Pressure mounts for release of Knoxville shooting video

AP National - World

Law enforcement officers respond to a shooting at Austin-East Magnet High School in Knoxville, Tenn., Monday, April 12, 2021. Authorities say multiple people including a police officer have been shot at the school. (Saul Young/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)

Pressure is mounting on authorities to publicly release police body camera video of a shooting at a school in the Tennessee city of Knoxville that left a student dead and an officer wounded.

Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon on Monday repeated her call from last week for the local district attorney to authorize the release of video footage of the April 12 shooting at Austin-East Magnet High School in the East Tennessee city.

The mayor said the video was essential to restoring trust in police. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation initially said the student fired at police before he was killed, then later said the bullet that wounded an officer did not come from the student’s gun.

District attorney Charme Allen has declined to release the video, saying it could damage the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s probe into the shooting.

Activists also have pushed for release of the video, along with three of the four officers involved in the shooting. At least three other students of the school have died in off-campus shootings this year. The school remained closed Monday.

The TBI said it will provide a report to the district attorney when its investigation is complete, and the district attorney will decide whether to pursue charges against any officers. The investigation includes review of police body camera footage and school surveillance video. TBI investigations of shooting involving police typically take months.

In a news conference hours after the shooting, TBI Director David Rausch said the student, since identified as 17-year-old Anthony J. Thompson, Jr., was killed in a confrontation with police inside a bathroom. Rausch said at the time that Thompson fired shots as officers entered the bathroom, striking an officer.

Two days later, the TBI changed its statement, saying the student’s gun was fired during a struggle with school resource officer Adam Willson, who was wounded. The TBI’s second statement said the officer was not shot with Thompson’s gun.

The TBI has declined to say if the shot that struck Willson came from an officer’s gun and has provided no further explanation. Willson is recovering from surgery.

Police fatally shot Thompson, who is Black. Willson and another one of the officers involved in the shooting are white, and two are Black. All four were placed on temporary leave.

The TBI’s reversal has led some to question the state police agency’s version of events and press for immediate release of the video.

Kincannon said at a news conference Monday the timely release of the video is necessary to bolster trust between police and the community.

“Accountability is essential to trust,” said Kincannon, who noted that police body cameras were fully deployed within the Knoxville Police Department just weeks ago.

“We pursued these cameras as another tool to build public trust and to be transparent with the community,” Kincannon said. “Transparency also means timely. Not six or 18 months later, but as soon after an incident as possible. Every day the video is not released perpetuates rumors and misinformation.”

In a news conference last Thursday, district attorney Charme Allen said the public will be allowed to see the body camera evidence at some point, but not during the investigation.

“Before you’re allowed to see that, it has to complete its function as criminal evidence,” Allen said, adding that investigators are still gathering evidence and talking to witnesses.

“To release any part of the evidence in this case before we have collected all the evidence may taint things that are still being done,” Allen said.

Her office “has been working around-the-clock to quickly but thoroughly examine the evidence being collected in this investigation,” assistant district attorney Sean McDermott said in a statement Monday.

In an emailed statement Monday, the TBI said state law says the agency cannot legally release the video until the “conclusion of the prosecutorial function,” as determined by the district attorney.

The city of Knoxville has filed a petition in Knox County Criminal Court asking whether the city could be held in contempt if it releases the redacted video footage, news outlets reported.

Activist Constance Every said Monday that members of the community are going to be aggressive in calling for transparency and “justice for Anthony Thompson Jr.” She said activists from outside Knoxville are paying attention.

“America will be falling in very soon to put pressure on our elected officials to release the videotape,” Every said.

Thompson’s family is being represented by attorney Ben Crump, who has represented the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black people who died during confrontations with police. A Minnesota police officer is currently on trial on charges related to Floyd’s death in May.

Crump said police failed to de-escalate the situation in Thompson’s shooting.

“Once again, when a Black person is killed, in this case a Black child, the police quickly shape a narrative to justify the death,” Crump said in a statement.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.