Shooting victim ID’d, shooter freed

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Police say they know who killed a teenager during a shootout near an East Knoxville park on Monday. 

There doesn’t appear to be any question about who the shooter was — they even took the suspect into custody immediately following the deadly altercation.

But no charges have been filed in connection with the death of 19-year-old Cholly Harris. The man or boy (police won’t say which) who took Harris’s life was released from custody after questioning, and Knoxville Police Department officials say it’ll be up to the District Attorney’s Office to decide if he’s ever held criminally responsible for the teen’s death.

He was the second person in a month to take the life of another human being with a firearm in Knoxville who was set free by police without spending even a night behind bars.

“Once our portion of the investigation is complete, the DA’s Office will review the case to make a determination regarding further action or prosecution,” KPD spokesperson Scott Erland said Tuesday.  

KPD officers were dispatched to the 1700 block of Hazen Street near Morningside Park to investigate a reported shooting at 6:09 p.m. Monday. They found that Harris, who was unresponsive, was suffering from at least one gunshot wound.

“The preliminary investigation shows that Harris and the male suspect had been involved in a dispute and, shortly after, gunfire was exchanged. Harris was struck at least one time and later died at the University of Tennessee Medical Center,” said Erland.

“Following the incident, multiple individuals, including several witnesses and the suspect, were detained for questioning. No charges have been filed at this time,” he continued. “Upon the completion of the investigation, the file will be turned over to the Knox County District Attorney’s Office to make a determination regarding prosecution. The investigation continues.”

Last month, KPD also released the suspect in the killing of Danny Smith, 65, of Bean Station, who was gunned down by a co-worker at YRC Freight off Middlebrook Pike. 

Very little information has been made available about the two slayings, which means it’s impossible to compare the cases in order to see what factors they have in common. Since both homicides took place during violent disputes, it’s likely the suspects claimed they were acting in self-defense.

Harris was the 33rd homicide victim in Knoxville this year. If the killings continue at their current pace, 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, a 72 percent increase. Prior to 2020, the bloodiest year on record had been when 35 people were killed in 1998.

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

Published on September 22, 2021.