Civilian board Criticize KPD Chief Over Treatment of Woman by Off Duty Officer

A black woman held at gunpoint by an off-duty Knoxville Police Department officer didn’t have to make her case that his boss – Police Chief David Rausch – was wrong to back him.

In a rare move, citizens on a police advisory committee often criticized as a rubber stamp did it for her at a fiery meeting Thursday night.

“The officer just flat out disregarded any common sense,” said Frank Shanklin, a black member of the Police Advisory and Review Committee. “I think there’s some unconscious racism that caused the officer to respond like he did.”

The group, known as PARC, is refusing to give its approval to Rausch’s decision to deem the actions of Officer Matthew Janish, who is white, proper in Janish’s off-duty encounter with Tonya Jameson in May in Jefferson County.

Jameson, a 45-year-old black woman from Charlotte, N.C., was committing no crime when Janish, dressed in civilian clothes, pointed a gun at her and kept it trained on her even as she complied with his orders.

Jameson was outside the home of Janish’s mother-in-law, changing out a license plate on an SUV she had bought from the mother-in-law, when Janish confronted her, gun drawn.

Despite her repeated attempts to prove ownership of the SUV, Janish continued to train his gun on her as he waited for a Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office deputy to arrive.

That deputy, too, held Jameson at bay – thought not at gunpoint – until Janish’s wife confirmed her mother sold Jameson the SUV. The mother was working on her farm at the time and unavailable by phone.

A Knoxville Police Department officer is under investigation after pulling his gun while off-duty on a woman who was changing a license plate on an SUV she purchased in Jefferson City. Wochit

The civilian review board rarely disagrees with KPD’s disciplinary decisions. But executive director Clarence Vaughn III said a majority of the board disagreed with Rausch’s decision not to discipline Janish. He said the board has conducted its own investigation and will issue recommendations to KPD.

The board has no power over KPD, its officers or its decisions, though.

“All we can do is make recommendations,” Vaughn said.

Jameson and her parents drove from Charlotte to Knoxville on Thursday to speak to the board. But board members began firing off tough questions and commentary to Rausch before Jameson and her parents even got a turn at the microphone.

“It appeared to be either racially motivated or gender bias,” said board member Ann Barker, who is white. “It seemed extreme. I can’t imagine why the gun needed to be drawn.”

Board member Rosa Mar said it was Jameson, who stayed calm and complied with the officer’s demands, who kept the situation from turning fatal – not the officer.

“Luckily, she reacted very calmly,” Mar said. “What would have happened if she had startled?”

Rausch said the officer “kept it from escalating.”

Mar fired back, “I think she kept it from escalating.”

Board member Robbie Arrington, who is white, traded exchanges with Rausch, who continued to defend the officer’s actions as justified. He noted Rausch praised officers for keeping “guns holstered” in a July 4 incident in Lonsdale in which fireworks were shot at officers and two officers injured.

“If we have officers acting in what was called a war zone with weapons holstered, I don’t see how we can’t tell this officer he did something wrong,” Arrington said.

Board member LeKenya Middlebrook, who is black, said Janish could have easily chosen to stay inside his home, phone 911 and wait for a deputy to arrive. No one’s life was being threatened by Jameson – even if it had turned out she was trying to steal the SUV, Middlebrook noted.

“He made the decision to go over there and engage,” she said. “He could have very well stayed on his side of the street.”

When Rausch lauded the number of hours of training for KPD officers, Arrington replied, “It’s not how much training. It’s what’s being trained?”

Jameson’s mother, Carolyn Jameson, and her father, Michele Jameson, told the board they could have been standing over her grave instead of standing before the board.

“My girl could have been shot and killed over a 12-year-old car she purchased legally,” Carolyn Jameson said. “Where in the world does that happen and it’s legal?”

Tonya Jameson said she believes the internal affairs investigation was biased in favor of the officer and the investigator’s questions designed to clear him.

“He never even asked Officer Janish why he drew his weapon,” she said.

Rausch said he and Janish were “sorry this happened.”

“It had nothing to do with race,” he said. “I still believe that.”

Jameson purchased an SUV from Janish’s mother-in-law on April 28 and traveled to Jefferson City to pick up the vehicle on May 3. She arrived in an unmarked taxi. Janish’s mother-in-law wasn’t home, but “she knew I was coming,” Jameson said.

Jameson was unscrewing the license plate with a screwdriver when she heard Janish behind her, announcing himself as an off-duty police officer.

Janish, who’s been with KPD since 2006 and lives across the street from his mother-in-law, trained a gun on Jameson and called Jefferson County E-911.

“I’m an off-duty officer right now and somebody’s trying to steal my mother-in-law’s vehicle,” Janish told the dispatcher, according to a recording of the call.

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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 5618 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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