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Mother of student killed in police confrontation at Austin-East High School amends lawsuit against Knoxville, KPD officers

Anthony Thompson Jr. was shot and killed during a confrontation with four KPD officers at the school. Video shows he had a gun that fired during the confrontation.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Update (8/8/22): The mother of Anthony Thompson Jr. and a friend of the teen have amended their federal lawsuit against the city of Knoxville, the Knoxville Police Department and the four officers involved in shooting and killing the 17-year-old in an Austin-East High School bathroom last April

The suit claims the officers failed to follow proper training and procedures — and failed to provide the teenager with appropriate medical care after shooting him. The lawsuit also alleges the department failed to properly train officers on de-escalation tactics. 

Thompson's mother, Chanada Robinson, and Thompson's friend, Gralyn Strong, are seeking damages — including the cost of burial, for which Robinson took out a loan — and additional training for the Knoxville Police Department. 

The mother is seeking $750,000 in punitive damages to be paid jointly by two of the officers -- SRO Adam Willson and Lt. Stan Cash. She is also seeking another $750,000 in compensatory damages from the city of Knoxville.

Strong is also seeking $750,000 in compensatory damages from the city, as well as $500,000 in punitive damages from all defendants.

The two also want the city of Knoxville to fully fund grief and trauma treatment for the students and families of Austin-East High School by providing access to mental health services.

"We need to get to the heart of what happened to Anthony, we need to see some policy changes so that this never happens again, [so that] there’s never another mother sitting in my position," Robinson said. 

The lawsuit originally named the Knox County Board of Education as a defendant but was later amended to no longer include the county.

During the 11-second struggle inside the school bathroom on April 12, 2021, officers said they feared for their lives when they realized Thompson had a gun concealed inside the pocket of his hoodie. After Thompson's gun fired, officer Jonathon Clabough shot and killed Thompson and wounded a fellow officer. Thompson died on the bathroom floor. 

District Attorney General Charme Allen declined to prosecute the four officers. She said the shooting was justified and Clabough acted in his own self-defense and in the defense of the other officers. 

   

Thompson's death led to nights of protest across the city and a pledge from Mayor Indya Kincannon to re-evaluate how police officers work in schools. 

"Anthony's mother has suffered the most devastating emotional distress and anguish imagined by humankind," the lawsuit said. 

On the day of the shooting, it said a TBI agent questioned her before telling her what happened to her son. It took several days, the suit alleges, before the Thompson family tracked down the medical facility that held Anthony Thompson's remains.

"Come on Knoxville, we can do better than that," said her attorney, Margaret Held. 

Robinson said she took out a loan to pay for her son's funeral and he still does not have a headstone.

"It’s been very emotional for us and I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon," she said. 

"[Robinson] has repeatedly requested to meet with various officials, but all have refused," the suit alleged. "Mother believes this is because the city 'just wants Anthony to disappear.'"

Credit: Knox Co. DAG
A 9mm Glock 45 pistol with a backstrap, which investigators said Thompson fired once during the scuffle with officers and hit a trash can.

For Robinson, the pain of her son's loss may never disappear. She remembers him as a picky eater who hated vegetables and a teenager who loved his hair — long dreadlocks. 

"What I miss most about him is him asking me to cook," she said. "He was gentle, he was sweet, he was kind." 

Robinson said she had no idea he had a gun — if she had, she said she would have "kicked his butt." 

"That was my baby," she said.

The shooting

On April 12, 2021, the KPD officers responded to the high school after Thompson's girlfriend's mother 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. 

Upon arrival, they located Thompson in a school bathroom. He sat in a bathroom stall with the door open, on his phone. They ordered him to get up, and he put his hands in the front pocket of his hoodie as he stood.

One officer took his left hand, but SRO Adam Willson struggled to get Thompson to remove his right hand from his hoodie.

RELATED: Timeline shows how shooting at Austin-East unfolded

As Clabough approached, he said he could see the barrel of a gun pointing at him from inside the hoodie pocket.

The gun fired, but 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 one of the officers.

The bullet fired from Thompson's gun passed between Officer Brian Baldwin and the bathroom stall door and hit a trash can. Baldwin said 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. Stan Cash and fired 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 lost the gun and it fell into the bathroom stall.

Thompson and Willson went to the ground, still struggling. Clabough 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.

A 22-year-old has entered a guilty plea in federal court on charges related to buying the gun he then gave to Thompson.

RELATED: Knoxville man agrees to plead guilty to lying about pistol purchased for A-E student who died in confrontation with police

The lawsuit alleges Thompson carried the gun because he feared threats of physical violence from his girlfriend's family and did not feel safe at school in the aftermath of the shooting deaths of four classmates in the prior weeks. 

The lawsuit

The lawsuit alleges the police officers failed to properly give aid to Thompson after shooting him. 

"No one checked a pulse of offered basic CPR," the lawsuit said. "Officers did nothing except search and restrain Anthony, offer Officer Willson a tourniquet, while Officer Cash stepped over Anthony's prone body to wash his hands of Anthony's blood."

"Instead of attempting to provide any medical treatment, the officers focused on restraining Anthony, even though he was clearly unconscious and handcuffed on the floor," the lawsuit claimed. 

It said if the officers or school district had properly followed a 2019 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between Knox County Schools and KPD, it "likely would have saved Anthony's life." 

The MOA said, in part, that principals should engage law enforcement officials when the situation warrants, though the lawsuit acknowledges the officers who responded to Austin-East believed school administrators were aware of their presence.

The lawsuit also asks the court to mandate Knoxville and Knox County adopt a series of policies to be known as "Anthony's Laws." These include:

  • Prohibiting law enforcement from making any arrest at school, unless it is necessary to protect the immediate safety of those at school.
  • Requiring all KPD officers to undergo 80 hours of training on de-escalation, crisis intervention and the Memorandum of Agreement with the school district.
  • Warning a child they will be subject to physical force if they don't comply, before using physical force.
  • Refraining from interviewing the next of kin of a deceased child for 24 hours after their death.

A city of Knoxville spokesperson issued a statement on behalf of the mayor that said: "The City of Knoxville does not comment on pending litigation. However, I can say that April 12, 2021 was a tragic day for the Thompson family, our officers, the school system, and our entire city. Anthony Thompson died before reaching his full potential and my thoughts remain with his family today.”

Spokespeople for Knox County Schools and Knoxville Police declined to comment citing the pending litigation.

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