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Family of Austin-East Student Retains Civil Rights Attorney

Tony Webster, via Flickr/Creative Commons

A prominent attorney who specializes in lawsuits that stem from police violence says he has been retained by the family of an Austin-East High School student killed last week.

Tallahassee-based attorney Ben Crump said Monday he has been retained by the family of 17-year-old Anthony Thompson, Jr. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation says Thompson was killed in a scuffle with police April 12, when four Knoxville Police Department officers responded to a report that Thompson had a gun. Investigators have not said how Thompson was killed; Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen has called the shooting a homicide.

In a statement published through Twitter, Crump criticized early reports that have emerged from the investigation.

“The world was told that Anthony shot an officer and that’s why police fatally shot him,” Crump said.

In a press conference that took place about five hours after the shooting, TBI Director David Rausch said preliminary information indicated Thompson “reportedly fired shots, striking an officer.” That officer, KPD’s Adam Willson, underwent surgery for a non- life threatening wound and is recovering. Two days later, TBI said further investigation revealed the bullet that struck Willson did not come from Thompson’s gun.

“Police shoot first and ask questions later, time after time, because Black lives are afforded less value,” Crump said. “We will seek answers and justice for Anthony’s family.”

One focus area of Crump’s work is civil suits against police departments involved in shootings. He has reportedly won damages in 200 such cases. The relatives of George Floyd, Ahmaud Ahbrey, Michael Brown and Daunte Wright are among Crump’s clients. Monday, Crump was photographed with Rev. Al Sharpton and others outside a courthouse in Minneapolis as jury deliberations began in the murder trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin. Chauvin is accused of killing Floyd in May 2020.

Crump’s involvement heightens attention on a shooting that has already drawn strong interest and emotional reaction from the community. Rallies have called for concrete steps to reduce gun violence in Knoxville and for Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen to release footage of the shooting.

In a Monday morning press conference, Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon again called for the release of police body camera footage of the shooting.

“Every day the video is not released perpetuates rumors and misinformation,” Kincannon told reporters at the City-County Building. “Every day that video is not released undermines public trust. It is my first priority to get the video released.”

Allen has refused to release the footage so far, saying doing so at this stage could taint the investigation. Allen’s position is supported by Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs. In addition to Kincannon, Knoxville police chief Eve Thomas and three of the four police officers involved in the shooting say they want the footage released.

Friday, Knoxville Law Director Charles Swanson asked a judge to confirm the city would not violate a 2019 court order if it went ahead and released the KPD body camera footage on its own. The city contends the court order applies only to unredacted footage in pending criminal trials, and no criminal proceedings have begun from the April 12 shooting.

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