KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – A police officer who fatally shot 17-year-old Anthony J. Thompson Jr. in a chaotic confrontation inside a high school bathroom on April 12 will not face charges.
Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen said she will not charge officer Jonathon Clabough, who fired the shot that killed Thompson. Clabough also shot officer Adam Willson in the struggle.
“This is a self-defense case,” Allen said at a two-hour news conference. “At the end of the day, we have found the shooting by Officer Clabough was justified.”
Prominent civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump announced Monday he is representing Thompson’s family.
“Once again, when a Black person is killed, in this case a Black child, the police quickly shape a narrative to justify the death,” said Crump in a statement issued on Twitter.
In the days after the shooting, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation released two differing accounts of what occurred, including an incorrect assertion that Thompson fired a shot that struck an officer.
“The world was told that Anthony shot an officer and that’s why police fatally shot him,” Crump said.
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Allen showed bodycam video footage Wednesday following growing calls for the video to be released. After Allen announced her decision not to press charges, protestors gathered outside the Knoxville Police Department and the high school.
The videos show a short but chaotic confrontation between the teen and Knoxville police officers inside the bathroom. In the end, Thompson is face-down on the floor and Willson is being pulled out the door.
Allen said police went into the school’s 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, though it’s not clear whether police knew that when they entered the bathroom.
Body camera footage revealed four officers wound up inside the bathroom: Clabough, officer Brian Baldwin, school resource officer Adam Willson and Lt. Stanley Cash. They surrounded Thompson, who was wearing a backpack, and began 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 mindset.
Suddenly, Thompson’s gun fired. Baldwin immediately dropped away from Clabough’s view. Clabough mistakenly believed Baldwin had been shot so he fired, striking Thompson in the chest.
Allen said Clabough fired a second shot because he believed Thompson was about to shoot Cash. That shot, she said, struck Willson in the back of his thigh. Cash then climbed on top of Thompson, who was facedown on the floor and bleeding to death.
Allen said only 11 seconds elapsed between the time Clabough first saw the gun and when he shot Thompson.
Allen said she reviewed body camera footage and went over the evidence with Thompson’s family to explain why she was refusing to charge the officers in his death. She didn’t explain to reporters the family’s reaction, including whether they agreed with her decision.
“I have just spent four hours with (Thompson’s) family,” Allen said. “That was a painfully long and agonizing four hours for that family. The only thing the family asked me to do was not to release the video today.”
She released the footage anyway, noting she had promised last week to do so. Knoxville leaders and advocates had asked her to let the community see what happened.
The officers have been on paid leave since the shooting. Willson was hospitalized for a few days and is now on paid leave as he recuperates at home. His attorney, Charles Burks Jr., told Knox News on Wednesday night he has believed from the start the officers would be vindicated.
Contributing: Angela Dennis