KPD’s Chas Terry: 2020’s top officer

Tom KingOur Town Heroes

It was either 1997 or maybe early ‘98. Chas Terry was a social worker for the Knox County Community Action Committee (CAC). He was driving in Christenberry Heights, taking two kids home from an after-school program. He was in his black Mustang convertible, had on a black ball cap backwards and was wearing sunglasses.

“I passed a patrol car and he was eyeballing me hard. Really hard,” Terry says today. “I knew he’d pull me over and he did. He asked me where I was going, took my license and all and asked if I had any weapons or drugs in the car. I said no. That I was just taking the kids home.”

KPD Investigator Chas Terry

The cop was a white Knoxville Police Department (KPD) officer.

“He gave me my stuff back and I asked him why he stopped me. He said I was a black dude dressed in black in a black car and he figured I was doing something wrong,” Terry remembers. “You can’t print my response to him. It was inappropriate.” But he was not arrested.

“I decided then and there, after working 13 years for CAC, that I was either going to sit back and complain or get in the game to improve the relationship the police had with our citizens,” Terry explained. “So, I got in the game.”

And everyone at KPD is glad that officer pulled him over.

In 2005 he graduated from the KPD Police Academy and is nearing his 17th year with the department, the last nine as an investigator (detective) in the Major Crimes Unit. He was on patrol for six years, spent two years as a school resource officer at Bearden High School and then joined Major Crimes.

In 2020 Terry, 50, was honored as the department’s Officer of the Year. Much more about that later.

Let’s flash back to July 23, 1998. Terry attended a community meeting at West High School about the racial divide in Knoxville that included discussion about the cops. The News Sentinel covered the meeting and quoted Taylor’s comments. Here’s what he said 23 years ago:

“If I had five dollars for every time I’ve been stopped in my car or searched by police, I could retire,” said Chas Terry, a 28-year-old black man who lives in west Knoxville.

He unequivocally says things are better today at KPD, this racial divide. “Absolutely things are better. As a community we have grown. There is a different mindset at KPD today as opposed to back then,” Terry said. “I do think racism is within the fabric of our country from different sides. Doctors, trash men … everyone. The difference is that we (cops) work every day to make things better.”

He’s come a long way from his roots. As a kid, this Detroit native experienced homelessness, hunger, abuse by adults and bounced back and forth between living with his mother and grandmother in the Rose Park area of Detroit. Some of the recent rioting in Detroit was in Rose Park, Terry says. He came to Knoxville to attend Knoxville College, left to help with his great grandmother in Detroit and when she passed, he returned. He’s been here since.

At KPD, honors have come his way for exceptional work in Major Crimes. Both cases connected to these honors are still being adjudicated and have not come to trial, which limits what Terry can say about the circumstances.

He was selected as the February Officer of the Month and the 2020 KPD Officer of the Year. KPD Public Information Officer Scott Erland wrote about this on Facebook: “… He was honored for his diligent and comprehensive investigation that resulted in charges against an alleged predator. He was dispatched to a suicide call. While investigating, he began to suspect it was not just a suicide…. he confiscated the victim’s laptop. He discovered many messages between the victim and a male suspect that were extremely sexual in nature. He determined the suspect had an ongoing relationship with the victim for approximately eight years, dating back to when she was a juvenile. That relationship, which began when the suspect was an adult, consisted of the suspect controlling and dominating the female victim through the remainder of her childhood up until she took her life while he watched on Face Time.”

The result: On February 12, 2020, a Knox County Grand Jury, returned a true bill charging the suspect with criminally negligent homicide.

Terry was one of the Officers of the Month in March 2020 for his work on a triple homicide. He was the lead investigator on that case. Desmon Rhea was subsequently arrested and charged. He is currently in the Knox County Detention Center awaiting trial.

Terry was also presented with the Lifesaving Award for an incident in 2006, when he saved an individual from drowning in a pool.

A hero? You decide.

Here are Erland’s thoughts on Terry: “… He is one of the most well-respected officers at the KPD. He’s been lauded by his supervisors for his thoroughness, dedication, expertise and compassion. On a personal level, I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for Chas. This sounds cliche, but it’s true – Chas is an exceptional officer but an even more exceptional human being.”

What has his KPD career meant to him? “Christmas away from the family, missed birthdays, sacrifices. But I learned a long time ago that when God points you in a direction, just walk with Him. I love what I do.”

Tom King writes Our Town Heroes each Monday. Suggest future stories at tking535@gmail.comor call 865-659-3562.

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