The city of Knoxville won’t release the names of candidates for chief of police, but at least two rank officers were told they won’t advance in the process, Knox News has learned.
Lt. Gordon Gwathney and Capt. John Kiely submitted their applications to the Police Executive Research Forum, the third-party group the city hired to run the national search. The applications were part of a batch of emails obtained by Knox News through a public records request.
Both recently received a call from Mayor Indya Kincannon telling them they didn’t make the cut.
A third officer, Capt. Tony Willis, also applied to be chief. Knox News could not determine whether he is still under consideration, and the mayor’s office will not identify candidates.
Gwathney, a popular officer in Knoxville’s Black community for years, told Knox News he was not interviewed for the job and only heard from the city when he was told he did not get it.
Willis was reprimanded two years ago after a series of Knox News reports detailed incidents of sexual misconduct by a sergeant and how it was ignored by commanders. Willis was heard on an audio recording obtained by Knox News telling officers “estrogen poisons and destroys the logic center of the brain.”
He was also heard encouraging officers to “remain a real cop” and not become a school security officer when there was recruiting happening for those positions.
Interview committee announced
The city announced Wednesday interviews with the top candidates have begun. The city has created a chief interview advisory committee that will interview candidates and provide feedback to Kincannon, who will sit in on the interviews with the committee.
The committee includes:
- David Brace — City COO, deputy to the mayor
- Stephanie Welch — Chief of Economic and Community Development, deputy to the mayor
- Kelly Drummond — Human Resources director
- Erin Gill — Chief policy officer, deputy to the mayor
- Phil Keith — former Knoxville police chief (1988 to 2004)
- LaKenya Middlebrook — Chief Community Safety Officer, former director of the Police Advisory and Review Committee
- Charles Swanson — Law Director
- Clarence Vaughn — Director of the Office of Diversity and Community Relations in the Haslam College of Business, University of Tennessee, Knoxville and former director of PARC
How we got here
The Knoxville City Council approved a $43,000 contract with the Police Executive Research Forum in January to handle its search for a new chief after Eve Thomas announced last year she was resigning. The Washington, D.C.-based firm won a nearly identical contract with the city of Chattanooga for its police chief search.
Kincannon has said the city hopes to name new police chief by May 1, the day Thomas’ retirement takes effect. The mayor has repeatedly said the choice will be her most important decision and one she’ll carefully consider.
However, as reported by Knox News, the city will not name the finalists for the position. The mayor’s office says it’s a way to get a higher quality of applicants, an assertion debunked by national leaders in open government and police accountability.
The names of applicants and finalists will not be a part of a public record, either, because the applications are handled by a private firm that is not subject to open records requests.
The city recently denied a Knox News public records request seeking this information.
Police Executive Research Forum has an extensive history in this field, though how the process is handled varies by location. Chattanooga, for example, named its police chief finalists, and even conducted public interviews of the candidates, while Louisville, Kentucky, did not.