Prosecutors say they won’t charge the Tennessee officer who fatally shot a 17-year-old student last week during a violent confrontation inside a high school bathroom.
Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen said Knoxville officers were justified in the April 12 shooting that killed Anthony J. Thompson Jr. at Austin-East Magnet High School. Knoxville policeman Jonathon Clabough fired in self-defense, Allen said, after thinking Thompson had shot and wounded an officer.
Officials said the shooting unfolded in just 11 seconds.
“This is a self-defense case,” Allen said at a news conference Wednesday. “At the end of the day, we have found the shooting by Officer Clabough was justified.”
Allen showed police bodycam footage from the incident amid mounting calls from the community to release it, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. Demonstrators gathered outside the Knoxville Police Department soon after Allen’s announcement.
The officers involved — Clabough, Officer Brian Baldwin and Lt. Stanley Cash — also reacted to Wednesday’s decision, thanking the district attorney and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for “coming to a prompt resolution of this tragic incident,” WVLT reported.
All were cleared and will not face charges.
“We believe in the importance of public trust and accountability,” the officers said in a statement via their law firm. “We look forward to returning to our duties and continuing to serve the city of Knoxville once again.”
Body camera video shows the officers approaching Thompson, who was holed up in a bathroom stall. The mother of Thompson’s girlfriend had accused the teen of assaulting her daughter at school and filed a domestic violence complaint with police, Allen told reporters Wednesday.
She said officers did not know Thompson had a gun.
In the video, Knoxville officers and a school resource officer, Adam Willson, enter the bathroom to try to remove the teen from the stall. One of the officers repeatedly tells Thompson, who was wearing a hoodie, to take his hands out of his pockets.
A skirmish ensued after Clabough said he spotted the barrel of a gun peeking out from Thompson’s hoodie toward Lt. Cash, according to Allen. Moments later, a shot rings out from Thompson’s gun. That’s when officer Clabough fired two shots, one of which hit Thompson in the chest, Allen said.
Police originally reported that Thompson’s bullet struck SRO Willson, wounding his leg. In reality, Willson was hit by the second bullet fired by Clabough, investigators later said.
At Wednesday’s news conference, Allen presented forensic evidence that showed the bullet from Thompson’s gun fired through his front pocket “went through the stall door and ... hit the trash can.”
Still, she said it was “reasonable for [Clabough] to believe” that Thompson had seriously injured Willson and thus was justified in returning fire.
The teen’s family disagrees, however, and said it asked Allen to hold off on releasing the body camera video until after Thompson’s burial service Thursday, a relative told WBIR.
“We asked Allen out of respect for my nephew not to release it til we bury my nephew tomorrow,” Thompson’s aunt, Angela Elder, told the news station. “We wanted y’all to see how they’re treating our boys. Our young black men in this community. Enough is enough.”
“It hurts us down to the pit of our heart,” Elder added.