A Knoxville, Tenn., police officer is under investigation after allegedly pulling his gun while off duty on a black woman who was changing the license plates on an SUV she had recently purchased, and refusing to let her provide proof.
According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Knoxville Police Department is investigating Officer Matthew Janis following a complaint made by Tonya Jameson on May 8, the department confirmed.
Jameson, 45, of Charlotte, N.C., claims that Janis showed poor judgment and used excessive force by holding her at gunpoint during their encounter.
“This is how people wind up dead,” she told the newspaper.
Indeed, we know the story all too well. Luckily for Jameson, she can tell her own story, unlike so many others.
According to Jameson, she had been looking to buy an SUV for about a month when she saw a Craigslist ad pop up in Jefferson, Tenn., on April 25 about an available vehicle.
Jameson made her way down to the owner’s home, test-drove the SUV and then bought it on the spot. The previous owner, another woman, signed over the title. Jameson went back home and registered the vehicle under her name and then made her way back to Tennessee to collect her car.
On May 3 she took a one-way rental car to Morristown, Tenn., before taking an unmarked taxi to the woman’s home.
“She wasn’t home, but she knew I was coming,” Jameson explained.
As Jameson was switching over the license plates, that’s when things went awry.
“I heard a voice behind me say, ‘I’m an off-duty police officer,’” she said. “I turned around and realized he was holding a gun on me.”
Janis had appeared, calling the local 911 at around 3:41 p.m. to report a suspected auto theft. According to the Sentinel, the woman who originally owned the SUV was Janis’ mother-in-law, and he thought Jameson was trying to steal the vehicle.
Janis, who has been on the Knoxville police force since 2006 and lives across the street from his mother-in-law, acknowledged to the dispatcher that he had a gun trained on Jameson.
The Sentinel notes that on the recording, Janis can be heard telling Jameson to “keep your hands in the air” and “stay right there” as he questions her about the cab that had dropped her off and about when and from whom she bought the SUV.
“[My mother-in-law] hasn’t told me anything about it,” Janis can be heard saying in the audio.
Jameson tried to convince Janis that she was just getting the vehicle that was now hers, talking about Janis’ mother-in-law and offering to show him the vehicle’s registration in her bag and the keys, which were in her pocket, but he wouldn’t let her move, Janis said.
It was only when a Jefferson County deputy arrived at 3:49 p.m. that Janis put his gun away, according to the report.
“I said I have the bill of sale signed by the lady ... and the license plate matches the [vehicle identification number] for the truck,” Jameson said she told the two law-enforcement officers.
Again, Jameson said that the officers wouldn’t let her get her bag or produce the documents but instead asked her again about the taxi and the driver, who they suggested was an accomplice. The deputy told Jameson to call the taxi driver and tell him to come back.
“I said, ‘You want me to call the taxi back here?” Jameson recalled.
The situation remained strained until Janis heard from his wife, who confirmed that her mother had indeed sold the SUV to Jameson.
Jameson told the Sentinel that she believes her skin color was a factor in how Janis treated her, since she had posed no threat to him. Jameson filed a complaint with the Police Department and also called Jefferson County Sheriff Bud McCoig. McCoig reportedly told her that he had spoken to the deputy and said that it was a case of no harm, no foul.
“He’s like, ‘The deputy said the call lasted 11 minutes, and you didn’t show him the registration,’” she said.
McCoig declined to identify the deputy involved in the incident.
The sheriff added that he believes that Janis “assumed someone was stealing the car because they pulled up with no markings whatsoever on the [taxi], dropped somebody off, went up to the car [and] started changing the license plate on the car.”
Jameson continues to be troubled “by the idea that [Janis] could have shot” her over the incident.
“It wasn’t protecting someone’s life or his own life. It was a truck. It blows my mind,” she said.
Read more at the Knoxville News Sentinel.