Woman says off-duty Knoxville police held her at gunpoint while changing license plate

WATE 6 On Your Side Staff - KNOXVILLE (WATE) - An investigation is underway amid allegations an off-duty Knoxville police officer pulled a gun on a woman who had just purchased a vehicle and was switching the license plate.

We obtained the 911 call made that day, shedding light on an encounter with local law enforcement that's now getting attention across the country.

Tonya Jameson says she traveled from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Jefferson City to buy an SUV. Jameson was putting her license plate on the back of her newly-bought car when she says she heard the voice of a man identifying himself as an off-duty police officer.

The officer asked for Jameson's paperwork, but not before Jameson says he pulled a gun on her. She believes the incident happened because she's black.

In the 911 recording, the off-duty officer tells a dispatcher that someone is trying to steal his mother-in-law's car. His mother-in-law sold her vehicle to Jameson.

"I want more people who don't understand how unarmed people, especially people of color, are shot and killed by police - how quickly something like this can escalate."

The off-duty KPD officer told dispatchers he was holding Jameson at gunpoint and in the 911 recording, he can be heard asking her questions.

"Who'd you buy the vehicle from?" he said.

Jameson says while she was waiting for a deputy, she listened to every command given and told the off-duty officer she had the proper paperwork and belongings.

"You have the keys to it? Where are they at?" asked the off-duty officer during the 911 recording.

In that exchange, Jameson said they were in her bag and the off-duty officer told her to hang tight while they wait.

The off-duty officer lives across the street from his mother-in-law. "If somebody pulls up on this driveway, it sets off alarms," said the off-duty officer in the 911 call.

The mother-in-law was not home and Jameson said she had everything set up with her.

"I wish that he saw me get out of the cab and walked over to the vehicle, that he approached and said, 'Hey. I'm an off-duty officer. What are you doing?' and he wasn't pointing a gun when he did it."

Jameson says she hopes this interaction brings awareness and is a wake-up call to law enforcement that somewhere, something is going wrong, and training needs to be changed.

"The reality is we've had black men dying at the hands of police. We've had black women dying at the hands of police. So I survived this," added Jameson.

The Knoxville Police Department says they're investigating the incident via their Internal Affairs unit and are still conducting interviews. The officer was hired in June 2006 and they say he has never received any disciplinary action. Since this encounter, the officer's assignment has not changed.

Former Knoxville Police Chief Phil Keith says because this seemed to be a suspected felony in progress, the off-duty officer can exercise his state powers and act. However, Keith says there was a better option than to approach Jameson with his weapon drawn.

"The smart thing, and what he's trained to do, is to notify the jurisdiction just like anybody else, call 911 or if he had a police radio and it was in reach of Knox County Communications District, he could have gotten on the radio and said something. Unless there was some aggression or threat, he was not trained to flash his weapon," said Keith.

The Knoxville Police Department sent the following statement:

"KPD's policies and procedures are in effect at all times for our employees. Our Response to Resistance/Use of Force Policy is available for review on our website in the Open Records Page. All KPD Officers are certified by the State of Tennessee POST Commission. They are authorized to take appropriate police action when necessary. They also have the same rights as every resident of the State of Tennessee in regards to intervening in a situation to protect persons or property."

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