How Did Bubba Wallace Jr.’s Cousin Sean Gillispie Die?

Viewers tuning in to watch Netflix’s ‘Race: Bubba Wallace’ will no doubt learn about the gifted driver’s exploits in NASCAR and how he grew into his role as an unlikely but necessary voice against racial injustice. But something that also shaped Bubba’s thinking as a child was the death of his cousin, Sean Gillispie, when Bubba was only nine years old. In the docu-series, Bubba, his mother, and his sister talk about how Sean’s sudden death affected their lives. So, if you’re wondering what happened to the young man, we’ve got you covered.

How Did Sean Gillispie Die?

During the early hours of May 18, 2003, Sean Gillispie was hanging out with a few friends in the parking lot of a convenience store in Knoxville, Tennessee. According to the show, the 19-year-old had gone out to a club before ending up in the parking lot, playing loud music. The store clerk called the authorities while complaining of the noise outside, leading to two officers responding to the call.

When the officers arrived, the parking lot was filled with many vehicles. This prompted them to enter on foot and ask the cars to leave one by one. At the time, Sean had been in the back seat of a car with Frank Mitchell in the driver’s seat. Frank’s cousin, Derek, had come in the same car but was in another vehicle close by at the time of the incident. While the ensuing sequence of events became a point of contention, it ended with one of the officers shooting Sean in the chest, leading to his death.

Who Killed Sean Gillispie?

The two officers that responded to the noise complaint were David Ogle and Jason Keck. David later stated that the car in which Frank and Sean were seated had its windows partially lowered and played loud music. He then went to the side of the vehicle to ask Frank for his license and registration. At this point, David claimed to see a handgun beside Sean in the backseat with his hand rested on it.

David immediately asked Sean to drop the gun and put his hands up. This alerted Jason, who was in the front of the vehicle at the time. Jason commanded Frank to have his hands up, and David was going around the car to remove the handgun from Sean’s vicinity. While Jason admitted he didn’t know where the gun was inside the vehicle, he claimed Sean was moving his hands and later put them up, turning toward him with a 9mm. At this point, Jason stated he feared for his life and hence, he shot Sean in the chest. The teenager later fell out of the car, wounded. Derek, who rushed toward Sean, later testified that he saw a phone in his friend’s hand.

In May 2004, Sean’s mother, Tanya Gillispie, filed a wrongful death suit against the city of Knoxville, alleging negligence. The family contended that Sean was only trying to reach his phone to make a call. However, the judge ultimately ruled in the city’s favor, citing there was no evidence to refute Jason’s testimony and that his use of deadly force was justified. On the show, Bubba’s mother, Desiree, talked about how the family relived the horror every time a black person was killed by the police, something that rang all too true given the events that unfolded in 2020.

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