KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Knoxville Police Chief Paul Noel shared the findings of an internal investigation into the officer-involved shooting inside of Austin-East Magnet High School. While the investigation found that officers’ use of force was justified, Noel said the department will create a use of force review board.
The shooting took place on April 12, 2021, and led to the death of Austin-East student, 17-year-old Anthony Thompson Jr. Knoxville Police Department officers responded to Austin-East on a report of a male subject who was armed in the school. Thompson was fatally shot while officers attempted to disarm him in a school bathroom.
Thompson’s gun discharged during the struggle and struck a trashcan. Officer Jonathan Clabough then fired his service weapon twice, one fatally striking Thompson and the other striking Officer Adam Willson in the leg.
“The findings of our internal investigation in no way diminish how deeply saddened we are as a department about what happened on April 12, 2021. That day was a tragedy for so many people in so many ways. Most importantly our thoughts remain with the family of Anthony Thompson Jr. and the Austin-East community. We know that this incident damaged relationships between our department and between the community. Rest assured, I am committed and the Knoxville Police Department is committed to putting the work in to repair those relationships,” said Noel.
The internal investigation resulted in a 211-page report. Only one of the officers involved in this incident was reprimanded for his actions. Officer Adam Willson did not turn on the body cam before the incident, as mandated by KPD policy.
Noel also wanted to address two questions the department has received about this incident. The first was why crisis negotiators were not used.
“There are several reasons why crisis negotiators would not have been used in that situation. One reason was there was no prior contact with Anthony Thompson, Jr. and our officers were not even certain that he was in the bathroom prior to going in the bathroom and looking for him. Two, officers had no reason to believe that he was armed inside the school and they had no reason to believe that Anthony was aware that the officers were looking for him at the time. Based on these circumstances it did not meet the criteria for involving crisis negotiators,” said Noel.
The second question is was there a delay to render aid? Noel said this was a far more complicated issue. He explained that officers took the measures necessary during the chaotic situation.
“In a matter of seconds officers saw the gun in Anthony’s pocket and heard a firearm. Officer Baldwin actually believe he had been shot when he felt the percussion from the discharge of the firearm. Then two more gunshots rang out in a small and compact bathroom. One of the officers was shot and almost simultaneously another individual emerges from out of a stall and grabbed Officer Clabough’s shoulder. Our officers also had no idea where Anthony’s gun was or if it still could be used. The most pressing matter was to make sure the scene was safe,” said Noel. “Once the scene was rendered safe, medical assistance was requested. This all happened within a matter of seconds.”
This incident has led KPD to have a desire to improve how their internal affairs process works. Noel said this investigation took a long time and while some of that was outside of the department’s control, there are things KPD can put in place to speed up and streamline the process.
“There are things we could do to speed up the pace of these investigations without compromising the quality of the investigations,” said Noel. He went on to say that many of those things have already been done including placing Assistant Chief Mark Fortner in charge of internal affairs.
Following the release of the internal affairs report, Attorney Margaret Held, who is representing Anthony Thompson, Jr.’s mother, released this statement:
“If you read the internal affairs report, Officer Cash states that he was so concerned about how this would look to the media that he decided to step over Anthony to wash the blood off his hands rather than give medical attention to a dying child. KPD Press conference today is also about controlling how this tragedy looks to the public instead of addressing the changes that are needed inside KPD to stop police from killing a child.”
Noel the department is in the process of creating a use of force review board. This board will be used internally to allow KPD to find ways to improve their training and policy following every instance of deadly force within the department.
On April 21, Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen released the bodycam footage of the incident giving insight into what happened. On the same day, Allen announced that none of the four involved officers in the shooting would be charged following a TBI investigation.
Thompson’s family is currently suing Knoxville Police. The lawsuit alleges that their rights were violated “due to the acts and omissions of the Knoxville Police Department and the four officers involved by failing to provide sufficient training to handle such a situation. It calls for funding for mental health care services for grieving students and families as well as $2.75 million in damages.
Following the shooting, Kelvon Foster was found guilty of providing a handgun to Thompson. He has been sentenced to 10 months in prison followed by two years of supervised release.
Editor’s Note: The live stream event will be played in this story when officials speak at 2 p.m. (ET)