KNOXVILLE, Tennessee – A police officer who shot dead Anthony J. Thompson Jr., 17, in a chaotic confrontation in a high school bathroom on April 12 will not be prosecuted.
Knox District Attorney General Charme Allen said she would not charge Constable Jonathon Clabough, who fired the shot that killed Thompson. Clabough also shot Officer Adam Willson in the fight.
“This is a case of self-defense,” Allen said at a two-hour press conference. “In the end, we found Agent Clabough’s shooting to be justified.”
Prominent civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump announced Monday that he is representing Thompson’s family.
“Once again, when a black person is killed, in this case a black child, the police quickly craft a narrative to justify the death,” Crump said in a statement on Twitter.
In the days following the shooting, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation released two different accounts of what happened, including a flawed claim that Thompson fired a shot that hit an officer.
“The whole world was told that Anthony shot an officer and that’s why the police killed him,” Crump said.
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Allen showed bodycam video footage on Wednesday following growing calls for the video to be released. After Allen announced his decision not to press charges, protesters gathered outside the Knoxville Police Department and the high school.
The videos show a short but chaotic confrontation between the teenager and the Knoxville cops inside the bathroom. In the end, Thompson is face down on the floor and Willson stepped out of the door.
Allen said police went to the school bathroom to find Thompson after his girlfriend’s mother accused Thompson of beating her daughter at school. Thompson and his best friend were inside, each in separate stalls, although it was not clear if the police knew this when they entered the bathroom.
Body camera footage revealed that four officers were in the bathroom: Clabough, Constable Brian Baldwin, School Resources Officer Adam Willson, and Lt. Stanley Cash. They surrounded Thompson, who was carrying a backpack, and started pulling him out of the stall.
Allen said Clabough saw a gun in the front pocket of Thompson’s hoodie “with Anthony Thompson’s hand” on the butt.
“He thinks, ‘I’m about to die,’ Allen said of the officer’s state of mind.
Suddenly, Thompson’s gun fired. Baldwin immediately moved away from Clabough’s sight. Clabough mistakenly believed Baldwin had been shot so he fired, hitting Thompson in the chest.
Allen said Clabough fired a second shot because he believed Thompson was about to shoot Cash. That blow, she said, hit Willson on the back of his thigh. Cash then climbed above Thompson, who was face down on the floor and bleeding to death.
Allen said it was only 11 seconds between when Clabough first saw the gun and when he shot Thompson.
Allen said she looked at the body camera footage and reviewed the evidence with Thompson’s family to explain why she refused to blame the police for her death. She did not explain to reporters the family’s reaction, including whether they agreed with her decision.
“I just spent four hours with (Thompson’s) family,” Allen said. “It has been a painfully long and agonizing four hours for this family. The only thing the family asked me to do was not to release the video today.”
She released the footage anyway, noting that she had promised to do so last week. Knoxville’s leaders and advocates had asked him to let the community see what had happened.
The police have been on paid leave since the shooting. Willson was hospitalized for a few days and is now on paid leave as he recovers at home. His lawyer, Charles Burks Jr., told Knox News on Wednesday night that he had believed from the start that the officers would be justified.
Contributor: Angela Dennis