One killed in S. Knoxville drug raid

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The body of a man killed in a police shooting Tuesday in South Knoxville is taken to a waiting ambulance. Photo by Megan Sadler.

A man was shot and killed by police officers during a Tuesday morning drug raid at a house in South Knoxville, authorities said.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) and the office of District Attorney General Charme Allen are investigating the shooting.

The man’s identity hasn’t been disclosed pending notification of his next-of-kin.

The incident took place about 11:40 a.m. when officers assigned to the Knoxville Police Department’s Special Operations Squad (popularly known as the SWAT team) were serving a search warrant at a house at 2962 Sevier Avenue, authorities said. 

The search warrant was part of a TBI-led probe into illegal drug trafficking, and KPD’s officers were only on the scene to provide support, according to TBI spokesperson Leslie Earhart.

“Their role was to secure the house so that TBI agents with the Drug Investigation Division and agents with the Fifth Judicial District Drug Task Force could come inside and search,” Earhart said.

“Preliminarily information indicates that upon arriving at the home, KPD’s Special Operations Squad encountered a man armed with a gun,” Earhart explained. “For reasons still under investigation, the situation escalated and resulted in officers firing shots, striking the man. He was pronounced dead at the scene. No officers were injured during the incident.”

Under questioning by the media, Earhart said that more than one person lived in the household but declined to say how many. 

“There are individuals that will be questioned as part of the investigation that are potential witnesses that were here at the time,” she said. 

She also declined to say if bodycams were worn by the officers and agents involved in the raid. 

“It’s a very fluid situation. We’re looking at all the evidence as agents continue to collect what’s available,” she said.

As of April 1, KPD officers are supposed to wear bodycams during all interactions with the public. The department purchased nearly 300 of the uniform-mounted camera systems at a price tag of $4.9 million.

TBI agents were working to “independently determine the series of events leading to the officer-involved shooting, including collecting evidence and conducting interviews throughout the process,” Earhart said.

Once the investigation is complete, the TBI’s findings will be turned over to DA Allen for review. It will be up to Allen to determine if charges will be filed in connection with the shooting.

Prior to Earhart’s press conference, KPD spokesperson Scott Erland issued a statement saying that the shooting victim had engaged in a brief gunfight with officers.

TBI spokesperson Leslie Earhart

“Upon their arrival at the house, officers encountered an armed male subject,” Erland said. “The subject reportedly pointed the gun at officers and an exchange of gunfire followed. The male suspect was struck at least one time. Officers attempted to render aid on the suspect, but those efforts were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead at the scene. No officers were struck by gunfire or injured in the incident.”

Prior to Tuesday, the last officer-involved shooting in Knoxville was the April 12 death of Anthony Thompson Jr. at Austin-East Magnet High School.

Thompson was killed during an armed confrontation with four KPD officers in a restroom at Austin-East that was triggered by an earlier domestic dispute involving Thompson and another student. The officers involved in the shooting were cleared of wrongdoing by the TBI and Allen, but Thompson’s death nevertheless sparked weeks of angry protests by activists who wished to see the cops punished.

Depending on how slayings are counted, Tuesday’s shooting marked either the 34th or 36th homicide in the Knoxville city limits this year.

According to KPD’s statistics — which don’t include officer-involved shootings — the number of homicides is 34. 

Hard Knox Wire, however, includes officer-involved shootings in the tally of homicides as well as all other instances of lethal violence, even when they are determined to be justifiable killings. Under that criteria, Tuesday’s shooting was the City’s 36th homicide of 2021.

Regardless of which count is used, if the violence continues at its current pace, then 2021 will be the city’s deadliest year on record by far.  

The unprecedented rise in the homicide rate began when the number of killings shot up from 22 in 2019 to 37 in 2020 (not counting slayings that were later ruled as justified), which is a 72 percent increase. 

Prior to 2020, the bloodiest year on record had been 1998, when 35 people were killed.

Megan Sadler contributed to this report. 

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

Megan Sadler can be reached at news@hardknoxwire.com.

Published October 13, 2021.