JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Several protesters were shut down by city leaders during a Johnson City Commission meeting.
Thursday night’s meeting was the second in which a group of protesters listed several demands for city leaders in the wake of a federal lawsuit against the city.
The lawsuit filed by former federal attorney Kateri Dahl alleged she was fired after repeated attempts to get the Johnson City Police Department to investigate an alleged serial rapist only listed in the lawsuit as “Robert Voe.”
Protesters again tried to make their voices heard at the commission meeting but were met with opposition from Johnson City Mayor Joe Wise, who told protesters that speaking on topics not on the agenda was not allowed.
“This is a public meeting. Not a public forum. Our community has lots of public forums. There are places where these issues get a hearing. This is not one of those places,” Wise told protesters.
Some protesters were escorted out of the commission chambers by Johnson City police officers.
Protesters attempted to read a list of demands during public comment on unrelated items.
Those demands include suspending Police Chief Karl Turner during an open third-party investigation of the department, an audit of all untested rape kits, re-allocating some of the department’s budget to organizations aiding sexual assault victims, and creating a police accountability board.
Gabrielle Ashley, one of the protesters, said they came to the meetings to make their voices heard after attempts to contact city officials via email and phone were largely fruitless.
“We don’t need them to talk to us. We need them to listen to us. We need them to really take this seriously and understand our concerns,” Ashley said.
After the meeting, Wise clarified his comments to the protesters.
“When we’re trying to maintain an orderly meeting, that should not be seen as indifference to victims of crime,” Wise said.
The city is pursuing a third-party review of the police department’s handling of rape and sexual assault cases. As of Thursday, the city is still searching for a candidate to handle the review.
“What we’re looking for is a national expert,” Wise said. “With a third party review, the idea is to bring somebody in who brings experience but fresh eyes who can look at our agency and look at our strengths and weaknesses and make some statements and give some guidance.”
The mayor said the review would be a process and likely take some time to complete.
But with demands going much further than just the third-party review and suspension of Turner, protester Jeff Clark said the city’s response has not been enough.
“What we demand is a much more public moving forward of this, to not hide behind the lawsuit as a reason not to speak,” Clark said.
David Hall was the first protester to be escorted from the meeting. He said speaking up on the lawsuit is about pushing for a stronger future in the city.
“This is going to hurt Johnson City’s image no matter what, and so if we can inform more people that this is happening, we can help clean up Johnson City, bring back justice,” Hall said.
Most of the protesters wore teal-colored t-shirts in an effort to bring awareness to victims and survivors of sexual assault.
Clark said the group plans to canvas some Johnson City neighborhoods and will be back for future Johnson City Commission meetings.