KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) — An advocacy group is calling for the firing of law enforcement officers who fired 16 shots at a car with five teenagers inside after a lengthy pursuit last year, hitting two of them.
The car’s driver, Ciia Hall, was struck three times as the Ford Fusion he was driving passed between Hawkins County Sheriffs Deputy Isaac Hutchins and Mount Carmel Police officer Hunter Jones early on the morning of Jan. 18, 2021. The car was later found to be stolen, though officers did not know it at the time as they had instead been pursuing a stolen pickup truck whose drivers had gotten out and jumped into the Ford.
Hall was 17 at the time and spent more than a week at Holston Valley Medical Center being treated for gunshot wounds to his chest, shoulder and arm before being transferred to a juvenile facility in Johnson City. Authorities charged Hall with two counts of aggravated assault, evading arrest and possession of a stolen vehicle. Early this year Hall’s case was transferred to adult court and two charges of attempted second-degree murder were added.
A home surveillance video shows the car coming into the screen in reverse trying to get away from the two officers, one of whom had blocked its forward progress. The officers chase the car, guns drawn, get in front of it on either side as it turns to position itself to go forward, and fire their shots as it starts forward, while it passes, and after it passes.
“The use of force policy in Mount Carmel is you can’t put yourself in imminent danger, which when the car is backing up and the officers are running after it, you put yourself in imminent danger,” Terence Jones, director of the Total Justice Project (TJP) told News Channel 11 Thursday.
Terence Jones, a former Philadelphia police officer, had driven from his home in New Jersey to attend Thursday’s Mount Carmel Board of Mayor and Alderman meeting and ask BMA members to investigate officer Jones’s actions further. Terence Jones emailed Mount Carmel Police Chief Kenny Lunsford with a formal complaint in April, then emailed the BMA members as well and had gotten no response from anyone as of Thursday morning.
“I wasn’t asking the (BMA) and the police chief of Mount Carmel…to have the officers arrested,” Jones said. “I was saying that they violated your use of force policy.”
Jones and the Dover, Del.-based non-profit TJP advocate, among other things, “for criminal justice and police reform in order to hold officers accountable for their misconduct.”
A Philadelphia attorney who Hall’s mother, Tywanna Anderson, had contacted reached out to Jones last year asking him to review the case. After getting some discovery documents, Jones said he quickly determined Hall’s case was worth his volunteer time and that officer Jones had clearly violated Mount Carmel’s excessive force policy (Hawkins County hasn’t sent its policy).
“It was overwhelmingly, painfully obvious that both officers used excessive force, that both officers attempted to murder all five of the juvenile kids that were in that car,” Jones said.
A Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) investigation of the shooting apparently didn’t result in a recommendation of discipline against either officer. Terence Jones said he believes TBI investigator Brian Fraley didn’t adequately investigate the shooting, which occurred after two of the five teens jumped out of a pickup Hutchins and officer Jones had been pursuing and ran to a waiting Ford Fusion.
The teen who was driving the truck received a gunshot wound to the leg from the officers’ fire and faces theft and evading arrest charges in juvenile court.
A report dated Jan. 26, 2021 based on a Jan. 20 interview Fraley conducted with officer Jones (the Mount Carmel officer) and his attorney says Jones testified that he drove forward and blocked the Ford as Hutchins ran up behind him.
“Jones got out and Hutchins was striking the car with an ASP baton (an expandable metal baton),” the report states. “Jones stated the driver couldn’t get the car in reverse and revved the engine an (sic) cut the wheels to back out; both Hutchins and Jones followed on foot with guns out yelling for the driver to stop the car.”
As a home video shows, the car then turned to be able to drive forward. Officer Jones ran in front of the car at that time and both officers pointed their guns while standing on either side of it.
“Jones stated that the driver came forward directly at them,” the report says. “Extremely close to both. Toward Hutchins, fired 4 or 5 times and heard shot to his right (where Hutchins was at). Jones stated he stopped firing after the vehicle was ‘out of his sight picture.'”
The report says the officers got in their cars and pursued the Ford briefly and that after that “Hutchins was out of his car and limping trying to walk and fell flat on his face on the sidewalk.”
In an earlier, signed narrative from the day of the shooting, Fraley wrote the following: “Hall reversed the Fusion then accelerated toward the officers who had exited their vehicles, striking one officer causing bodily injury before fleeing the scene.”
Terence Jones said he sees no evidence at all that Hutchins was hit by the car or that Hall was trying to do anything other than flee the scene.
“He’s (Hutchins) trying to break the glass with all his might and the other officer’s pointing a gun saying ‘get out of the vehicle, get out of the vehicle,'” he said. “So these kids are scared.”
Home security video makes situation ‘clear as the day and night’
As the Ford comes into view in the video driving in reverse, “the officers are running after it, putting themselves in imminent danger,” Terence Jones said. “And then, you know, the rest happened. They fired into the car. There’s no reason to fire into that car.”
While he was already convinced about the case’s merit after reading documents, Terence Jones said the video, which shows a fairly good stretch of Cherokee Village Road, took things to a different level.
“Once I looked at the video, it’s clear as day and night,” he said.
Jones said it was emotional for him to watch as he thought of how it could have happened to his son, or a nephew or the son of one of his friends.
“To see the Ford Fusion back up and the officers running after the vehicle — that’s wrong. There’s no police department in the United States that I know of that teaches their officers (that) …”
He said even after running to the front of the car, Hutchins and officer Jones weren’t literally “in front of” the car.
“When they say that they’re in front of the car … they’re usually technically to the left or right front of the vehicle.”
Along with what he said are some discrepancies and issues in the written reports, Jones said the video calls into question Fraley’s investigation.
“It’s amazing that when the TBI investigator had a chance to talk to the four or five passengers and one passenger said that he looked at news reports (which said an officer was hit) and didn’t believe the officer was hit — why don’t you expound on that?”
Jones said he plans to follow up his formal complaints about the two officers with another against Fraley.
“You cannot interview all these people and look at that video and then charge the juvenile with two counts of aggravated assault and two counts of attempted murder,” Jones said. “So I believe that special agent Fraley has a problem.”
Family taking it day by day
Tywanna Anderson remembers getting the early morning call that her son was at the hospital and had been shot. Arriving at the hospital an emotional wreck, she was then told she wasn’t going to be allowed to see him.
“I called the hospital,” she said. “They would not let me see my underage son.”
Hall’s father, Carllone Hall, remembered hospital staff coming slowly down to the couple and calling them to the chapel about 25 minutes after they arrived.
“Right before the chapel they told us that our son had gotten shot in the chest,” Anderson said before she began to weep. “So we thought he was dead. Thought he was dead.”
After about two weeks Hall was transferred to the juvenile detention center in Johnson City and was allowed a phone call with his parents. They still weren’t allowed to see him in person.
“We’re his parents and Ciia was underage at the time and they were supposed to come and let us question him in front of us, but Brian Fraley said that I could not see my son.”
That even extended to after Hall was transferred from the hospital to a Johnson City detention center. Anderson said Fraley told her on the phone she wouldn’t be allowed to see Ciia. She said he didn’t provide a reason.
“It got very confrontational between us, so I just ended it,” she recalled.
“We didn’t see him when he got shot, anytime after he got shot, any time he was in Johnson City,” Carllone Hall said.
Instead, Anderson doubled her efforts to come up with enough for the 10% of the $75,000 bond he was being held on. She got a better-paying job in her field and also began driving an Uber to make extra money.
“I just had to hurry up to be able to do something to be able to see my child,” she said.
But the stress, both financial and emotional, eventually caused the family to get evicted from their rented home.
“It basically caused us to lose everything,” Anderson, a small, slight woman with a soft voice, said. “We took everything that we had and we took all of the income tax and stimuluses and put them together.”
Meanwhile, Hall was on house arrest, which he violated as the family bounced from place to place. He was dealing with the aftermath of his injuries, including a bullet lodged in his arm.
“He’s really not being able to process being shot and all of that because his life is still being threatened with being in prison,” Carllone Hall said. “He’s communicative but you’ve got to kind of melt him down into it because he’s kind of uptight about everything … something like that happens to you you definitely want to see your parents, and at least your mom.”
In January, a year after the shooting, Hall’s case was officially transferred to adult court and the charges upgraded. He had spent several months in the Sullivan County jail in the meantime for violating terms of his house arrest.
With the new charges came a $150,000 bond, which the family was able to cover, and now Hall is home on house arrest with an arraignment set for June.
Anderson said her son is “improving some” physically, but doesn’t have full use of his right hand.
“We were just told last week that it’s as good as it’s going to get,” she said. “He has pain. He’s started to have loss of feeling in his arm and they weren’t able to tell us what’s going to happen with that.”
Both Hall’s parents said he is an empathetic, funny kid. Carllone Hall said his son, who turned 19 in March, is able to communicate well with people of any age.
“We really want him to be able to have a future,” Hall said. “We don’t want what happened when he was 17 affect him for the rest of his life. Attempted murder, twice, that’s way too much. He knows from him getting shot to the charges he’s facing it’s way too much.”
The road ahead
Rather than see her son face trial or even be convicted for the assault or attempted murder charges, Anderson said she believes officer Hunter Jones and Hutchins should be fired.
“I think they should also be charged,” she said. “They were running after that car, trying to kill those kids.”
News Channel 11 emailed both departments asking about Terence Jones’s written complaints and whether action had been considered or taken against either officer, but had received no response as of close of business Thursday.
Anderson said she also can’t help but wonder whether race is a factor. She and Carllone Hall are both Black. The other injured teen is biracial while the rest of the kids in the car were white.
“I see Black men being killed on the news like every day, but I never thought that I would get a phone call that it was my son,” she said. “Never in a million years, not in Kingsport, Tennessee, where my family helped to build and worked for the people that actually started the town. That my child would be treated differently than other children.
“It is hard, and it makes me feel like I’m not welcome in the town that I was raised in — so it makes me feel like I have no home here. That’s how it makes me feel.”
For his part, Terence Jones said he doesn’t come into cases like this looking to excuse crimes people might have committed, including Ciia Hall.
“I know because he’s behind the wheel of a stolen vehicle he should be charged,” Jones said of Hall. “I don’t have a problem with him being charged with that.”
He said with the aggravated assault and attempted murder charges based on an allegation Hall hit one of the officers aren’t supported by evidence.
“They’re saying that he hit the officer. That’s a lie. He never hit the officer. The video was a perfect witness, so I would beg and plead with the state attorney general to dismiss those charges.”
He said the video shows the officers planting their feet and not moving as the car passes.
“If you’re going to get hit or you’re afraid you’re going to get hit by a vehicle you will try to move out of the way. It’s a natural reaction.”
In the short term, Terence Jones is looking for some type of response from the town of Mount Carmel, whose board ultimately controls the police department. He said he’ll remind BMA members that he emailed them more than once and didn’t get a response.
“I’m going to Mount Carmel because you’re police chief Kenny Lunsford’s boss,” Jones said. “So I want some accountability. I don’t how they do things in Mount Carmel Tennessee, but we’re going to find out. I want some answers.”
Jones said he also has a message for people who might question why he’d spend so much time on a case involving two stolen cars and teenagers out for hours in the middle of the night.
“I would say to those viewers that are sitting tall and mighty and in the glass house — ‘your kids are perfect? Your kids have never done anything wrong?’
“It’s not the job of the police to be the judge, jury and executioner.”
He said he’d like parents to put themselves in the same situation.
“Would your kid deserve to be killed? Because this kid got shot in the chest, right shoulder and arm. He could have been killed. Every kid in that car. Three of the kids were never charged with a crime. So those kids deserve to be shot?
“Only through the grace of God those bullets miss them … so I would say that’s wrong, and they’ve got to put themselves in other people’s shoes as parents.”