Chief's letter, more training follow officer's confusion, threat of arrest
“When I told him that I hadn’t done anything, he said he’d find a reason to put me in jail,” said Putnam, 24, who works with guns every day as vice president of Coal Creek Armory in West Knoxville.
“It’s not that I have a problem with police officers. I deal with police officers nationwide from Arizona to Maine every day. But I lost my confidence in a legal right that I knew I had.”
Knoxville police officers will get a refresher course on the state’s gun permit laws after an officer who didn’t know the law stopped, frisked and threatened to arrest Putnam for legally carrying a gun inside a Wal-Mart this summer.
Officer Glenn Todd Greene’s actions June 21 at the store on Walbrook Drive in West Knoxville earned him a written reprimand and remedial training for rudeness and not knowing the law, Internal Affairs records show. He’s worked for the Knoxville Police Department for about seven years.
Putnam got a written apology from Police Chief Sterling P. Owen IV.
“The officer was wrong I want to personally apologize to you for any embarrassment or inconvenience you may have suffered as a result of this incident,” the chief wrote.
“The Knoxville Police Department takes pride in the training offered to its officers, and the training provided far exceeds state requirements. Unfortunately, officers aren’t perfect, and sometimes mistakes are made. As you can see from the remedial measures taken, we want to learn from our mistakes so they won’t be repeated in the future.”
The trouble started when Putnam and his girlfriend, Samantha Williams, stopped at the store to buy groceries around 10 p.m. Putnam, who holds a gun permit, carried his Colt handgun inside with him, holstered on his right hip.
“It’s like a seat belt or a fire extinguisher,” he said. “It goes everywhere with me. It was warm that night, so I left my jacket in the car.”
State law allows gun permit holders to carry their guns openly or concealed. Putnam said he usually tucks his shirt over the gun but forgot to that night.
As they walked out, Greene, who’d gone to the store to investigate a shoplifting call, told Putnam to stop. Greene asked for Putnam’s identification, grabbed his arm when he reached for his wallet and then asked why he carried a gun in public, records show.
Putnam ended up against a concrete wall being frisked as Greene took his gun.
“It’s called a concealed carry permit. State law says you carry it concealed, not in plain view (with the) hammer back,” Greene said. “I’ve been doing this for 12 years. I can put you in jail for something. It’s called inducing a panic.”
Greene ultimately let Putnam go after talking with another officer but told him to pull his shirt over the gun. He told Internal Affairs investigators he thought Tennessee and Ohio, where he previously served as a police officer, prohibited open carrying. Neither state does.
“There’s an issue there where there could be panic,” he said in a recorded statement. “I’m thinking the law is a concealed law. I’m not going to deal with a guy that has a loaded gun until I secure a weapon.”
Greene said he asked other officers about the law and that they didn’t know, either.
Investigators reviewed video from Greene’s in-car camera and found him in violation of KPD policy. They sustained part of Putnam’s complaint but ruled Greene hadn’t used excessive force in putting him against the wall.
Putnam questions that decision.
“On the one hand, I’m glad they didn’t ignore it,” he said. “On the other, I don’t feel it was a wholly appropriate response to everything the officer threatened to do.”
The department trains all recruits on the state’s gun permit laws, said KPD Lt. Jeff Stiles, who oversees training for the department. All officers will get another dose of training during the next annual session, he said.
“We don’t get that many questions about it over here,” Stiles said. “But we cover that aspect. We go straight to the experts to teach the law. We don’t guess, and we don’t speculate.”
Matt Lakin may be reached at 865-342-6306.