Racial Tensions Rise Around Deli Incident

County Commissioner Dasha Lundy

Racial Tensions Rise Around Deli Incident

After Sheriff Tom Spangler refuses to publicly answer questions, Commissioner Dasha Lundy says she will attempt to bring subpoenas.

by jesse fox mayshark • January 18, 2022

County Commissioner Dasha Lundy

county Commissioner Dasha Lundy at Tuesday's meeting, beneath a map of Knox County.

Knox County Commissioner Dasha Lundy said Tuesday night that she will file for subpoenas next month of Sheriff Tom Spangler and some of his deputies and staff to try to clarify what happened in a November encounter at a McAlister’s Deli restaurant.

It would require a two-thirds vote of Commission to approve any subpoenas.

Spangler refused a request from Lundy to appear at Tuesday’s Commission work session to answer questions or to have any of his staff members present.

“I did not want to go this route,” Lundy said during the meeting. “I didn’t want to put my (fellow) commissioners in this position. I need a two-thirds vote to even subpoena. And I know that it gets very sensitive when it comes to the Black community and law enforcement.”

Lundy is the only Black member of Commission, and for the last two months she has been raising questions about the Nov. 21 incident in which three sheriff’s deputies said they had been refused service at the McAlister’s location at 2758 Schaad Road. 

Kimberly Glenn, Spangler’s communications director, posted the deputies’ allegations on her personal Facebook page that evening, apparently without contacting the restaurant for information. Her post created a small storm of social media outrage against McAlister’s and its employees from law enforcement supporters.

McAlister’s officials responded the next day that they too were supporters of law enforcement, and the day after that they fired the 15-year-old girl the deputies had said refused them service — although McAlister’s said she was fired for her age rather than any actions, saying the restaurant is not supposed to employ anyone under 16.

But the girl in question turned out to be Aniya Thompson, the younger sister of Anthony Thompson Jr., who was killed in an encounter with Knoxville police in a bathroom at Austin-East High School in April 2021. She took to social media herself to say that she had not refused to serve anyone, and last month she appeared before County Commission to say that she had been smeared by the Sheriff’s Office.

“Where is the accountability for those who choose to spread misinformation about me when I was only doing my job?” she asked commissioners. She also asked, “If I was anything other than a brown girl, would this have happened?”

Last week, Lundy wrote Spangler a letter requesting that he and the deputies involved attend Tuesday’s work session, saying “It is only fair that the Commission also hears from the officers involved.” She also said she wanted to hear about the department’s social media policy and whether the incident reflected it.

Tuesday morning, Spangler responded with a short email telling Lundy that neither he nor anyone from his department would attend the meeting. He added, “However, if you wish to make an appointment to meet in person I will be happy to accommodate you.” (A copy of the email was provided to Compass by Glenn, on request.)

In response to Lundy’s questions about the KCSO social media policy, Spangler told the commissioner she would have to file a public records request to receive a copy of it.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Lundy said she was frustrated but not surprised by Spangler’s refusal to publicly discuss an incident that his department was responsible for publicizing in the first place.

“It’s very cowardly, it’s very disrespectful, it’s very persistent,” Lundy said. “Since they didn’t show up, it doesn’t hurt my feelings. Because guess what? I knew they wouldn’t show up. Because bullies never show up when it’s hot.”

She said that she had heard from many people — including “white middle-aged women” — who were disturbed by the department’s handling of the incident.

“They’re the ones telling me to call this racism,” Lundy said. “I try not to use the R-word. Because when I say ‘racism’ as a Black woman, I’m overreacting.”

Commissioner Kim Frazier asked Deputy County Law Director Mike Moyers if it was customary for a county official to require commissioners to file public records requests for basic documents like departmental policies.

“I would like to think that an elected officeholder would provide the records to Commission or to a commissioner if asked,” Moyers said. “But they are constitutional officers, they can set their own policies.”

Commissioner Rhonda Lee spoke up in defense of the Sheriff’s Office. She first tried to temper sympathy for Aniya by noting that her brother had a gun with him at school when he was shot. Then she suggested an explanation for the deli incident that had not yet surfaced in the discussion: that Aniya’s real objection was to an in-store McAlister’s policy of giving free food to law enforcement officers.

“If McAlister’s says we give free meals to officers, if you don’t want to honor that, then go work at McDonald’s,” Lee said. “To come in here and make it a race issue to this Commission, to divide our community, this is not about race. This is about respect.”

Lee did not cite a source for her allegation about the free meals. In an email Tuesday night, Glenn said that it was incorrect. “No, sir,” Glenn wrote. “This wasn’t over free meals.”

In any case, Lee said that dwelling on the incident was “destroying our community.” She suggested Aniya should seek counseling rather than blaming the Sheriff’s Office.

“This is something she is going to remember,” Lee said. “But I hope she doesn’t remember that every time something happens in her life to use the race card.”

That prompted Black community activist Rick Roach, who had spoken about the incident during public forum, to leap to the lectern crying, “Shame on you! Shame on you!”

Lundy said she would confer with the county Law Department about drafting subpoenas of those involved in the incident, a power granted to Commission in the county charter although only with a two-thirds vote. That would require eight of the 11 commissioners to approve it, which seems unlikely — Lundy is one of two Democrats on the body, which is generally supportive of the Sheriff’s Office.

She noted the date of last night’s meeting with some irony. “It is the day after Martin Luther King Day, January 17, 2023,” she said. “But in my spirit, it feels like 1960.”

Still, she promised, “I’m not going to let this go.”

CORRECTION: The photo caption has been corrected to the right day — Tuesday rather than Monday.