse Quackenbush said in his written statement to WTVF.
However, Nashville police spokesman Don Aaron told the Tennessean that neither Quackenbush nor the woman with her initially reported the incident to police. Another person who found Melton wounded called authorities for help. The police department didn’t hear anything from Quackenbush until her attorney reached out to the prosecutor’s office at the start of the following week.
“There’s no doubt that there was an argument and yelling between both parties,” Aaron said. But police have no information that Quackenbush was blocked or prevented from leaving in her car.
Jesse Quackenbush was formerly a film and television writer, director and producer, according to his website. He now specializes in litigating auto accidents, medical malpractice and criminal defense cases.
A quote at the top of his website reads: “My career-long goal has been to treat every client as though they were a member of my own family.”
Katie Quackenbush appears to have released a number of songs on YouTube and iTunes under the name Katie Layne.
“Katie Layne Music” on YouTube describes her as an “American Blues, Rock and Roll vocalist.”
In one music video, titled “Outlaw Love,” she is featured jumping a fence and running away from a law enforcement officer as he aims a gun at her.
“I’m definitely a sinner, I’ve never been a saint,” she sings in one part of the song.
Lindsey Krinks, who works in homeless outreach and co-founded a nonprofit called Open Table Nashville, spoke about the allegations with NewsChannel 5.
“There’s a big power imbalance between the players in this situation,” Krinks said. “There is an excessive use of force in violence with the gun, so anytime there is an excessive use of force, people who abuse their power need to be held accountable.”
Little is known about Gerald Melton. But according to local station WSMV, he is a skilled guitarist and singer.
Sharon Corbitt-House, who manages a number of big-name artists on Music Row, told the station that Melton used to live in the parking lot behind her building for about a year. “I had no clue that he was as talented as he was,” she said.
Once hearing him perform, she launched a crowdfunding page to help Melton move into temporary housing. Not long after, though, he was back living on the streets of Music Row, she told WSMV.
She said while she never noticed him to be a volatile person, she had heard a couple of people describe times in which he raised his voice or become angry.
WSMV broadcast a video from December 2016 that captured Melton singing and playing guitar. He apparently also goes by the first name “Doug.”
That video appears to still be available on YouTube. In it, the bald, white-bearded man is seen strumming an acoustic guitar and singing the song, “Does He Love You Enough.”
More from Morning Mix: