Killings test police

Some of the contraband, including firearms, seized by Knoxville police this weekend. Source: KPD

Police on Monday said that a workplace argument lay behind the shooting death of a man in an industrial neighborhood in West Knoxville over the weekend.

The victim, identified as Danny Smith, 65, of Bean Station, was working at YRC Freight on Hilton Road when he was killed. 

The shooter, described only as a 59-year-old male co-worker of Smith’s, wasn’t arrested and it wasn’t clear Monday if he will face criminal charges in the future, according to Knoxville Police Department officials.

 “The ongoing KPD Major Crimes Unit investigation shows that the victim and the suspect, who were both employed by YRC Freight, were involved in a dispute that turned violent prior to the shooting. Upon arrival at the scene, patrol officers detained the suspect, who had remained on scene,” said KPD spokesperson Scott Erland. 

The shooter “has fully cooperated with the investigation up to this point,” Erland said. 

“No charges have been filed at this time. Upon the completion of the investigation, the case will be turned over to the Knox County District Attorney’s Office for review and further action,” he said. 

Smith’s death was the 31st homicide of the year in Knoxville. The 32nd homicide took place the following night when 43-year-old Aisha Cates was killed in a drive-by shooting in East Knoxville.

Cates was found lying beside a vehicle near the intersection of McConnell Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue about 3:15 a.m. Sunday. Witnesses told police that “an occupant of a vehicle of unknown make and model fired a shot and fled the area at a high rate of speed,” Erland said.

The rising death toll on Knoxville’s streets has put tremendous pressure on both KPD Chief Eve Thomas and the administration of Mayor Indya Kincannon to somehow stop — or at least slow — the bloodshed.

Kincannon has earmarked more than $1 million in funding for anti-violence programs. Her administration said last week that it also intends to take direct control of street-level efforts to combat the violence, a big change from the original plan that called for the Louisville, Ky.-based nonprofit agency, Cities United, to call the shots. Instead, Cities United will play an advisory role while Kincannon creates a high-level position to oversee the many agencies and groups who are expected to form the front line of Knoxville’s anti-violence efforts.

The police department has added more investigators and formed the Enhanced Patrol Squad, a special unit that deploys to high-crime areas. KPD officials are also considering new schedules and doing away with having officers respond to non-emergency or non-injury automobile crashes that are not blocking the roadway.

Even if KPD’s tactics haven’t led to a drop in the homicide rate, officials maintain that they’re making an impact in other ways.

Last weekend, for instance, KPD arrested 27 people and confiscated seven firearms as well as marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine and black market pills, according to a press release issued Monday.

Since January 1, KPD has taken 589 guns off the street, the release said.

The current rise in the homicide rate began when the number of killings shot up from 22 in 2019 to 37 in 2020, a 72 percent increase. Prior to 2020, the bloodiest year on record had been 1998, when 35 people were killed in the Knoxville city limits.

Since Jan. 1, there have been at least 32 slayings in the city, plus at least five more homicides in the unincorporated areas of Knox County under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Office. 

J.J. Stambaugh can be reached at 

Published on August 24, 2021.