MOUNT CARMEL, Tenn. (WJHL) — Things got contentious at Thursday’s Mount Carmel Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) meeting after the mayor told a criminal justice advocate he had exceeded a three-minute public comment limit (he hadn’t), with Mayor Pat Stilwell at one point threatening to have him arrested.
Terence Jones of the non-profit group Total Justice Project (TJP) had asked the BMA to fire Hunter Jones, a Mount Carmel police officer. Hunter Jones, along with a Hawkins County deputy, fired 16 shots at a car attempting to flee in Kingsport on Jan. 18, 2021. Thirteen shots hit the car and three hit driver Ciia Hall, who was 17 at the time but has been charged as an adult with two counts of attempted second degree murder.
Jones and Hall’s parents conducted an exclusive interview with News Channel 11 earlier Thursday.
Jones, who actually spoke for just one minute, 43 seconds before Stilwell attempted to cut him off, told BMA members they had the authority to fire Hunter Jones, whom he said had violated the police department’s excessive force policy in the shooting. A video captured from a home camera shows Jones and Isaac Hutchins, the Hawkins County deputy, chasing the car driven by Hall and occupied by four other teenagers, as it tried to flee in reverse.
As the car turned, the officers ran in front to either side of it and then began firing their handguns at the second it began moving forward. Hunter Jones admitted in testimony to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) that he continued to fire even at the rear of the car until it was “out of his sight picture.”
Jones had emailed BMA members a formal complaint in early April, which none of them had replied to.
“It appears that you and Chief Lunsford are intentionally ignoring a concerned citizen’s complaint against the police officer who is employed by the Mount Carmel Police Department,” Terence Jones said. “Please be advised that you both are violating my First Amendment right to file a grievance against officer Jones and petition the government to fire him for using excessive force and knowingly violating the Mount Carmel Police Department’s use of force policy.”
By the time he finished that statement, the bell had gone off (1:36 after he introduced himself) and Stilwell had said “thank you.”
Jones asked for more time, saying the shooting was a very serious matter.
“I cannot,” Stilwell said. “It’s in our bylaws not to (exceed) three minutes. Please sit.”
“Well, I’m not going to sit down,” Jones said. “I have a First Amendment right to free speech.”
He then said he wanted to use the time that would have been available to Hall’s mother, who was present and who told the Mayor she was willing to cede her time.
The next several minutes involved a back-and-forth between Jones, Stilwell and the town attorney, Joe May. May concurred with Stilwell’s judgment and Jones continued to stand and interact with them.
“They even do this in Congress, where they give someone else’s three minutes,” Jones said.
“I’m sorry,” Stilwell replied. “You need to leave now or sit down.”
Jones asked what Stilwell was going to do if he didn’t leave.
“I will have you arrested,” she said.
Eventually, May told Jones he was “speaking of a criminal offense, if it exists, against some officer. If you have a complaint, you need to address it to the district attorney.”
Jones tried to explain that he wasn’t bringing forward a criminal complaint but was asking the board to take a personnel action related to police department policy.
“I asked a question and I would like your lawyer to answer, which is, when you have a citizen file a formal complaint to your mayor and to your police chief, do they have an obligation — it’s real simple and then I’ll go — do they have an obligation to acknowledge the formal complaint against their officer that allegedly used excessive force and violated your police chief’s use of force policy?”
Jones did speak with Lunsford outside the meeting and said he appreciated the police chief’s cordial and professional discussion with him. Jones told News Channel 11 after that conversation that Lunsford had mentioned that the TBI had conducted the investigation, not his department.
“I asked him if he could please open up an investigation and not look into whether Officer Jones should be fired, but look into did he violate the police chief’s use of force policy … and the police chief said that he will take a look at it.”
Jones called that “a blessing” and a win for him, “and I really appreciate the fairness and the impartiality of the police chief.”