KPD announces findings following Austin-East officer-involved shooting investigation
The shooting resulted in the death of 17-year-old Anthony Thompson, Jr.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Knoxville Police Department Chief Paul Noel, along with Mayor Indya Kincannon, released the findings Wednesday of an internal investigation into an officer-involved shooting that happened at Austin-East Magnet High School last year.
The shooting happened in April when four officers, Johnathan Clabough, Stan Cash, Brian Baldwin and Adam Willson, responded to a reported armed student. While inside the school, officers located Anthony Thompson, Jr., a 17-year-old student, inside a school restroom. Inside, a struggle unfolded that ended in Thompson’s gun firing, according to a report from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
Of the responding officers, Adam Willson, was reportedly injured, but TBI officials confirmed that the bullet that struck Officer Willson was not fired from Thompson, Jr.’s gun. Thompson, Jr. was killed during the incident. The bullets that struck both Willson and Thompson, Jr. came from Clabough’s gun, according to District Attorney Charme Allen.
At the time, Allen said no charges would be filed against any of the officers involved in the shooting.
Rather than focusing on criminal charges, KPD’s internal investigation centered on violations of KPD procedures, Kincannon said at Wednesday’s press event.
“The findings of our investigation in no way diminish how deeply saddened we are about what happened,” Noel opened with at the event. “Rest assured I am committed and the Knoxville Police Department is committed to repairing those relationships.”
Noel said the investigation concluded that all four officers’ use of force acted within policy during the incident, saying the only breach of policy happened when one officer failed to turn on his body camera. Willson, the officer who did not turn on his body camera, was reprimanded, Noel said. However, Noel also said that he felt that the three perspectives that were able to capture the event were enough to draw conclusions about the incident.
“I feel that the officers handled the chaotic situation as best as they could that day,” Noel said.
According to Noel, crisis negotiators were not used that day because officers were not sure that Thompson, Jr. was armed when they entered the school; they instead were trying to reach the student about another incident. Noel also said the officers were not sure at the time where Thompson, Jr. was.
When asked why officers did not pivot to a crisis de-escalation process once they located Thompson, Jr., Noel said that the officers had received de-escalation training, but the situation developed too fast for them to react any other way than they did.
“In this case, there was no time to implement any de-escalation techniques,” Noel said.
Noel also mentioned that the officers were able to restrain another student in the bathroom, which he claimed showed their restraint.
Chanada Robinson, Jr’s mother is currently suing KPD, the four officers involved and the Knox County Board of Education over the incident. In the suit, she claimed that the school board and the department ignored policies about how and when law enforcement officers engage with students inside schools. The suit also alleged that Knox County Schools and the Knoxville Police Department did not provide officers or school administrators the training needed to follow those policies. It also aimed blame at individual law enforcement officers and school administrators who were involved the day of the shooting.
Robinson’s attorney, Margret Held, released a statement following the release of the findings.
In the report, Cash is stated saying “A lot of things... the narrative in the media had been that... these officers are killing this Black kid... officers are killing Black children.” The report also stated that Cash washed his hands rather than address Thompson, Jr.’s wounds. Cash claimed in the report that he was trying to avoid bloodborne pathogens and that he was not equipped to handle first aid in that situation.
KPD will be instituting another policy to avoid situations like this in the future, Noel said, in the form of the Use of Force Review Board. The board will act as another way for officials to review officers’ use of force after-the-fact, acting as quality control for the actions of officers.
When it is instated, reviews from the board will help the department plan for training or policy changes, Noel said, rather than act as a disciplinary body. The chief told WVLT News that the decision to create the board did not stem directly from the Austin-East instance, but was instead something he planned on instituting anyway.
The board will be chaired by Assistant Chief Fortner and be made up of several other members of the department, Noel said.
“I am very hopeful that the community is going to rally around our officers. This was absolutely a tragedy, but this is an opportunity to heal. Our community has to move forward and work extra hard to heal,” Noel said.
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