Knox County District Attorney Charme Allen announced Wednesday, April 21, that the officers involved in the fatal police shooting of a Black teenager who died after an encounter with police in the bathroom at Austin-East Magnet High School in Knoxville, Tennessee, earlier this month were legally justified in their actions.
“This is a self-defense case,” Allen said at a news conference, where she also showed the body camera footage of the April 12 shooting.
Calls from the community asking that the footage be released had grown louder in recent days. The investigation into the shooting was conducted by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation over a nine-day period.
Anthony Thompson Jr., a 17-year-old student at Austin-East, was shot and killed after Regina Perkins, his girlfriend’s mother, called the police to report that Thompson and her daughter had gotten into a physical fight at school.
Body camera footage shows that four officers, Officer Jonathon Clabough, Officer Brian Baldwin, School Resource Officer Adam Willson and Lt. Stanley Cash, entered the bathroom where Thompson was in a stall, about three hours after the encounter between the teen and his girlfriend Alexus Page transpired.
The officers approached Thompson, who was wearing a jacket and backpack, and began pulling him out of the stall while telling him to take his hands out of his pockets.
As the officers secured the teen’s left arm in an attempt to handcuff him, they ordered him to take his right hand out of his jacket pocket. Thompson began to resist producing the hand still inside the jacket pocket, saying, “My bad, my bad,” a struggle began between him and the cops for the gun in his jacket pocket before a shot from that firearm rang out, which hit a trash can not any of the officers. As Thompson says, “wait, wait, wait,” Officer Clabough pulls his weapon and fires at Thompson, hitting him in the upper body, then fires a second shot as Thompson falls, hitting officer Willson in the leg.
Allen said Clabough saw Thompson’s hand on the butt of a gun and thought to himself, “I’m about to die.”
Clabough was the only officer to fire his weapon during the encounter. Originally it was reported that a bullet fired from Thompson’s gun struck an officer, although the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation later clarified that the bullet that hit the officer wasn’t discharged from the student’s gun.
Another Black teen in the bathroom at the time appeared to raise his hands in fear and was ordered to the ground by Clabough. The teen quickly laid on the floor of the bathroom floor. As he was placed in handcuffs, he pleaded with Clabough to help Thompson, who was lying on the floor beneath another officer.
“Help him! Please help him, please!” the teen said. “He’s bleeding.” Officers claim they were unaware Thompson was shot until two minutes after handcuffing him and turned him over when they saw a large pool of blood. A school nurse was then called and rendered aid before Thompson was taken to a hospital.
Allen said she spent four hours with Thompson’s family prior to the press conference.
“I have just spent four hours with [Thompson’s] family,” Allen said. “That was a painfully long and agonizing four hours for that family. The only thing the family asked me to do was not to release the video today.”
Allen said she went ahead with releasing the video because she had promised to do so last week.
‘It hurts us down to the pit of our heart to see how our nephew was killed in that school,” said Angela Elder, Thompson’s aunt, to assembled reporters at a news conference in downtown Knoxville on Wednesday. “Yes, I’m angry as hell. I’m hurt to see my nephew get killed.”
The family disagrees with the district attorney’s decision that the shooting was justifiable, and civil rights attorney Ben Crump is now representing them as they pursue justice for Thompson.
“We wanted y’all to see how they’re treating our boys — our young Black men in this community,” she said. “Enough is enough. Please pray for us and please help fight for our community. That was wrong. Officer Claybough, Officer Cash, Wilson. You guys were wrong. We will seek justice,” Elder said in her impassioned public plea.
Thompson’s funeral was held on April 22, the day after the footage was made public.
Perkins, who called the police to report the physical violence between Thompson and her daughter, said she made the phone call after Page, a junior at the school, came home early with marks on her face and hair missing.
“Alexus told me that she was grabbed and that her hair was pulled, and that is really what led me to feel that I needed to do more,” Perkins told the Knoxville News Sentinel.
Perkins said she and Page told the officer who first visited her home before going to the school that Thompson was not armed. However, authorities said they were acting on a report that the student was armed when they entered the school.
After learning Thompson had been killed during the encounter, Perkins said she wishes she never called 911.
“I am so sorry, and I never meant for anything to happen to him,” Perkins said. “We are mourning, my daughter is grieving the loss of her first love and we also want answers and justice in this case.” She said she had sought to keep the teens separated at school because they’d had physical fights before.
Van Wolfe, executive director of SafeSpace, an organization that provides resources to domestic violence victims, wondered whether the school could have done more to prevent the situation from escalating, after school security footage showed Thompson wandering about campus in the three hours between the fight with Page and the arrival of police. During that time, Thompson came to and from school, sat on a staircase for some time, and hung out in the bathroom.
“If the school had knowledge that this had occurred and that is why, in fact, the girl went home, then from the time she got home to the time the shooting occurred, what are we talking about an hour and a half, maybe two hours, apparently this kid was just roaming around the school. He wasn’t in the classroom where he was supposed to be. I mean, wouldn’t they have wanted to put eyes on him at that point and make sure things were OK,” Wolfe said.
The Knoxville Police Department is conducting an internal review of the policies surrounding Thompson’s death. All of the officers involved remain on paid leave.