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Video shows public meeting arrest activist calls 'abusive'

Knox Co. deputies arrested former city council candidate David Hayes on an outstanding warrant Friday.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Community organizer David Hayes called for the firing of Knox County Sheriff's deputies involved in an arrest he said caused him to lose consciousness outside a public meeting Friday.

Video shows three deputies arresting and carrying the former City Council candidate to a court office after a community forum for people to give input on Knoxville's next police chief, where he sought to raise awareness about the death of a man in KPD custody.

"Why are you arresting me?" Hayes asked deputies as they restrained him and told him to "stop resisting." He called the arrest "abusive," saying he was not resisting. 

"When police try to arrest you for unjust reasons, you just sit down. You go limp. It's not resisting arrest, it's passive. And I pursued that tactic," he said.

Hayes said the deputies punched him repeatedly and didn't immediately explain why he was facing arrest. He later learned it was because of an April warrant for blocking a road during protests over the police killing of Anthony Thompson Jr. at Austin-East Magnet High School.

"He really wanted to assert his dominance over me and he really didn’t like that I was pursing a non-violent civil disobedience tactic. And beyond that they don’t like my politics," Hayes said. 

A Knox County Sheriff's Office report said a KPD lieutenant alerted court officers, who do not wear body cameras, of Hayes' outstanding warrant. KCSO said he did not comply with arresting deputies — and said "I'm going to make you guys earn your paycheck."

Hayes can be heard saying "earn y'all's money" on the video of his arrest. 

KCSO said he spat at one deputy in the face and forced them to further restrain him and put a "spit hood" over his head. Hayes denies spitting, "I coughed and they used that as an opportunity to hit me," he said. 

He said deputies carrying him by his sweatshirt restricted his airflow and caused him to pass out. The video showed fellow activists expressing concern over whether Hayes could breathe during the arrest. 

He now faces charges of assaulting a first responder and inciting a riot, in addition to the April charge. 

"I never assaulted a police officer," Hayes said. "I was the one getting assaulted continually for what seemed like 20 to 30 minutes."

Late Monday, the sheriff's office said "deputies acted in a manner consistent with their professional training." A spokesperson told 10News, "They just did their job like they do their job any other day."

But the arrest raised concern from Knoxville State Rep. Sam McKenzie (D-Knoxville) who said in a statement: "To imply that the arrest had to occur during a pivotal public forum is unfathomable. It is my understanding that this warrant is for actions that took place in April 2021 which leads me to the conclusion that there were multiple opportunities to deliver the warrant before this public event."

As an activist, Hayes said he "signed up for this," but that his arrest outlined a broader problem with policing in the area. 

"If a Black person can’t walk to a public meeting, give their input without getting arrested, we have a problem here," he said. "There’s no reason warrants should be served during public meetings, it’s a set up and a trap."

KCSO said no body camera footage of the arrest is available, saying court officers are not issued such cameras because "they are required to be in/out of the courtroom at a moment's notice."

Political implications

The arrest has also become political debate among the candidates for Knox County Sheriff with an eye toward this year's election.

"The arrest should have been done after the meeting in a way that would not draw attention," Former Sheriff JJ Jones, who is running again, said. "It shows just how out of touch you [Sheriff Tom Spangler] are with your officers. This incident and lack of response only shows you are in over your head."

Spangler responded Sunday in a Facebook post asserting "I can take it" when his opponent speaks negatively of him.

"Mr. Hayes was arrested because he had an outstanding warrant.  We are police officers.  We enforce the law.  It’s our job to arrest individuals with outstanding warrants," Spangler said.