Judge dismisses remaining elements in Anthony Thompson Jr. lawsuit, but family appeals

A federal judge dismissed the remaining elements of a far-reaching lawsuit over the 2021 police shooting death of 17-year-old Anthony Thompson Jr inside an Austin-East Magnet High School bathroom.

U.S. District Judge Charles E. Atchley Jr. made the ruling Feb. 14, dismissing the remaining allegations against the city of Knoxville. He previously dismissed the portions of the lawsuit against the four Knoxville police officers involved in the shooting in September.

The lawsuit was filed by Thompson's mother, Chanada Robinson, and his best friend, Gralyn Strong, who was with Thompson in the bathroom when he was killed. They plan to appeal Atchley’s decision to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, according to a Feb. 16 filing.

Atchley’s Feb. 14 opinion gave no reasoning for the dismissal, but in an opinion accompanying the previous dismissal regarding the officers, he called Thompson's shooting an “unspeakable tragedy,” but said he must uphold the law that shields police officers from lawsuits based on actions they take in their job duties.

“At just 17 years-old, Anthony was taken from this world far too soon. Plaintiff Robinson lost her son, and plaintiff Strong lost his best friend,” he wrote. “But the court is bound by the law in even the most tragic circumstances, and the law requires dismissal of plaintiffs’ claims against the individual defendants.”

Community members memorialized Anthony Thompson Jr. outside Austin-East Magnet High School in April 2021.
Community members memorialized Anthony Thompson Jr. outside Austin-East Magnet High School in April 2021.

The remaining allegations against the city that were dismissed included claims the city failed to ensure officers were properly trained to use de-escalation techniques and to request help from a specialized crisis response team, and that the city allowed officers to persistently violate policies about how to enter schools, leading directly to Thompson’s death.

The family's attorney, Margaret Held, said the family decided to appeal the ruling after long conversations, thought and prayer. It came down to two angles.

"First, if someone, even a police officer or a federal judge, makes a mistake, it’s my duty as a lawyer to fight and to appeal," Held wrote in a text message to Knox News. "Second, it’s the duty of any mother who has lost a son to keep fighting so that no other mother loses a son. Everyone is human. But we must do better. We will never stop fighting so that no other mom goes through this.”

A spokesperson for the city declined to comment.

What happened?

Thompson was killed April 12, 2021, after four officers converged in the bathroom where he and a friend were hanging out as Thompson cooled off from an argument earlier in the day with his girlfriend.

His girlfriend had left school to go home, and her mother called police to complain about the argument. The girl’s mother, Regina Perkins, told officers Thompson was known to carry a handgun.

Thompson was carrying a handgun in the front pocket of his hoodie because he feared for his safety, especially after his girlfriend's mother sent him a series of threatening texts, according to the lawsuit.

Body camera footage revealed four officers wound up inside the narrow bathroom: officers Jonathan Clabough and Brian Baldwin, school resource officer Adam Willson and Lt. Stan Cash. They surrounded Thompson, who was in a stall and wearing a backpack, and began pulling him out of the stall.

Thompson implored the officers to "wait, wait" as they grabbed for him, and made no aggressive moves.

As the officers grabbed Thompson his gun discharged and a bullet struck a trash can. Baldwin immediately dropped from Clabough's view. Clabough mistakenly believed Baldwin had been shot, so he fired, striking Thompson in the chest with the shot that killed him.

Clabough fired a second shot because he thought Thompson was about to shoot Cash, the DA's office said. That shot struck Willson in the leg.

Tyler Whetstone is an investigative reporter focused on accountability journalism. Connect with Tyler by emailing him at tyler.whetstone@knoxnews.com. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @tyler_whetstone.

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This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Anthony Thompson Jr. shooting lawsuit dismissed from federal court