KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The balance between releasing pertinent information to the public and undermining an investigation’s findings was put on display this week as Knox County District Attorney Charme Allen answered questions about the inquiry into the death of an Austin-East student.
David Rausch, a former Knoxville Police chief and current head of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, gave a preliminary report Monday just hours after a fatal officer-involved shooting inside Austin-East Magnet High School describing what may have led to the shooting death of 17-year-old Anthony J. Thompson Jr.
Noting that the information was preliminary, Rausch said, “As officers entered the space, the subject reportedly fired shots, striking an officer. One officer returned fire. The suspect was pronounced dead at the scene and has since been identified as a student at Austin-East.”
However a key part of the preliminary information was not accurate.
Two days later, TBI said that while Thompson did fire his weapon, the bullet that struck Knoxville Police officer Adam Willson in the leg had not been fired from Thompson’s weapon. Neither TBI nor Knoxville Police have yet said where the bullet came from, or how it came to be in the officer’s leg.
A community struggling to understand the loss of five students to gun violence since January began demanding the release of police body camera recordings. Knox County DA Charme Allen declined. A request by Mayor Indya Kincannon to release the video was also declined.
On Thursday, Allen called a press conference to explain her decision.
At the end of the press conference, Allen was asked to comment on the release of information by Rausch that had turned out to be incorrect.
“That is a perfect example of why we, when we are investigating a case, should not answer questions, should not talk to you, should not tell you things that we think are true. Because things change in an investigation, new information comes in, things change,” Allen said.
“It was released too early. It was incorrect and then additional information had to be released to correct that. That’s a perfect example. … That’s a real world example of exactly what I’m trying to explain to you. The criminal justice process wants to prevent just that because they want to protect the integrity of the criminal trial if someone is actually charged,” Allen said. “Our Constitution demands that. Our United States Constitution and our state Constitution. So that is why this office is so careful. We will always err on the side of law and following the law.”
In response to Allen’s statement, TBI supplied this statement:
As the state’s lead, independent law enforcement agency, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation recognizes and respects the pronounced public interest in officer-involved shootings. We also recognize and respect the unique responsibility of the state’s district attorney generals to review our findings and determine whether a crime has been committed.
For several years now, in an effort to balance both interests throughout the state, our agency has worked to provide the public a small measure of timely information in these cases, based on our agency’s understanding of the circumstances as they present at that moment. Our preliminary statements are just that, preliminary. At times, as our agents gather evidence and interviews in the early stages of investigations, we may become aware of details that warrant a clarification or update to our public statement. We do so on our agency’s blog, TBINewsroom.com.Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
The investigation into the shooting at Austin-East remains ongoing.