Lawsuit filed against Knox County Sheriff’s Office over man’s death while in custody

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — UPDATE (10:50 p.m.): Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen said that after reviewing reports, transcripts, statements, photographs, videos and evidence, that the officers’ actions were lawful, and the investigation had been closed since July 2.

This in reference to the death of Johnathan Binkley on July 27, 2019 while he was in the custody of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.

According to documents, Assistant District Attorney Hector I. Sanchez reports that he did not find sufficient evidence that would sustain criminal charges against the deputies who attempted to arrest Binkley at the time of his death.

“As requested, I have reviewed the case file concerning the in-custody death of Johnathan
Binkley on July 27, 2019, in Knox County, Tennessee. My review included all of the relevant
reports, transcripts, statements, photographs, videos and evidence collected by the Knoxville Police Department who acted as the investigating agency in this case. Ultimately, what this case comes down to is whether the use of force by Knox County Deputies against Johnathan Binkley was reasonable given the totality of the circumstances and whether it was legal pursuant to the
Tennessee Code Annotated.

I also interviewed Knox County Medical Examiner (KCME) Dr. Chris Lochmuller and reviewed the final autopsy report. Based upon my review and for reasons stated herein, I conclude that Jonathan R. Binkley died of a drug overdose, with heart disease and obesity serving as significant contributing factors.

I do not find sufficient evidence that would sustain criminal charges against the deputies who attempted to arrest Mr. Binkley at the time of his death.”

Assistant District Attorney Hector I. Sanchez

Medical Examiner’s Findings

According to documents, Dr. Christopher Lochmuller (Chief Deputy Medical Examiner for Knox and Anderson Counties) conducted an autopsy on Binkley on July 28, 2019.

Dr. Lochmuller determined that the cause of Binkley’s death was, “two-fold”:

First:

  • Mr. Binkley had combined levels of fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system at the time of death that were lethal and would not have been survivable notwithstanding other contributory circumstances.

Second:

  • …other conditions that significantly contributed to Mr. Binkley’s death including an enlarged heart, obesity, and hypertensive cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Lochmuller also documented injuries that Binkley sustained, but did report that, “…these injuries were not the cause of Mr. Binkley’s death.”

“Upon visual inspection of Mr. Binkley’s body after it was received at the Medical
Examiner’s Office, Dr. Lochmuller reported no significant external injuries, although minor injuries were documented.

These minor injuries included lacerations on the forehead, face, lips, and right ear. Mr. Binkley had multiple abrasions and contusions as well as a total of six (6) fractured ribs on his left side. Some or these injuries could have been caused by the manner in which the truck came to a sudden stop in the woods during Mr. Binkley’s flight from law enforcement.

Some of these injuries could also have been caused by Mr. Binkley’s extraction from the truck and struggle with the deputies. It is also possible that both the crash and the extraction/struggle combined to produce these injuries.

The autopsy report does not offer a conclusion as to the origin of these particular injuries. However, the report is clear that these injuries were not the cause of Mr. Binkley’s death.”

Dr. Lochmuller cited in documents from the District Attorney’s Office

EARLIER STORY:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A lawsuit has been filed after a man died in Knox County Sheriff’s Office custody.

That lawsuit comes with images from body camera footage showing Johnathan Binkley, who appeared to be hog-tied with his ankles and wrists handcuffed together.

WATE 6 On Your Side reported on Binkley’s death in 2019, and now, his mother is suing the sheriff’s office saying it was excessive force that led to her son’s death.

The lawsuit admits that the cause of death on Binkley’s autopsy is drug intoxication (made worse by obesity and heart disease), but the lawsuit claims that deputies pulled him from the open window of a pickup truck after a chase when the truck got stuck against a tree.

Also, the lawsuit claims that at one point, an officer held his knee on Binkley’s back while he struggled to breathe; however, the pictures included as exhibits with the lawsuit do not show/depict the officer with his knee on Binkley.

WATE has requested the full body camera recording, and asked the sheriff’s office for comment.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that deputies had given Binkley Narcan, or naloxone, the anti-opioid overdose nasal spray, and tried chest compressions, but to no avail.

The lawsuit calls for damages of up to $4 million.

We will follow this story as it continues to develop.

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