ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Associated Press photo by Calvin Mattheis / Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon, left, arrives at the scene of a police shooting at Austin-East High School on Monday, April 12, 2021.

Trust in police and our justice system is a tenuous thing right now.

We've seen it strained all over the country — Minnesota with two high-profile in-custody Black deaths, Virginia with a brutal assault on a Black and Latino Army officer, Chicago with the fatal shooting of a Black 13-year-old who stopped running from police and was shot with his empty hands in the air, and now — possibly in Knoxville where a 17-year-old magnet school student was shot by officers in a school bathroom.

The Knoxville student, Anthony J. Thompson, Jr., is said to have had a gun. In fact, he was — immediately after he was killed — said to have used that gun to shoot a school resource officer.

Now we know that wasn't true.

The bullet that struck the Knoxville officer at the city's Austin-East Magnet High School was not fired from the gun of the teenage student who was killed when at least four officers confronted the teen in the bathroom, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

We — and the public in Knoxville — have been told nothing more, and Knoxville authorities, including Knox County District Attorney Charme Allen, are stonewalling the public and refusing to show body camera video evidence, despite Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon's specific request that it be released.

Policing is a stressful, important job. And a high calling. Police and court authorities deserve our respect.

But they strain that respect when they act like this.

We know someone made some effort to confuse facts and the public once already. Why should we not be suspicious now that there may still be something left out of the picture?

First police told the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation — and the TBI, in turn — told the public on Monday:

"As officers entered the restroom, the subject reportedly fired shots, striking an officer." Police fired twice, and Thompson was shot and killed, the TBI said.

But on Wednesday, in a second statement, the TBI revised its account, describing it this way:

* After receiving the report of a student possibly armed with a gun, responding Knoxville officers located the student inside a school restroom at Austin-East.

* Officers entered the restroom.

* During a subsequent struggle, the student's gun was fired. This was followed by law enforcement firing twice.

* Preliminary examinations indicate the bullet that struck the Knoxville officer was not fired from the student's handgun.

Let's recap. The bullet that struck the 20-year veteran officer and school resource officer in the hip or leg (we've been told different locations) were "not fired from the student's handgun." And the only other gunshots cited in the report were fired by officers. The TBI declined to answer a follow-up question about whether the officer was struck by an officer's bullet.

During District Attorney Allen's Thursday news conference, she said the initial information released by the TBI "was released too early. It was incorrect."

She also said of the body cam video:

"Before you're allowed to see that, it has to complete its function as criminal evidence," Allen added that investigators are still gathering evidence and talking to witnesses, including officers. "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."

Kincannon tweeted that she wants the video released to provide transparency. She thinks "a greater understanding of the circumstances of this tragedy will help our city heal."

She also tweeted that Allen "respectfully declined." Kincannon added: "Allen explained that she made this decision in order to maintain the integrity of the on-going investigation and to protect the constitutional rights of anyone who might be charged."

How about the constitutional rights of Anthony Thompson and George Floyd and Daunte Wright and Army Second Lt. Caron Nazario and 13-year-old Adam Toledo?

How about the right of the public to know what actually happened in that Knoxville school bathroom? (On Friday, even the police chief called for the video evidence to be released. The District Attorney needs to listen.)

How about the trust we need — and want to have — in our law enforcement authorities?

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT