Police increase presence at county commission meeting ahead of another planned protest

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — More than a few dozen law enforcement officers are present at Monday night’s county commission meeting. A protest planned for the meeting was announced earlier in the day regarding the death of the 17-year-old Austin-East Magnet High School student who was shot in a confrontation with police in a school bathroom on April 12.

Knox County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Aaron Yarnell said Monday the reason for the increased police presence is a direct response to last week’s commission meeting that was interrupted by protesters.

Knox county commissioner Dasha Lundy addressed the increased law enforcement presence.

“For those who are watching this, there’s over 40 police officers in here and there’s a swat team somewhere. We needed a swat team and 40 plus officers here today for people to advocate for their community. We’ve got work to do,” Lundy said.

Protest organizers stated in a press release from the activist group, Black Coffee Justice that the peaceful protest would be in solidarity at the commission meeting in order to demand justice for Anthony Thompson Jr. The release went on to state that the protesters will demand the “accountability from the city and state officials who have remained quiet during this tragic event or worse; blamed the community for the increasing gun violence in East Knoxville…. protestors are also calling for the immediate arrest of four KPD officers involved in the death of Anthony Thompson Jr.”

Like a week ago, the protestors were peaceful, they just took a different approach to getting their message across. This week, every speaker signed up for public forum and there were no interruptions. But protesters say because they have never been violent or threatening, they felt the extra police presence was unnecessary.

They say the protests will continue.

“It’s going to go on for however long it needs to and that depends on our representatives and from the looks of it, it’s going to go on for awhile,” said Caitland Southall, a protester.

No arrests were made at tonight’s meeting.

Sheriff Tom Spangler released a statement after the meeting:

“I would like to publicly thank each one of our Deputies, Detectives and Corrections Officers who helped ensure  tonight’s County Commission meeting was a safe and peaceful meeting.  Many of them stayed over or came in early so no calls for service would be neglected.  Their dedication to protecting and serving is commendable.”

Tom Spangler, Knox County Sheriff 

The four officers involved in the shooting are not being charged, the Knox County District Attorney Gen. Charme Allen confirmed in a press conference last week where the body camera footage was released; calling the shooting reasonable.

The release from Black Coffee Justice also called the involved officers’ actions as shown in the police body camera footage to be “improper at best, and barbaric at worst.”

This latest protest comes after a week filled with other protests related to the fatal Austin-East shooting. Last week’s county commission work session saw a disruption and protest that led to the arrest of seven suspected participants.

This is a developing story.

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