KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – A Knoxville traffic stop Sunday and the arrest that followed reveal how federal agents have put gun shows around East Tennessee under scrutiny, searching for unlicensed sellers and gangs out to arm themselves.
Court records show Michael Harris, 35, was in front of a federal judge in Knoxville Tuesday facing kidnapping, drug and gun charges. Harris is accused of trying to get away from police after being pulled over and fighting for control of the minivan with a KPD sergeant still in the back of the van.
Federal court paperwork shows the encounter started as part of a long-running investigation that put undercover officers inside area gun shows in an effort to identify unlicensed sellers, known gang members and persons prohibited from possessing firearms. ATF agents had briefed local law enforcement officers helping in the investigation to be on the lookout for people wearing gang colors and using the Facetime app while shopping for guns or gun components.
In an affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, one ATF investigator wrote that he noticed a man dressed in red visiting several gun sellers’ booths at a gun show at the Knoxville Expo Center and using Facetime to show the items to someone on the other end of the phone. Police officers and agents reportedly noticed the man make multiple trips to a van parked outside, due to the number of guns and accessories he was buying.
Officers kept watching as the minivan drove south on Clinton Highway to a restaurant. At some point, the van made what the ATF agent describes as an evasive maneuver. That move apparently caught the attention of a sheriff’s deputy, who kept following and passed the word to other officers.
A pair of KPD officers then approached the van in the parking lot of a gas station on Clinton Highway. Approaching the van, police reportedly smelled marijuana. Two people got out of the van and one officer searched inside. During that search, the affidavit claims Harris got back into the van and started to drive away with a KPD sergeant Michael Geddings still in the back seat. Geddings reportedly fired his taser and struggled with Harris.
The affidavit claims Harris then turned into oncoming traffic on Clinton Highway, crashing into another vehicle head-on. Geddings suffered a broken arm and a severe laceration to the head among other injuries, cuts and bruises.
Inside the van, officers reportedly found 929.6 grams of what a field test showed to be methamphetamine. Other drugs reportedly turned up including what’s suspected to be heroin and marijuana. A long list of guns, gun parts and accessories were reportedly found including high-capacity magazines.
The ATF said Harris claimed that he “just likes guns” and he bought the guns from sellers who did not make him fill out paperwork or ask for identification. The document also shows Harris admitted to selling methamphetamine and to being affiliated with the Blood street gang in the Detroit area.
The affidavit includes a listing of Harris’ prior convictions for armed robbery, home invasion and other crimes which would prevent him from legally having a firearm.
Gun shows in Knoxville have been under scrutiny before. In 2019, the Knoxville City Council passed a resolution banning gun shows on city-owned property like the Jacob Building at Chilhowee Park.