Activist and former Knoxville City Council candidate David Hayes was arrested Friday afternoon at a public meeting called to solicit community input on the city’s search for a new police chief.
Knox County Sheriff’s Office deputies confronted Hayes just outside the City-Council Building meeting room and took him into custody. When Hayes refused to walk with the deputies, they carried him, handcuffed, by his arms and legs through the building to a detention room as onlookers took videos.
“I was right there outside of the meeting room and saw David talking to a deputy,” community activist Tyler Givens told Knox News. “The deputy then put his hand on him. I saw no struggle. Next thing you know he was on the ground and they were arresting him.”
Sheriff’s Office officials could not be reached for comment, and county offices were closed Friday because of inclement weather. Kimberly Glenn, spokesperson for the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, did not return a phone message or an email.
The city is hosting a series of listening sessions “to gather input to help guide the search for the next KPD chief” after Chief Eve Thomas announced she will retire in May.
Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon said she was not given a heads-up about the arrest.
“I had no idea that it was happening. I had no idea that he was going to be arrested. I didn’t hear about it until after it had already happened,” she told Knox News.
Kathy D. Mack, Knoxville’s community engagement manager, said the meeting was going well and she was shocked by the arrest.
“We feel like we were making forward progress and now it took a left turn,” Mack told Knox News. “I had no knowledge of what was going to happen. This is not at all what we wanted to happen. It’s upsetting.”
Erin Gill, Knoxville’s chief policy officer, said officials purposefully declined to have city police officers at the meeting.
“We specifically had no KPD presence or officers here for this reason because we wanted there to be trust. We wanted this to be a safe space,” she said.
The Knoxville Police Department has been under intense scrutiny after an officer shot and killed a 17-year-old Black high school student in a school bathroom. Separately, Knox News has reported extensively on what some officers described as a culture of racism and sexism in the department.
With the retirement of three of its top commanders in recent weeks, the department’s leadership is unraveling.
Hayes was one of the leaders of this summer’s protests against KPD after the shooting killing of teenager Anthony Thompson Jr. at Austin-East Magnet High School. Hayes has run for City Council in the past, most recently in the 2021 election.
Another one of the protest leaders, the Rev. Calvin Skinner, said he’s not surprised the sheriff’s office arrested Hayes in a public way. Skinner and others were arrested at a Knox County Commission meeting as they engaged in act of civil disobedience this spring to protest Thompson’s death.
“In light of the happened last night with Robert Bailey and months ago, David’s participation with addressing the killing of Anthony Thompson Jr., I have every reason to question law enforcement’s intention to suppress and intimidate vocal activists,” he said.
Bailey died in Knoxville Police Department custody this week after officers said he experienced a medical emergency.
This report will be updated. Knox News journalists Sarah Riley and Tyler Whetstone contributed to this report.