Knoxville police investigation finds off-duty officer did not violate use of force policy after holding woman at gunpoint

Tonya Jameson (source: Tonya Jameson)

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – The Knoxville Police Department has concluded their investigation of an incident involving a North Carolina woman who was held at gunpoint by an off-duty officer and found the officer did not violate Knoxville Police Department’s use of force policy.

Tonya Jameson said she traveled from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Jefferson City to buy an SUV. Jameson said she was putting her license plate on the back of her newly-bought car when she heard the voice of a man identifying himself as an off-duty police officer.

Jameson said Knoxville Police Department Officer Matthew Janish asked for Jameson’s paperwork, but not before Jameson says he pulled a gun on her. She believes the incident happened because she’s black. She filed a complaint saying Officer Janish used excessive force, unlawfully detained her and brandished a weapon.

Previous story: Woman says off-duty Knoxville police held her at gunpoint while changing license plate

Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch traveled to North Carolina to share the findings with Jameson. He said he felt it was necessary to meet with Jameson to discuss the investigation, explain the findings and allow her the opportunity to ask questions.

“I’m disappointed but I’m not surprised at all,” she said after her meeting with Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch. “In general it seems that whenever officers are accused of wrongdoing, like this especially involving their weapons, there always seems to be some kind of justification for their actions,” added Jameson

Officer Janish said he was working in the front room at his house when he saw a car pull into his mother-in-law’s driveway and drop Jameson off with a duffle bag. He says the car then sped off at a high rate of speed.

Knowing that his mother-in-law was not at home, Janish said the incident seemed suspicious. He said he watched Jameson drop the duffle bag while walking toward the front corner of the house, walk toward the rear of the residence, then reappear and look left and to the right two times, as if they were a lookout. He said he couldn’t get a good visual on what Jameson was doing, but thought it was suspicious because she did not go to the front door.

Janish says he dialed 911 and was on the phone giving the dispatcher the address and his information (That he was an off-duty police officer) and he was somewhat startled when he came upon Jameson. According to him, Jameson was crouched down behind the vehicle with something in her hand. He said it looked like either a knife, a pry bar or a screwdriver and they were prying at something. He said he advised dispatch that he had someone at gunpoint.

Once Jameson turned around, the officer says he realized it was a screwdriver in her hand. She said she had bought the vehicle from Brenda Carter, but his mother-in-law’s name was Brenda Cox. He said she told him she had the keys for the car and bills for sale, but he told her officers were on their way. He said he was there by himself and didn’t want her going into bags or her pockets because he didn’t know if she had a weapon.

Janish says he asked Jameson to take a seat on the step and holstered his weapon when she sat down. He says she kept telling him she had the bill of sale, but he asked her to wait until responding officers arrived.

After an internal investigation, Knoxville Police Department said they found Officer Janish’s actions were lawful and proper because he believed there was suspicious activity at his mother-in-law’s house across the street from his residence. Based on his training and actions, investigators concluded Janish believed there could be some type of burglary that was about to be committed at the residence.

“I told the chief point blank, I don’t think the officer would’ve reacted the same way if he saw me as a white female or a white male,” said Jameson.

During the meeting with Chief Rausch, Jameson says she shared advice on how she thought Knoxville Police Department should handle Internal Affairs investigations.

“Instead of having the exact same officer ask both the complainant and the officer and conduct both interviews,” said Jameson, “Have two separate people do it to have a better chance of not having a biased interview.”

Jameson hopes Knoxville police officers learn to not jump to conclusions simply based on skin color.

“It’s on us as citizens to de-escalate and stay alive,” said Jameson.

Knxoville Police Department said the findings from the report were sent to the Police Advisory and Review Committee.

More: View the full report

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero issued a statement saying:

The Internal Affairs report in this case addresses the question of appropriate procedure for a police officer and whether the response followed KPD policies and practices. That is an important part of this picture, and I want to emphasize how much training our officers receive in appropriate use of force and de-escalation. Our police department is deeply involved in our community and has built trust and rapport in neighborhoods across our city. In this case, even though he was off duty, the investigation showed that Officer Janish acted within the bounds of his training and appropriate police work in investigating a situation that appeared suspicious to him.

But there is another important part of this story that goes beyond policies and procedures, and we need to be clear about that, too. Any of us can imagine what it would be like to be alone in an unfamiliar area, having done nothing wrong, and suddenly be confronted by a man with a gun. Ms. Jameson had a terrible experience, and she was understandably upset by it.

I know nothing can change what happened, but we take these concerns seriously enough that Chief Rausch has traveled to North Carolina to present the report to Ms. Jameson in person and answer any questions she may have about it. The report will also be reviewed by our citizen-led Police Advisory and Review Committee, as all Internal Affairs reports are.

I want to assure Ms. Jameson that our city is a welcoming place. We embrace people of all races, ethnicities, religions, genders and orientations, and we train our police officers to do the same. I am sorry for the misunderstanding that led to this unfortunate encounter.

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