Mike Reynolds has a home maintenance business and his clientele include 160 homeowners in his North Knox County Sterchi Hills neighborhood and Sterchi Village. He and his wife, Tonya, a registered nurse, have been married for four years and have a blended family of eight children ranging in age from 2 to 13. They are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On Friday, June 12, Mike and a friend were working on a bathroom remodel about a quarter mile down the road when a neighbor called and told him he’d better get home immediately.
“He said, ‘Hey, there’s a lot of undercover police cars in front of your house.’”
Mike and Tonya say what happened next has changed their lives. Here’s what she said about the experience in a recent Facebook post:
“If you have never been dealt with by the police by undue force you will not understand this … My eyes have been wide opened! My life forever changed. As hard as this has been, I am grateful for a new perspective. I leave my house feeling watched, feeling violated. If my brothers and sisters of another race feel this daily for the color of their skin, I am heartbroken. I apologize for my lack of understanding. No innocent person should ever feel fear, contempt, alienation for just trying to live and work. Your lives matter to me! I’m sorry it took personal experience to understand. I love my Heavenly Father and I know he loves each of us! May the power of atonement heal us all!!!”
Mike said he and his friend Russ jumped into Russ’s truck and drove to 1141 Whitesburg Drive, where the Reynoldses live with a dog named Chucho and assorted backyard chickens and rabbits. They have a large vegetable garden in the middle of which were three large, healthy hemp plants that Mike had kept after Covid-hobbled state regulators failed to process his application to grow and process medicinal cannabis in time for the growing season. Tonya was at work and four of the children were at home with the eldest daughter in charge and a close neighbor available in case of emergency.
“When we got to the house, we drove into a cul-de-sac full of unmarked vehicles,” Mike Reynolds said. “We were met by 12-15 men armed with AR-15s.” He said a deputy told him it was a good thing the dog was confined in an upstairs bathroom, or she could have gotten shot.
“To be rushed up on with that kind of force was completely unique to me,” Reynolds said. “I am not an aggressor. I was very calm, and they never came at us or put us on the ground. There was no physical force. They IDed my friend and asked if I any identification. I didn’t have it on me – I’ve been IDed heavier than that to get a beer.”
Later, his eldest son, who was in the front room playing video games with his earbuds in when the officers banged on the unlocked door, turned the doorknob and entered, would tell him that he was terrified.
“He was playing Fortnight, which is pretty loud, and all of a sudden he said he was looking down the barrel of a gun. They put it away real fast, but he was pretty shaken. Thank goodness he had the ear buds in. He asked me, ‘What if I’d been playing ‘Call of Duty’ without the ear buds? They would have heard gunshots and I could have had my brains splattered out against the wall…’ He should not be having thoughts like that. It blows my mind. I teach my kids safe practices. I don’t think he’s going to grow up and be a police officer.”
Spangler denies child’s claims
Sheriff Tom Spangler disputes the child’s account: “That never happened,” he said. Spangler’s name wasn’t on the search warrant that authorized the deputies to search the property for evidence that Mike Reynolds was cultivating and processing marijuana for sale. Attached were aerial photographs of the house and yard with the cannabis circled with a Sharpie marker. The warrant was signed by Deputy Donald Farrell, a detective with the narcotics division who said he had received information from “a concerned citizen.”
Spangler said if the Reynoldses had complaints about the way the search was conducted, they should have filed a complaint with Internal Affairs.
Mike Reynolds said the deputies asked if he had an indoor grow room. He showed them the garage space where he starts tomato plants and other vegetables from seed every winter. They tested the “marijuana” plants in the garden and found that they were what Reynolds said they were – medicinal hemp – but not before pressuring him to “confess.”
The undercover guy was going through my stuff, interrogating me. Those police officers tried every way to get me to lie. They told me ‘Marijuana’s not that big a deal. Just tell us …’ They told me if the hemp tested higher (in THC, a psychoactive compound found in marijuana) than the law allowed, I’d be leaving in cuffs. I kept telling them this was my personal research, but they told me the tests were expensive, and said they had up to a year to prosecute me. They asked, ‘Do you really want to waste more money?’
“I said ‘Yes. Go get the damn test.’ I was nervous as could be. If I tested a point over, I would be going to jail. Luckily, it tested as hemp.”
He said the officers’ tone changed after the searches and tests came up dry. The officers became friendly, and even complimented him on his healthy plants (which they pulled out of the ground). One of them told him he had a license to grow hemp, too, and suggested they might partner up next year. Mike said he declined and informed the officer that they were not friends. Finally, the detective in charge told the Reynoldses he considered the matter closed.
Here comes Children’s Services
But government wasn’t done with them yet. The following Monday, representatives of the Department of Children’s Services came out to have a look around. They tested both Mike and Tonya.
“I had to explain to my boss why I needed the day off,” Tonya said. “I’m a professional nurse and this gave me a new perspective. We were tested on the spot. We both had to pee for them… To have to go into your bathroom, pull your pants down in front a total stranger… I felt totally violated.”
It is unclear why DCS continued to investigate after the sheriff’s office said the matter had concluded.
And both Tonya and Mike wonder what would have happened had they not been white.
They are meeting with attorney Mark Stephens and considering their options.
“I’m pretty passive,” Mike said. “And at first it was like, OK, new day, let’s move forward. But after we thought about it, we wanted to make sure that this will not happen to another family like us. I grew up playing basketball at Christenberry Recreation Center, and I understood my friends’ fear of policemen. This is happening too much. It’s almost like we need the law to clear our names.”
Tonya said that although she feels very lucky, “We’d just like to get to the bottom of it and keep it from happening to another family.”