Lawsuit: Records being withheld in Tenn. OIS
Video and documents about the August shooting of Channara Tom Pheap could clear up disputed details of OIS
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Attorneys for the family of a man killed by a Tennessee police officer filed a lawsuit Wednesday against officials, saying public records are being purposefully withheld.
Police said Channara Tom Pheap, 33, was killed by Knoxville Officer Dylan Williams after a physical struggle in August, but lawyers for Pheap's family say they still haven't seen 911 records, the final autopsy report or cruiser video from the scene, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported. Those details could potentially clear up disputed details about the shooting, including whether Pheap was shot in the back, the attorneys said. Police also have not said whether Pheap was armed.
"We're sorry that we have to file this, but we have to find some way to get the family some answers about what happened to their son and brother," attorney Joshua Hedrick told the newspaper. "We appreciate that the government sometimes wants to operate in secret, but there are some basic facts that can and should be disclosed."
The suit was filed by Hedrick and attorney Lance Baker against the city of Knoxville, Knox County and the Knox County Emergency Communications District.
Knox County Law Director Richard "Bud" Armstrong has previously cited a "pending investigation" by the sheriff's office as cause for withholding the investigative file.
According to the lawsuit, Knox County Sheriff's Office Detective James Hurst said last month that the investigative file had been turned over to the Knox County District Attorney General's Office for review.
A spokesman for that office said Sept. 20 that prosecutors were "still in the process of reviewing the file," according to the lawsuit.
Williams, who is white, was responding to a hit-and-run on Aug. 26 when he fatally shot Pheap, who was of Cambodian descent. Williams' statement says he got into a struggle with Pheap, who matched the suspect's description. He said Pheap choked him and used his TASER against him after he tried to pat Pheap down to search for weapons.
Williams' lawyer said Pheap was shot in his side and that Williams had no choice but to shoot Pheap, who had control of the officer's TASER. The officer was later treated for injuries.
But Williams' version of events contradicts some witness accounts and the preliminary Knox County Regional Forensic Center report, which lists Pheap's cause of death as a gunshot wound to the back.
In August, dozens of people protested the shooting and demanded that Police Chief Eve Thomas step down. Activists criticized officials for funding a new police headquarters instead of equipping officers with body cameras.