A-E shooting facts disputed

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Local activist Constance Every talks to residents outside Austin-East Magnet High School after Monday’s shooting. Photo by J.J. Stambaugh.

A local racial justice activist has accused Knoxville Police Department officers of improperly using deadly force when one of them shot and killed a teenager at Austin-East Magnet High School. 

Constance Every, who runs the nonprofit Black Coffee Justice organization, said Tuesday that she spoke to the deceased student’s family and they asked her to be their spokesperson.

“They’re extremely upset,” Every said late Tuesday. “They’ve already lawyered up. They’re already demanding all the bodycam footage, all the video. They want every single fact out.”

Every gave a description of the Monday afternoon shootout that differed greatly from the version of events provided by KPD and the TBI, which is handling the probe into the shooting.

“I have seen the video that Constance Every posted online and the KPD will not offer comment on her allegations,” KPD spokesman Scott Erland said.

A TBI spokesperson, Leslie Earhart, issued the following statement when told of Every’s broadcast: “Agents continue to review critical evidence and information in an effort to determine the circumstances leading up to the incident. As always, if anyone in the community feels they have information that we aren’t aware of, we encourage them to contact us.”

The only new information from official sources Tuesday was the identity of the KPD officer who was wounded. Student Resource Officer (SRO) Adam Willson, a  20-year veteran of the force, was recovering from a gunshot wound to one leg at the University of Tennessee Medical Center.

“We had hoped to provide an update today (Tuesday), but agents are still in the process of reviewing evidence and collecting statements,” Earhart said.

KPD Officer Adam Willson. Source: KPD

Every didn’t give the full name of the dead teen or his family, referring to him only as “Anthony.” Law enforcement authorities and school officials have also refused to release his name, age or what grade he was in. 

According to the TBI, the shooting happened about 3:15 p.m. when KPD received a call about “an individual possibly armed with a gun” at the school. The student refused orders to come out of the restroom and then opened fire when one or more officers entered the room, hitting one in the leg.  At least one officer then returned fire, killing the student.

At a press conference held a few hours after the shooting, TBI Director David Rausch took pains to stress the information gathered so far was preliminary in nature. The evidence the TBI plans to review includes footage from KPD bodycams, recordings from the school’s security system and interviews with the people involved, he said.

Hard Knox Wire hasn’t been able to reach the deceased teen’s family to ask questions of them directly.  

Every said Anthony’s family contacted her Tuesday due to her reputation in the community as an activist. Every is a prominent local supporter of Black Lives Matter and critic of the administration of Mayor Indya Kincannon. 

She broadcast the allegations on her personal Facebook page. Nearly 24,000 people had watched the video as of 11 p.m. Tuesday.

According to the narrative related by Every, the incident began with a lover’s quarrel when Anthony and his girlfriend had an argument and she went home early. When she got home she told an adult male relative about the argument, and the man began texting threats to Anthony’s cell phone. 

Anthony had been beaten up by the man in the past, Every said, and he was justifiably afraid for his safety. He was so scared, in fact, that when a friend told Anthony that he had a gun in his car, Anthony went along with the idea. After the two boys retrieved the gun from the car, they went into a restroom to hide, she said. 

“Then Anthony texted, saying ‘I got something for you,’” Every said. The man allegedly retaliated by calling E-911 and claiming that an “active shooter” was inside the high school, triggering a swift response by KPD officers who got the call.

Willson, who had special training as an SRO, and at least one other KPD officer confronted Anthony in the bathroom. Willso and Anthony got into a struggle, and during the fight the officer allegedly tried to pull his firearm on the teen, Every said.  

 “He shot his own self when he pulled the gun,” she said. “Anthony never pulled his gun out. The officers can’t say they saw him with a gun.” 

The second KPD officer then fired at Anthony, striking him twice in the chest, Every said.

“The police department is responsible for his death,” she said.

Hard Knox Wire reached out to Anthony’s girlfriend to hear her version of events, but she hadn’t responded as of late Tuesday. 

Hard Knox Wire has requested to review Officer Wilson’s personnel file, all bodycam footage from the shooting and E-911 recordings as well as all other material generated during the probe.  Neither the TBI nor KPD have responded to the requests as of yet.

The shooting has drawn media attention from across the country in the midst of an evolving national discussion about law enforcement’s treatment of minorities, particularly Black Americans. 

The teen was killed on the 10th day of the murder trial of former Minneapolis, Minn.  police officer Derek Chauvin, who is accused of killing George Floyd in 2020. Floyd’s death — in conjunction with the controversial deaths of other Black men and women in encounters with police — led to protests across the country, some of which turned violent or dragged on for weeks. While Knoxville saw several protests and incidents of vandalism, the local reaction was comparatively mild. 

That might not be the case this time, especially if authorities don’t release the footage captured by the officers’ bodycams, she said.

Police tape seals off Austin-East Magnet High School after Monday’s shootout between a student and a Knoxville police officer. Photo by J.J. Stambaugh.

KPD finished deploying bodycams to all its officers April 1. The deployment was unveiled early this month to much fanfare by local officials who promised they would help promote the accountability of both police and suspects. The cameras are worn by all uniformed officers and are supposed to capture audio and video footage of incidents without the officers needing to activate them.

“The community is outraged,” Every said. “They aren’t giving us answers… what they give to us is so vague.”

She continued: “Why was he not pepper sprayed? Why were they going for their guns? Did they go in there wanting to kill those kids? It’s sick behavior, all around.”

The student’s death was only the most recent tragedy in the midst of an unprecedented surge of deadly violence that has touched almost every corner of the city.

There were 37 homicides in Knoxville in 2020, more than the previous high of 35 in 1998.

Since Jan. 1 of this year, there have been at least 16 slayings in the city, all of them involving firearms. In comparison, by this time in 2020 there had been six homicides. There have been an additional five homicides in the unincorporated areas of Knox County under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Office.

Justin Taylor, 15, was accidentally shot and killed by a friend Jan. 27. Stanley Freeman Jr., 16, was killed Feb. 12 as he was driving away from the Austin-East campus, and 15-year-old Janaria Muhammad was fatally shot outside her home on Feb. 16. Jamarion “Lil Dada” Gillette died early March 11 at a local hospital, several hours after he was brought in by a motorist who found him suffering from a gunshot wound in South Knoxville.

Two male juveniles have since been charged with first-degree murder for Freeman’s death and are waiting to learn if they will stand trial as adults. Police are still searching for the killers of Muhammad and Gillette.

Officials didn’t say Monday if there were any indications that the slain student had a connection to any of the murder investigations.  

CORRECTION: Hard Knox Wire initially misspelled Officer Adam Willson’s last name in our initial stories. We apologize for this error.

J.J. Stambaugh can be reached at jjstambaugh@hardknoxwire.com 

Published on April 14, 2021