Investigation concludes threat sent to Knox County Commissioners a scam

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – A threat sent to several Knox County Commissioners is a phishing scam, according to the Knox County Sheriff’s Office. The case is now closed.

The threat sent to several members of Knox County Commission arrived in the form of an email and reads in part, “I have been hired to kill you here in Tennesse (sic) but am having a second thought.”

The Sheriff’s Office spokesperson said the same threat was sent to several current and former government employees. Two of those recipients, Justin Biggs and Chairman Larsen Jay, were members of the commission.

“Unfortunately, it’s kind of become something that you’re accustomed to where people can hide behind email accounts and mask them and not really be seen on who it actually is,” Biggs said.

The email came from a Google G-mail address made up of a person’s name and some numbers.

“Don’t try to involved the police in this or anybody,” the email continued. “If you do (sic) I will lose it and get your family.”

This email was sent to several current and former government officials, according to the Knox County Sheriff’s Office. Commissioner Justin Biggs confirmed this was the email at the center of the investigation.

WATE filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see the threatening emails sent to commissioners between August 2020 and Dec. 31, 2020. We requested emails containing the words “die, death, kill, and dare.” This search yielded nearly 3,000 emails.

The email was sent just after 7:30 a.m. Dec. 23. Commissioner Biggs confirmed this is the email at the center of the investigation. He said commissioners receive thousands of emails each week. and this was not the first time he felt the need to get law enforcement involved.

“Any time anyone mentions anything pertaining to death or harming my family, I usually always alert someone.” Biggs said. “People make threats toward me multiple times. Whenever it involves making a statement of wanting to harm me or kill me or harm or kill my family, that’s whenever I have to get the authorities involved.”
Biggs said upon receiving the email his biggest concern was for his 3-year-old daughter. The threatening email goes on to say, “My eyes are on you and I hope my warning will be enough.” 

The email arrived two days after the County Commission passed an ordinance, on first reading, to move the Knox County Board of Health to an advisory role. That would put the authority in the hands of Knox County Health Department Senior Director Dr. Martha Buchanan.

Biggs said he thought this email was likely related to that vote. Hundreds of emails WATE received through the FOIA request are from people with strong feelings about that vote.

“Either that’s the biggest coincidence I’ve ever seen or, you know, so I haven’t actually gotten knowledge yet that the person they’re looking at, haven’t gotten the knowledge yet if that was specifically pertaining to the board of health,” he explained.

By Feb. 4, neither Jay nor Biggs had heard of any arrests.

“The Sheriff’s Office team is investigating it, but we haven’t received any information to date about arrests or concrete evidence that has come from the investigation,” Commission Chairman Larsen Jay said. “This is an unfortunate situation to say the least.

“No doubt we live in an unpredictable and divisive time, but there’s no excuse for anyone serving the public as an elected official to ever fear for their safety or that of their family’s wellbeing.”

Biggs remained confident in the investigation and said he felt safe and protected.

“I feel really good about the direction that the Knox County Sheriff’s Office is going in, and I have all the faith that I have in our officers because they’ve kept us up to speed. They’re doing an amazing job,” Biggs said.

The same day, WATE inquired with the Sheriff’s Office for an update on the investigation and any suspects and learned the case had been closed.

“I have talked with the lead detective,” Kimberly Glenn, with KCSO, said in an email. “It appears this threat was sent from a phishing scam email and went to several current and former government employees. As a result there wasn’t a way to trace that back to an individual. This case has been closed. If anything new were to develop Sheriff Spangler would handle it accordingly.”

At the end of January, The Knox County Commission decided to postpone the vote to strip the powers of the county’s board of health for 90 days.

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