An off-duty Knoxville police officer was wrong to hold a Charlotte woman at gunpoint as she changed a license plate on her newly-purchased SUV, and the city’s police chief erred in backing the officer’s actions, a civilian review board concluded Thursday.
Tonya Jameson filed a complaint on May 8 against Officer Matthew Janish, saying he exhibited poor judgment and used excessive force in holding her at gunpoint. An Internal Affairs review later ruled that Janish believed he saw suspicious behavior May 3 when he noticed Jameson at his mother-in-law’s SUV, according to the Knoxville Mercury.
Jameson worked as a reporter and columnist for the Charlotte Observer from 1994 to 2009.
On Thursday night, the Knoxville Police Advisory and Review Committee disagreed with the police department’s findings. The advisory panel rarely sides against the police, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.
In Jameson’s case, the panel found the officer was unjustified in holding her at gunpoint.
“The officer just flat-out disregarded any common sense,” the News Sentinel quoted Frank Shanklin, a black member of the committee, as saying during Thursday’s hearing. “I think there’s some unconscious racism that caused the officer to respond like he did.”
Jameson is black and Janish is white.
Jameson told the Observer on Friday that the board’s ruling surprised her. She and her parents drove from Charlotte to attend the hearing.
“I went there suspecting they would support the police,” she said.
Jameson said she attended the hearing to let the panel know she considered the officer’s behavior “unacceptable, and that the way Internal Affairs handles citizens’ complaints needs to be changed, too.”
She said she was glad the panel planned to recommend that the department provide more anti-bias training and improved deescalation training. That should include officers knowing they should first talk with a person instead of pulling a gun on them, she said.