Bust shows how cops monitor local gun shows

Source: RK Gun Show

When Michael Harris walked into the RK Gun Show in North Knoxville, he didn’t know that he — along with the rest of the crowd — was under surveillance by a team of cops led by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). 

Harris, a 35-year-old convicted felon from Detroit, Mich., was in the market for numerous firearms despite the fact that his record made it a crime for him to so much as touch a gun. It’s not entirely clear what his plan was after the show, but he had a rented minivan waiting for him outside in the parking lot that contained a prodigious stash of crystal meth, smack and weed.

By the end of the day, however, Harris would be locked securely in a jail cell, facing the possibility that he’d never be a free man again after allegedly kidnapping a cop while trying to escape a federal dragnet as it descended upon his shoulders.

The cop —- Knoxville Police Department Sgt. Michael Geddings —and four innocent civilians were hospitalized when Harris ended up crashing his minivan into two other vehicles while trying to flee.

“We are incredibly thankful and fortunate that Sgt. Geddings was not injured more seriously during the chaotic events that unfolded,” said then-KPD Chief Eve Thomas said. “This incident once again illuminates the inherent risks that officers face during even the most innocuous roles they fulfill.”    

Federal task force operations like the one at the RK Gun Show, which took place April 24 at the I-75 Expo Center on Clinton Highway, don’t usually yield arrests but are nonetheless conducted on a regular basis, officials said.

Gun shows have been banned at property owned by the City of Knoxville following since City Council passed a resolution prohibit them in September 2019. 

The ban does not, however, prohibit privately-owned venues such as the Expo Center from hosting gun shows. 

Although such shows aren’t illegal, they attract the attention of law enforcement because of their potential to enable person-to-person gun sales that can allow persons who can’t legally buy a firearm to do so, officials said.

Michael Harris

“The KPD does regularly work alongside its local, state and federal partners to monitor gun shows. That is done exclusively in an effort to intervene in the unlawful purchase and distribution of firearms, not to interfere with the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens to purchase, own and carry firearms,” said KPD spokesperson Scott Erland.

“Further, our sole objective is to prevent prohibited persons from possessing and trafficking firearms that are often used in violent crime here in Knoxville or elsewhere,” Erland said. “I should also add that uniformed police officers are always at local gun shows to ensure the safety and security of those events.”

According to federal authorities, officers from KPD’s Organized Crime Unit and Special Operation Squad, the Knox County Sheriff’s Office and ATF were conducting a surveillance operation at the RK Gun Show when they saw Harris buying several firearms and accessories from a variety of vendors.

“Harris was also using Facetime as he walked around the gun show showing different guns and accessories to an unknown individual.  Due to this suspicious activity, law enforcement followed Harris to a vehicle in the parking lot of the Knoxville Expo Center and observed him loading firearms and firearm accessories into the back of a rented, red Chrysler minivan,” federal court record show.

A short time later, KPD officers stopped the minivan at the Shell gas station on Clinton Highway for a traffic violation. The officers reportedly smelled marijuana coming from the vehicle and asked Harris to get out, which he did. 

While Sgt. Geddings was searching the rear of the vehicle, however, Harris got back into the driver’s seat and drove away with Geddings now trapped inside, officials said. 

As Harris drove north on Clinton Highway, Geddings tried to subdue him and gain control of the minivan. As the vehicle approached Pleasant Ridge Road, however, Harris swerved into oncoming traffic and hit two other vehicles.

,Sgt. Michael Geddings

When the minivan came to a stop, Harris took off on foot but was captured almost immediately. 

“Two other cars were involved in the crash,” said Erland. “A total of five individuals were transported to the hospital for non-life-threatening injuries, including Sergeant Geddings. Due to the crash happening outside of KPD’s jurisdiction, the Knox County Sheriff’s Office worked the crash.”

Erland said that Sgt. Geddings suffered “serious” injuries, including a broken arm and a severe laceration to the head among other injuries, cuts and bruises. 

“He has since been released from the hospital and is in good spirits,” said Erland.

Officers recovered approximately two pounds of methamphetamine, additional quantities of heroin and marijuana, and multiple firearms and rounds of ammunition when they searched the minivan, according to court records. 

He was charged with federal kidnapping, possession of firearms and ammunition by a convicted felon, and possession with intent to distribute more than five grams of methamphetamine.

Harris made his initial appearance in federal court two days later, where U.S. Magistrate Judge Debra C. Poplin ordered him to be held in custody pending further proceedings.

J.J. Stambaugh can be reached at jjstambaugh@hardknoxwire.com.

Published on May 10, 2022.