By Vivian Shipe
KNOXVILLE, TN — On Monday, August 26th, Channara Pheap died in the rain. The Knox County Regional Forensic Center listed the cause of death as a gunshot wound to the back. Beyond this fact, everything else about what led to the young man of Cambodian descent being shot by Knoxville City police officer Dylan Williams is unclear. One reason: city officers do not wear body cameras.
This lack of clear understanding of what exactly happened has led to an uproar in the Knoxville community. As Mayor Rogero asked for the city to remain calm as the investigation goes forth; many of those citizens, outraged by the shooting, appeared before the city council on the following night to demand the city not only invest in body cameras but also demanded that PARC; the Police Advisory Review Committee be given more power and that the city hire more minorities for the police force.
The Knox County Sheriffs Department has had body cameras for several years. Those in attendance at the council meeting called for cameras to be purchased by the city and raised the question as to why the fire department received bullet proof vests and officers can’t get cameras or crisis training.
The city and county have an agreement that they conduct each others criminal investigation involving an officer shooting; the reports are then turned over to the District Attorneys Office who then turns the case over to internal affairs and then and only then is the case turned over to PARC for review. It is the perceived conflict of interest in this investigation and the lack of perceived power and authority by the PARC involvement that has also raised the ire of the community.
PARC, the Police Advisory Review Committee, was created in September of 1998 as a means of strengthening the relationship between the Knoxville Police Department and the community by holding independent reviews of police actions. The community has called for stronger powers of this committee to include subpoena powers. In response to the demand for more subpoena power by committee, Clarence Vaughan III has said, “PARC has and maintained its access to subpoena powers by way of request to a legislative body. Therefore, our elected city council members play a significant role in granting a request for access to subpoena powers by PARC.”
Those in attendance at the council meeting also called for more minority officers. Constance Every, one of several community activist who spoke before the council mentioned that four police academies had been recently held with only one minority making the cut. As the investigation continues, Officer Williams is on paid administrative leave. The community has mounted a go fund me account to help with the funeral arrangements and needs of the family of the late Mr. Pheaps.