KPD in-custody death: Community members, family want answers

A spokesperson with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said Robert Nathan Bailey died while in the Knoxville Police Department’s custody.
Published: Jan. 9, 2022 at 11:03 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 15, 2022 at 3:52 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - The community and family members of a man who died while in the custody of the Knoxville Police Department requested to see body camera footage of the incident.

KPD officers pulled over 41-year-old Robert Bailey, in the area of Linden Avenue and Cherry Street in the early morning of Jan. 6. He was transported to the Roger D. Wilson Detention Facility and became unresponsive while in the van.

According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, officers rendered aid until paramedics arrived. The police report stated that the medical emergency was a “possible overdose.” He later died after being transported to the University of Tennessee Medical Center, according to KPD Spokesperson Erland said.

The family’s attorney released a statement that said they wanted answers and more transparency within the case.

“It has been over a week since our beloved Robert Nathan died in police custody and we have no idea what happened or even his cause of death; no one with that information will tell us,” the statement said.

The family’s attorney said that there were 12 minutes of additional footage of the arrest that they believed should be available for them to watch, but District Attorney General Charme Allen had it sealed.

“On Thursday, the City Attorney’s Office told our attorney that there was twelve minutes of additional video that we should have been allowed to watch, but that since viewing the partial video Thursday morning DA Allen went and obtained an order to keep everything about the case secret and that we would no longer be permitted to see the additional footage,” the statement said. The family also said that DA Allen did not contact them or their attorney to explain the reasoning behind the actions taken.

DA Allen said that their office had no intention of withholding information from the family.

“Ethical rules prohibit the District Attorney’s Office from commenting on pending investigations. This prohibition also restricts the release of evidence to the public while the investigation is ongoing. My office is not prohibited from sharing information with the Bailey family and has no intention of withholding anything from the family at this time or ever,” DA Allen said in a statement. “My office has been in contact with the family through their attorney. Mr. Bailey and his family deserve a thorough and impartial investigation. That is why the TBI is investigating the case. The Court’s Order prohibits the Mayor of Knoxville and other officials, whose employees are potential subjects of the investigation, from releasing information publicly that could affect the integrity of the investigation. The information will be released to the public at the appropriate time.”

The KPD bodycam and in-car video were originally supposed to be released to the public following the viewing from family, however, late Thursday afternoon, a Knoxville City spokesperson said a judge restricted the city from releasing it.

“The City planned to publicly release the footage Friday. However, shortly after the family reviewed nearly one and half hours of video, the City received an order from the Criminal Court for Knox County, signed by Judge Steven W. Sword, prohibiting disclosure of the footage, until further action by the court,” Kristin Farley, director of communications, said.

The preliminary investigation indicates that foul play was not involved.

“His body has been sent for an autopsy,” said TBI Spokesperson Leslie Earhart. “Preliminary information indicates that foul play was not involved.”

Family member Ronota Thomas said that Bailey has three children; two teen sons and one 20-year-old daughter who attends ETSU.

The investigation is ongoing.

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