KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Warning: Story contains graphic detail and videos
The altercation that led to the shooting that took the life of a 17-year-old Austin-East Magnet High School student and wounded a KPD officer took 11 seconds.
On Wednesday, Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen released the bodycam footage of the shooting that killed Anthony Thompson Jr. and injured SRO Adam Willson in a bathroom last Monday at the school.
With the TBI's investigation into the officer-involved shooting aspect of this case, and based on the bodycam video and other evidence, Allen said that Officer Jonathon Clabough was justified when he fired two shots in that bathroom and that he acted in his own self-defense and in the defense of the other officers.
Clabough responded to the school with Officer Brian Baldwin and Lt. Stanley Cash after the mother of Thompson's girlfriend filed a domestic violence complaint against him. She and her daughter said Thompson physically injured her earlier in the day at school, and it wasn't the first time.
They intended to arrest Thompson on a domestic violence complaint. Allen showed evidence that proved that Thompson knew that officers were likely coming to arrest him.
The three met SRO Willson outside the school, who led them to the security office where they tried to locate Thompson on the school's cameras. They learned he was likely hanging out in a bathroom.
You can watch the full press conference video below. Some of the video may be disturbing so view at your own discretion:
She also pointed out that while the officers knew that Thompson was known to carry a gun, they had no reason to believe he had it with him at school.
Allen showed video from the bodycams worn by all four KPD officers that were involved. While both Baldwin's and Cash's cameras came off during a scuffle with Thompson, Clabough's stayed on the entire time. Willson's camera wasn't working.
The video below may be disturbing so view at your own discretion:
The videos all show the four officers enter the bathroom. Thompson is sitting in a bathroom stall with the door open, on his phone. They order him to get up, and he puts his hands in the front pocket of his hoodie as he stands.
Officer Mitchell takes his left hand but SRO Willson is struggling to get Thompson to remove his right hand from his hoodie.
As Officer Clabough approached, he said he could see the barrel of a gun pointing at him from inside the hoodie pocket.
DAG Allen said Clabough said that was the first moment of the altercation where Clabough thinks he's about to die. She recounted what Clabough said in his statement and showed a slowed-down version of the video.
In his statement, he said he saw Thompson turn towards Officer Baldwin and fire the gun at him through the pocket of his hoodie. You can hear the gunshot in the video. Clabough said he saw Baldwin fall back and thinks he has been shot.
To be clear, the shot was fired from Thompson's gun inside his hoodie, and Thompson's right hand was in the pocket with the gun. What isn't clear, and may never be, is whether Thompson intentionally pulled the trigger or if the gun fired accidentally during his struggle with SRO Willson.
Allen shared stills of video captured from Officer Baldwin's body camera that fell onto the bathroom floor during the struggle, pointing to the barrel of Thompson's gun pointing out of his hoodie pocket.
The bullet fired from Thompson's gun passed between Baldwin and the bathroom stall door and hit a trash can. Baldwin did say he felt the concussion of the blast and fell back, thinking he had been shot.
Clabough said he then saw the gun, still inside the hoodie, pointed towards Lt. Cash and he fires his weapon at Thompson.
The officers don't know it because they didn't see it, but Allen said at some point after this, Thompson loses the gun and it falls into the bathroom stall.
Thompson and Willson go to the ground and are still struggling. He said the way Thompson moved his body, he thought he was pointing a gun at Willson and he fired again. That shot hit Willson in the leg.
In the video, you can see Baldwin pulling the injured Willson out of the bathroom as Cash straddles and handcuffs Thompson, who is on his stomach on the ground.
All of that activity happened in 11 seconds, and DAG Allen said that was very important to take into account.
In considering charges, she looked at two particular statutes. One deals with a person being able to act in self-defense if they had a reasonable belief that they were being threatened with death or bodily harm. The other deals with the same reasonable belief that you are protecting others if you feel they were in danger of death and bodily harm.
Allen said reasonableness is the keyword, and in this case, must be judged by what the officer was seeing and experiencing in real-time. She said it wasn't fair to judge his actions by going back and analyzing every frame of the video second by second.
A Supreme Court ruling that Allen referenced emphasized the fact that officers must make split-second decisions in high-stress situations.
Based on what she saw in the video and on other evidence, Allen said she believed that Clabough was justified in firing his weapon and that no charges would be filed in regards to the officer-involved shooting.
She also said no charges would be filed against the officers for failing to render aid quickly because the medical examiner said the bullet that entered Thompson's chest near his right shoulder caused irrecoverable damage to his lungs and heart.
The TBI's firearms report confirmed two 45 caliber rounds had been fired from Officer Clabough's gun. One 45 caliber bullets was recovered from Thompson's body, and the other was recovered from Willson's leg.
According to the Regional Forensic Center's autopsy, Thompson was pronounced dead on the scene at 3:55 p.m. after school nurses reportedly tried to perform CPR, with the official cause of death listed as a gunshot wound to the torso.
When officers searched Thompson's clear backpack, which he was still wearing, they found a smaller black bag inside. It contained a fully loaded gun magazine and other items.
The gun was identified as a Glock 45 with a backstrap, and the TBI's firearms report showed it had been fired once. The magazine in the gun contained 17 unfired 9mm rounds, and one expelled 9mm bullet jacket was recovered from the bathroom floor.
Another student was in the bathroom and witnessed the shooting. He was forced to the ground and handcuffed as he pleaded with the officers to help Thompson, who he could see was bleeding and not moving on the ground.
It was clear that Allen was releasing the bodycam video reluctantly.
Last week, she said she'd only release it once the investigation was complete and the family had seen it.
After spending four hours going over the evidence and her conclusions, Allen said, the family requested that she not release the tapes to the public.
But, she said she felt pressured to do so by city and community leaders and the media, and by the promise she made last week to release the footage.
She said she didn't think it was fair to the family and that she wanted to reexamine the process by which police body camera footage should be handled in the future.
Allen also emphasized that the closed part of the investigation dealt only with the officer-involved shooting. She said there are other parts of the investigation still open and that other charges could be filed, though she would not elaborate on it.
Family responds to release of bodycam footage
A family member told 10News that the family wanted the video released, but asked that it be done after the funeral.
“I speak on behalf of my family today with a broken heart and spirit. We wanted the public to see that tape. We asked Allen out of respect for my nephew not to release it til we bury my nephew tomorrow. We wanted y’all to see how they’re treating our boys. Our young black men in this community. Enough is enough,” said Angela Elder, Thompson's aunt.
The family does not agree that the shooting was justified and they vow to continue their fight.
“It hurts us down to the pit of our heart,” she continued.
Officers respond to release of bodycam footage
The officers involved in the shooting incident all released statements through their attorneys after the press conference.
The Bosch Law Firm represents Cash, Baldwin, and Clabough and released this on their behalf:
"We appreciate the hard work of the Office of the Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation incoming to a prompt resolution of this tragic incident. We believe in the importance of public trust and accountability. We look forward to returning to our duties and continuing to serve the city of Knoxville once again."
Chuck Burks represents SRO Adam Willson, who was shot in the leg. Willson was interviewed around 4 p.m. on Tuesday, likely the final witness that investigators talked to in the investigation.
“This is something that no officer ever wants to be confronted with but I think these officers did the best they could,” Burks said.
He said Wilson went into the bathroom first because he felt it was his duty as the SRO and hoped that if Thompson saw a familiar face, he might be more inclined to cooperate. He emphasized that none of the officers thought Thompson had a gun.
“It’s his school, it’s his watch,” Burks said.
Burks said that Willson realized when he put his hand on Thompson's right wrist that he had a gun.
“He just holds on for dear life to keep him from hitting anybody. He didn’t know if Baldwin had been hit or not,” Burks said.
When he fell to the ground with Willson, he was trying to protect his fellow officers. He didn't realize the gun had fallen out in the bathroom stall.
Burks said Willson doesn’t blame Clabough for the shot that hit him in the leg.
“Clabough was doing what he felt he needed to do. Quite frankly, that was something that happened in the course of trying to protect these officers, and he accepts that.”
Mayor Kincannon responds to release of bodycam footage
Mayor Indya Kincannon said she agreed with DAG Allen's decision not to charge the officers.
She said she had reached out to the family but had not spoken to them yet.
She spoke at a press conference after the DAG wrapped up.
When asked if she thought she had pressured Allen to move fast, she said that pressure comes with elected positions.
She also said she'd like to review KPD's bodycam procedures. They were just recently deployed and this is the first major incident that has happened since officers started wearing them.
KPD Chief Eve Thomas responds to release of bodycam footage
“I want to express my gratitude to the Office of Attorney General Charme Allen and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for their tireless attention to this case and expediency in the completion of a comprehensive, independent investigation. I am thankful that those investigative efforts determined that the actions of our officers, under intense and unpredictable circumstances, were justified and they were cleared of any wrongdoing. My hope is that the release of the evidence in its totality provides a sense of clarity and answers the pressing questions that the community deserved to hear regarding the circumstances that led to this event. With that being said, this was an incredibly tragic and traumatic experience for everyone involved. Lives have been irrevocably altered by this event. My thoughts are with the family of Anthony Thompson Jr., to whom I extend my most heartfelt condolences and sympathies. My thoughts are also with our officers, who will carry the burden and trauma of this for the rest of their lives.”
Knox Co. Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas reacts
KCS Superintendent Bob Thomas posted his reactions on Twitter:
Amidst growing calls from city leaders and community members for the release of police body camera footage of a shooting that killed a student inside Austin-East Magnet High School, Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen is planning a press conference for 3:15 on Wednesday.
We don't know what DAG Allen plans to discuss at the press conference, but considering the public interest in the bodycam video, expect her to address it.
17-year-old Anthony Thompson Jr. died in the April 12 shooting inside a bathroom at Austin-East Magnet High School. The TBI said Thompson had a handgun and was confronted by four Knoxville Police Department officers. His gun went off during a struggle and two officers returned fire, fatally wounding Thompson.
The school SRO was shot in the leg, but TBI said that bullet did not come from the student's gun.
Those officers were wearing bodycams that captured what happened during the incident, but DAG Allen said Thursday that the video was part of the criminal investigation and she would not release it until the investigation was complete.
Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon, KPD Chief Eve Thomas, and three of the four officers released have pleaded publicly with Allen to release the video.
The public needs to see the evidence as soon as possible so it can understand what Thompson did and what KPD officers did, the mayor said.
The City of Knoxville has filed a legal challenge to a standing Knox County Criminal Court order against the release of evidence in a pending prosecution. WBIR and other local media outlets have filed a motion to join in that legal action.
Members of the community are also demanding to see the video.