The officers were serving a warrant for probation violation when they were shot before dawn, said Steve Strain, an assistant district attorney general. A Grundy County sheriff's deputy was killed and a Monteagle police officer suffered injuries that weren't life-threatening.
The suspect, 29-year-old Kermit Bryson, was considered armed and dangerous. Authorities believe he is on foot around Monteagle, a town of 1,200 people along Interstate 24 about 35 miles northwest of Chattanooga.
"I think people need to be concerned," Strain said. "He shot a police officer and shot at another police officer."
Bryson was described as a white man, 5 feet 7 inches tall and 130 pounds, with green eyes and several tattoos. His criminal record includes convictions for theft, burglary and a jail escape in 2001.
The officers' identities were not released.
Bryson's former mother-in-law, Marcia Crowe, said she was surprised to learn he was wanted in a slaying. Bryson was married to her daughter for about a year before they divorced several years ago.
"I saw it on TV and I just couldn't believe it," Crowe, a 57-year-old from Dayton, said in a phone interview. "I expected him to steal, do dope and stuff like that, but I never thought he would kill someone."
Crowe said her daughter and Bryson have a 10-year-old daughter.
"He was kind and sweet to his child," she said.
Federal agents and local SWAT teams were on the scene Thursday morning with tracking dogs and helicopters. Officers wore bulletproof vests and carried rifles.
The area where police are searching is rugged, mountainous terrain at the southern end of the Cumberland Plateau.
Probation officials said the warrant the officers were trying to serve was issued because Bryson failed drug screens and violated curfew while on probation for a 2007 felony marijuana possession charge.
Strain said authorities often serve arrest warrants early in the morning because they expect suspects to be asleep.
Bryson was enrolled in a community corrections program, which the probation officials described as more intensive than state probation and required him to meet with his probation officer twice a month.