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News that a 17-year-old Black high school student did not actually shoot an officer before police killed him inside a school bathroom last week is prompting calls for police body camera footage and the involvement of a prominent civil rights attorney.
Officers fatally shot Anthony Thompson Jr., a junior at Austin-East Magnet High School in Knoxville, Tennessee, on April 12 after the Knoxville Police Department responded to a report of someone “possibly” armed with a handgun inside the school.
In an interview with the Knoxville News Sentinel, local parent Regina Perkins said she called the police after her teen daughter, who had been dating Thompson, came home early from school with signs of physical abuse. But Perkins said she never described Thompson as armed with a gun and isn’t sure how police got that information.
“I regret making that call now. I wish we could have dealt with it differently,” she told the local paper.
Authorities said that when police arrived at the school and confronted the teen, he refused to come out of a bathroom. Police initially said a confrontation ensued and that Thompson shot a school resource officer, prompting officers to return fire, killing him.
However, the Tennessee Bureau of Information later clarified that according to “preliminary examinations,” the bullet that struck the school resource officer was not from Thompson’s gun.
Local authorities have released few details about the shooting. The TBI, which is handling the case, has referred all questions on the case to the Knox County District Attorney, which declined to answer HuffPost’s questions on Monday.
“This Office has been working around-the-clock to quickly but thoroughly examine the evidence being collected in this investigation to make the legal determination we are obligated by the Constitution to make,” a spokesperson for the DA’s office said in an email.
Perkins said Thompson had had a tumultuous nine-month relationship with her daughter and that she had asked the school to help separate both students due to their physical altercations, which led to two school suspensions. When her daughter came home from school early on April 12 with marks on her face and missing hair, Perkins said she first tried calling Thompson’s mother but was unable to reach her. She then called the police to file a domestic assault report.
Perkins said she had been texting with Thompson and had told him that an officer was coming to the school to speak with him.
“I am so sorry, and I never meant for anything to happen to him,” she told the Sentinel. “We are mourning, my daughter is grieving the loss of her first love and we also want answers and justice in this case.”
Attorney Ben Crump, who is representing the families of George Floyd and Daunte Wright, two Black men also killed by police, announced Monday that his office will be representing Thompson’s family.
In a statement, he denounced the speed at which he said officers resort to lethal force when engaging with a person of color. He also accused police of quickly shaping a narrative that would justify a shooting death.
“It’s shocking to me that when suspects are white, even shooters who took multiple lives like Kyle Rittenhouse and Nikolas Cruz, police manage to take them into custody alive. But when a suspect is a person of color, there is no attempt to de-escalate the situation,” he said. “Police shoot first and ask questions later, time after time, because Black lives are afforded less value. We will seek answers and justice for Anthony’s family.”
Three of the four officers at the scene of the shooting on April 12 have meanwhile expressed support for publicly releasing police body camera footage of the incident, local station WBIR reported. The city’s police chief, Eve Thomas, also has endorsed its release, as has the city’s mayor.
“Every day the video is not released undermines public trust,” Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon told reporters on Monday.
Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen has said that the video cannot be released until a full investigation into the shooting is completed.
“There are rules, abundant, as to why I cannot release this footage,” she said at a press conference. She cited privacy rights and due process of law, should charges be filed in the case. “If we release this body cam footage, there’s the possibility that we could violate a law that where we could not use it in the trial if we were to go to trial,” she said.
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