Knox County Sheriff candidates raise questions over block party

Knox County Sheriff candidates raise questions over block party response

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Sheriff Jimmy "JJ" Jones Sheriff Jimmy "JJ" Jones
By ALEXIS ZOTOS
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) With one week until Election Day, the incident involving a Knox County Sheriff’s Office deputy using excessive force at a block party near the University of Tennessee is raising political questions.

Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “JJ” Jones is up for re-election and his challengers are pouncing on his response to the events on Saturday night.

Previous story: Sheriff's office fires deputy in Ft. Sanders party incident

Dozens of law enforcement officers from KCSO, KPD and UT Police responded to the massive block part on UTs campus but it's the photos showing officer Frank Phillips with his hands around UT student Jared Dotson’s neck that were first seen in The Daily Mail, that are raising questions from a law enforcement stand point and a political one.

“It makes the sheriff’s office more visible,” explained Dr. Mark O’Gorman, a political science professor at Maryville College. “Usually you hope [the sheriff’s office] is like a referee in football game, you just hope they do a neutral job and you never hear about them unless it’s very good or controversial.  I’d say this is the latter and now that you have international attention of this young man being restrained or put in a chokehold depending on your opinion, its clearly something the sheriff’s office is going to want to get in front of."

Sheriff Jones fired Officer Phillips Sunday, less than 24 hours after the incident and his opponents are firing back.

“We all have to remember there are two sides of every story. The problem I see immediately is the Knox County Sheriff’s Office had a knee jerk reaction. I don’t know how they could do a thorough investigation within 24 hours,” said Knox County Sheriff candidate Sam Hammett.

Hammett says the pictures are not clear showing what might have happened, and believe more time should have been spent investigating the situation.

Candidate Bobby Waggoner said he is less concerned about the timing but that it happened in the first place.

“I would hold officers accountable the first time, not when they do things like this,” said Waggoner.

6 News learned Monday that Phillips was demoted in 2011 after he disobeyed an order to hold his position during a SWAT situation. Records show he instead allowed his officers to enter a house with a suspected shooter. Phillips was demoted from patrol sergeant to patrol officer after that incident..

Waggoner and Hammett both question the timing of Sheriff Jones’ response.

“I wonder what it would be like if it was a different time of the year,” asked Waggoner.

We asked Sheriff Jones for an interview, but because of the ongoing investigation he declined. He did send a statement in regards to the questions raised by his opponents.

"I don't take career ending decisions lightly. If anyone says I fired a 22 year veteran because of an election, then they certainly don't know me,” said Sheriff Jones in an emailed statement.

O’Gorman says depending on public opinion on the incident and the Sheriff’s response it could impact next week’s election.

“Turn out is usually light in local elections, depending on public opinion it could make people come out in greater force to the polls next week.”

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