Claims that high school student shot at Knoxville police first are untrue

The Knoxville community is demanding the release of body camera footage from the fatal shooting of the 17-year-old student

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On Monday, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation identified Anthony J. Thompson Jr., 17, as the student who was shot and killed by police at Austin-East Magnet High School in Knoxville, TN, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Austin-East Magnet High School in Knoxville, TN via Google Maps Street View

Though police have disclosed a few details regarding the events leading to Thompson’s death, the circumstances remain unclear, and now that police say a bullet from Thompson’s gun did not in fact hit a police officer, contradicting original reports, suspicion and unrest grows in Knoxville.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation released a statement nearly 48 hours after the fatal shooting that said “Preliminary examinations indicate the bullet that struck the KPD officer was not fired from the student’s handgun,” referring to the altercation that preceded the incident.

According to the statement, the police entered the bathroom where a student was inside with a gun, and there was a struggle that resulted in a shot being fired from the student’s gun “followed by law enforcement firing twice.”

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The statement makes neither note of which officer shot the student nor of all parties present in the bathroom when the shooting occurred; however, at the media briefing that occurred the night of the shooting, TBI Director David Rausch said the shot that hit the officer came from the student’s gun, as reported by the Sentinel.

To the frustration of the school community, the TBI, the Knoxville Police Department and the Knox County District Attorney General’s Office have declined to release body camera footage, which is, according to the Sentinel, lawful. The courts in Tennessee allow law enforcement to withhold the investigative records of an ongoing criminal case, including videos.

The Sentinel noted that this exemption doesn’t mean that law enforcement can’t release such videos, but that they don’t have to.

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Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon wrote in a statement on Twitter that she asked Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen to release the footage but that Allen declined. To which she further said, “I will continue to push for transparency and communication as this investigation continues.”

The Sentinel reported that the use of body and cruiser cameras was implemented this spring after Kincannon lobbied for their purchase to establish trust between the police and the community in response to the police shooting Channara “Philly” Pheap in the back in 2019. 

Echoing Kincannon’s call that the body camera footage be released are three of the four officers under investigation in the fateful shooting, Lt. Stanley Cash and officers Brian Baldwin and Jonathon Clabough.

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The law firm of Donald A. Bosch, which is representing the officers, released a statement on Friday that said in, “In the days following this tragic incident, there has been significant confusion over what occurred.” The statement continued, “In an effort to accurately inform the public, all three officers fully support the release of all unedited body camera footage related to this incident.”

“As Mayor Kincannon has publicly expressed, she, along with these officers, agree that the public interest is best served by the immediate release of these videos,” the statement further said.

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