KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — In the year leading up to the announcement of the retirement of Knoxville Police Chief Eve Thomas, the city’s first female chief of police who had been appointed by the city’s first female mayor, the city faced other firsts that placed pressure on officials.
From November 2020 to November 2021, the city and the Police Department faced unprecedented challenges such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a slew of fatal shootings involving teenagers, internal issues regarding racism and procedure, and record levels of crime.
Other firsts for the police force were initiated during Thomas’ tenure, such as changes for use of force, body cameras for officers and better cruiser cameras, as well as creation of the East Tennessee Valley Crime Stoppers group.
Here’s a recap of the past year spotlighting the positive aspects of the police chief’s efforts toward promoting a safer community, as well as the negative issues that arose within the community to which the Police Department has been responding.
- KPD chief ‘made aware’ of photo involving two officers over Halloween with an individual in ‘blackface’
An internal investigation into two Knoxville Police officers was opened after a photo depicting a person in blackface shared on social media stirred controversy on Halloween. One of the involved officers resigned in December while the other was disciplined.
- Knoxville Police begins enforcing COVID-19 ordinances related to alcohol
Knoxville bars and restaurants that serve alcohol were visited by Knoxville Police officers as the department began enforcing the city’s COVID-related ordinances. Chief Thomas told the City Council the department began running compliance checks for the alcohol curfew, issuing citations to several businesses.
At the time, failure to comply after several citations or warnings from KPD would result in the business losing its beer permit.
“Beer permit holders agree when they get their beer permit they are going to abide by the law,” Thomas said during a Nov. 18 meeting. “We are just making it abundantly clear that state law allows the (Knox County) Board of Health to adopt these regulations and that is compliant with the law.”
- Three Austin-East students fatally shot within a month; Knoxville leaders pledge renewed effort to end gun violence after 12 homicides in 47 days
Knoxville leaders recommitted to curbing the gun violence that had claimed the lives of three Austin-East Magnet High School students within a month. Chief Thomas said the department responded to 12 homicides in the first 47 days of 2021. By contrast, the department responded to three homicides during the same period in 2020.
“We are increasing patrols and intensifying our attention in the area surrounding Austin-East, specifically when school lets out,” Thomas said at a press conference. “We have set up a violent crime reduction team that will focus its efforts entirely where violent crime is most pervasive and on the known offenders that are perpetuating this violence.”
- KPD announces development of East TN Valley Crime Stoppers
The community was invited to play a more active role in solving crime, with city leaders announcing the creation and development of the East Tennesee Valley Crime Stoppers. Chief Thomas announced the Knoxville Police Department was working with the community to establish the program as a means to help curb the uptick in violent crime.
- Every KPD officer equipped with bodycam, cruiser cameras upgraded
Knoxville Police Department completed the installation of 297 body-worn cameras and upgraded 33 in-car monitoring systems at the beginning of April after months of retrofitting, training and ordering equipment.
- Austin-East student shot, killed by KPD officer inside school bathroom
An Austin-East Magnet High School student was shot and killed inside a school bathroom after a confrontation with officers on April 12. The officers were responding to a domestic incident between two students. The student was found in a bathroom stall and officers intended to arrest him on a domestic assault charge. A scuffle ensued, a shot was fired from the student, and one of the four involved officers fired his weapon, wounding one of the other officers and killing the student.
None of the four involved KPD officers were charged, Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen later announced.
- Knoxville Police chief addresses withdrawal from agreement that puts officers in county schools
Chief Thomas held a press conference following an announcement that the city and the Police Department were withdrawing from a memorandum of agreement with Knox County Schools that placed officers on campuses.
- Knoxville Police, city launch 24/7 anonymous crime tip line
A new initiative by the city and KPD meant to get citizens involved with stopping crime while assuaging fears about becoming a law enforcement informant launched. The East Tennessee Valley Crime Stoppers program allows citizens to share information about criminal activity or fugitive locations with law enforcement 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The program has no caller ID, no recorded lines and no phone tracking.
- Off-duty Knoxville officer knocked unconscious after racist remarks
Knoxville Police launched an internal investigation after an off-duty officer attending a June 26 wedding reception was knocked unconscious for allegedly making racist remarks to another attendee. The officer who was accused of making the racist remarks would resign in October.
- Knoxville Police outlines actions being taken to address violent crime
The Knoxville Police Department took action to address a surge of violent crime. Similar to the Pandemic Response Plan or Severe Weather Plan, the KPD was considering eliminating the response of officers to nonemergency or noninjury crashes that are not blocking the roadway. Thomas said the adjustment would free up officers to respond to calls that require immediate police presence or intervention.
- Sixth Austin-East student killed in shooting
KPD officers found two males and one female suffering from gunshot wounds in Lonsdale. All three were taken to UT Medical. A 17-year-old male was pronounced dead at the hospital; he was the sixth former or current Austin-East student to die by gun violence in 2021.
- Knoxville Police second-in-command on paid suspension
Knoxville Police Department Deputy Chief Ron Green was placed on paid administrative leave. No reason for the suspension has been released.
- Knoxville’s Police Advisory and Review Committee holds first in-person meeting since 2020
In late August, Knoxville’s Police Advisory and Review Committee (PARC) held its first in-person meeting since last year. PARC – for short – is responsible for looking at internal affairs cases within the Knoxville Police Department and addressing concerns and questions related to those cases.
- City of Knoxville appoints first-ever director of community safety
The city appointed the city’s first-ever director of community safety. Mayor Indya Kincannon appointed LaKenya Middlebrook to the new position that oversees community safety and violence reduction initiatives.
- Officer-involved shooting results in the death of one man
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigations identified the suspect who was killed in a shootout after reportedly pointing a gun at Knoxville Police officers as they were attempting to serve a search warrant. The incident occurred at a home along Sevier Avenue e in South Knoxville.
A police spokesman initially said that officers were serving a search warrant at a home in the 2900 block of Sevier Avenue when they encountered a man who was armed with a gun; police also said the suspect reportedly pointed a gun at officers and an exchange of gunfire followed. The TBI became the lead investigating agency since the shooting involved law enforcement officers.
- Fulton student, Georgia father shot and killed a week apart
In late October, a Fulton High School student was killed in a shooting on Cansler Avenue. A week later, a Georgia man who was in town for his daughter’s birthday was killed on Catalpa Avenue in a separate unrelated incident. A 16-year-old male later turned himself in and was charged by KPD for the Georgia man’s death. A 15-year-old was taken into custody in the death of the 18-year-old Fulton student.
As of October, the Knoxville/Knox County area has seen more than 30 fatal shootings.
- East Tennessee Valley Crime Stoppers celebrates 6 months
In six months East Tennessee Valley Crime Stoppers made 30 arrests (11 fugitives), cleared 25 cases, payed out more than $5,000 in rewards, and seized more than $1,800 worth of drugs from 1,275 tips from the public.
- Knoxville Police Chief Eve Thomas announces retirement
Knoxville Police Chief Eve Thomas announced she is retiring in May, the city announced Friday. Thomas has been with the department since 1993. Former Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero named Thomas as police chief in June 2018.