Racial profiling in officer shooting investigation?

By: Gordon Boyd
By: Gordon Boyd

KNOXVILLE (WVLT) - Knoxville Police Officer Norman Rickman remained in critical condition at UT Medical Center on Saturday. The 19-year KPD veteran was shot Tuesday afternoon while trying to stop a burglary.

Investigators have said little about his wounds, except that at least one came from a bullet fired at close range. Published reports have even quoted court documents that describe the shooting as "execution style."

Within 24 hours of the shooting, three men had been taken into custody as suspects. However not everyone has praised the methods which Knoxville Police used to catch those connected to Officer Rickman's shooting.

One of the most vocal has been Rev. Ezra Maize, a church activist from First A.M.E. Zion and a leader of Knoxville's chapter of the NAACP.

This weekend Rev. Maize was part of a 24 hour "Preach-A-Thon" for community peace. A peace he claims the circumstances surrounding the apprehension of Officer Rickman's alleged shooters has threatened.

"I totally understand that from the police department's perspective, they have to do their job," Rev. Maize, "but the flip side is that you can damage a community.

On Saturday, it had been four days since the shooting and three days the alleged shooter gave himself up, but Rev. Maize still hadn't changed his take on the police tactics that brought all three suspects into custody.

"You can lose trust in the police department when you take in a group of African American men, who are, all of them, not quote unquote involved with the crime," he said.

A day after the shooting, members of the Knoxville Police Department explained that profiling played no part in why the men were taken into question.

"Those guys were part of the folks that either ran from us, or we had some information to follow up with them," said a KPD representative.

Police have since charged convicted carjacker James Willie Murry and 17 year old Tony Dixon with burglary. They were among eight young black men detained and questioned in the hours following the shooting. Six were eventually released.

“What can we say about the other six that is justifiable,” asked Rev. Maize?

The police maintain that because the men ran, that made them suspicious and prompted them to pursue them. But Rev. Maize disagreed with how running from the scene could automatically make them suspicious, and questioned whether police made skin color their only grounds for suspicion.

“Hypothetically speaking, if a crime takes place and I'm running and trying to save my own life, is that just cause to take me in,” he asked? “I believe it was racial profiling.”

On Wednesday, police said that the six men detained were released from custody after they made it clear that they weren’t involved. On Saturday afternoon they stood by their decisions during the initial investigation.

“All persons were detained based on probable cause or leads that were provided to us in the course of our investigation,” said Sgt. Brad Anders, speaking for the police.

Rev. Maize said he knows the family of one of those young men police released, and feels that he was detained for no reason.

“That young gentleman had nothing to do with the shooting,” he said, “and again, you can damage people by making immediate decisions without thinking them through.”

He plans to meet with Knoxville Police Chief Sterling Owen sometime next week.

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