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Knoxville police officer testifies in civil trial after shooting Channara 'Philly' Pheap in 2019

Dylan Williams, a KPD officer, shot and killed Pheap in 2019. Pheap's family is suing Williams.

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. — Officer Dylan Williams took the stand as a witness in a civil trial against him in federal court in Greeneville, Tenn. on Tuesday. 

Sophea Pheap, representing the Pheap estate, is suing Williams — arguing he used excessive force and violated Pheap's civil rights. 

Williams is still employed as an officer and a homicide investigator with the Knoxville Police Department. With Knoxville Police Chief Paul Noel in attendance, Williams said he felt his life was in danger during the interaction with Pheap. 

On Aug. 26, 2019, Williams said he went to an apartment complex off Merchant Drive in Northwest Knoxville. The officer said he was looking for a car involved in a hit-and-run crash. 

People who lived at the apartment complex pointed Williams to a higher floor of the apartment complex, he told the jury. He said he found Pheap, who looked nervous. Dashcam video, entered as evidence, shows a struggle between Pheap and Williams. 

"He was able to spin and get on top of me," Williams told jurors. "He began using his forearm and hand to press down on my Adam's Apple." 

Williams said he asked Pheap to stop running. He did, then lunged for his taser, he said.

"My mind is trying to process what is happening," an emotional Williams told the jury, who was watching closely. "My life flashed before my eyes. I had a 1-year-old son and a wife. I'm never going to see them again." 

Photos entered as evidence show a wire from the taser wrapped around Williams. He told the jury he was worried the taser would incapacitate him, and Pheap would be able to shoot him with his own gun. 

"I come up as quick as I can, I pull my handgun, I see he still has the taser, I fired two rounds," Williams said, again, his voice breaking with emotion. 

Attorneys for the Pheap family pushed back. 

"You're not telling us you ever were incapacitated," said Joshua Headrick, attorney for the Pheap estate. 

"All I recall is feeling the probes," Williams said. 

Pheap's attorneys argued Pheap was trying to run away from Williams, and didn't pose a threat to the officer. 

"He was running away, unarmed," said Lance Baker, an attorney for the Pheap family, during opening statements. 

An animated attorney Gary Prince, on behalf of Williams, argued the officer's life was in danger and he didn't want to kill Pheap. 

"Pheap is on top of him, he's choking him. Choking him," Prince said, re-enacting the interaction for the jury. "That's when he first fears for his life. 

U.S. District Court Judge Clifton L. Corker, presiding over this case, said he would split the trial into two phases. The eight-member jury will first have to decide whether Williams violated Pheap's civil rights. If they do, they will move to the damage portion of the trial, to decide how much money, if any, they should award to the Pheap family. 

Knoxville police officers didn't wear body cameras in 2019. Days after the shooting, the Knoxville City Council asked KPD to come up with a plan to implement them. All KPD patrol officers now wear cameras. 

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