Lawsuit over teen’s death focuses on Knoxville police

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(From top left, clockwise) Officer Brian Baldwin, Lieutenant Stanley Cash, student resource officer (SRO) Adam Willson, and Officer Jonathon Clabough.

The loved ones of a 17-year-old boy who was shot to death in a school restroom have streamlined their federal lawsuit to exclusively target the Knoxville Police Department for mistakes that allegedly led to the boy’s death.

Anthony Thompson Jr. died on April 12, 2021, during an armed confrontation with four KPD officers in a restroom at Austin-East Magnet High School. 

Anthony’s mother, Chanada Robinson, and his best friend, 18-year-old Gralyn Strong, filed a lawsuit earlier this year demanding that the City and County adopt a series of policies dubbed “Anthony’s Laws” meant to keep similar incidents from happening again. (See related story at https://www.hardknoxwire.com/new-lawsuit-filed-in-death-of-austin-east-teen/)

They initially named as defendants the City of Knoxville, Knox County, the Knox County Board of Education and the four officers who confronted Anthony in the restroom. 

After their attorneys were allowed to examine the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) file on the shooting, however, they amended their complaint to dismiss their claims against both Knox County and the school system, court records show.

“After reviewing the TBI file, we determined that both entities followed the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) and school board policies designed to keep the kids safe, and that they did not deserve to be sued,” said Robinson’s attorney, Margaret Held.

“From a review of the TBI file, we concluded that KPD definitely violated Anthony’s rights and it looks like it’s going to take a lawsuit to fix the problems within KPD,” Held said.

KPD spokesperson Scott Erland declined to discuss the lawsuit when contacted Sunday. 

“The Knoxville Police Department does not comment on pending litigation,” he said.

Anthony Thompson Jr.

The officers were trying to take Anthony into custody in a school restroom for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend when a gun he was holding inside his hoodie’s front pocket fired once as he fought the officers, striking a nearby trash can. One of the officers then fired twice, killing Thompson and wounding the school’s SRO.

Following the TBI’s probe into the shooting, Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen ruled that the four officers involved — Jonathon Clabough, Lieutenant Stanley Cash, Brian Baldwin, and Adam Willson — wouldn’t be prosecuted. They have all since returned to work at the department.

Robinson is a speech therapist employed by the Knox County Schools, while Gralyn had been Anthony’s best friend since the 5th grade, according to court records.

Robins is seeking $750,000 in compensatory damages and $750,000 in punitive damages, while Gralyn is asking for $750,000 in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages. 

They are also seeking to change how KPD officers are trained and how they handle interactions with schools, students and their families.

At the center of their demands are a list of specific policy changes they call “Anthony’s Laws,” which they hope will “protect the rights of future students and families under the Constitution and laws of the United States and the State of Tennessee,” according to the amended complaint filed in federal court.  

In essence, Robinson’s and Gralyn’s attorneys say that KPD didn’t follow the terms of the MOA signed by both the department and the school system that governed how police should behave on school campuses.

“The City of Knoxville is liable due to the clear and persistent pattern of the Police Department inappropriately entering Knox County Schools,” their complaint states. “Specifically, the City of Knoxville had actual or constructive notice of the controversy surrounding police interaction with students, and especially interactions in the Austin East Community, evidenced further by the City’s efforts to address the issue by promulgating the MOA. The City was responsible for training but failed to train the officers who appeared at Austin-East with the forty (40) hours of training required by the July 2019 MOA, and with regard to the requirements of Knox County School Board …. The City failed to provide any ‘resource officer’ training at all to anyone. Whatever training the officers did receive was clearly inadequate for the tasks that the officers were required to perform.”

In fact, they argue, if “the officers had been properly trained as to the policies and procedures in place, or which should have been in place, they would not have killed Anthony Thompson; thus, the lack of training was a proximate cause of Plaintiffs’ constitutional injuries.”

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

Published on August 8, 2022.