Barry Keith “B.K.” Hardin sensed early on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, that it was going to be a bad day – and it only got worse.
His day started with cleaning up after his family’s really sick 8-month-old miniature Schnauzer, Rocky. Rocky had left a few surprises around the house. Once that issue was resolved, Hardin was in the kitchen and as he tried to put a glass into a cabinet it slipped out of his hand, shattering all over the counter and floor.
“I knew I was jinxed then. What else is going to happen?” he wondered. Little did he know.
If you don’t recognize B.K.’s name, maybe this helps: He’s Knoxville Police Department Officer B.K. Hardin. “What else” happened to him around 7:15 p.m. that Saturday when a man bashed him over the head while he was directing traffic in the middle of the Clinch Avenue and 17th Street intersection following Tennessee’s 50-17 football loss to Missouri. And he was not even supposed to work that day.
His Saturday ended with two hours of surgery at the University of Tennessee Medical Center for a fractured skull and a brain bleed. Doctors had to insert a titanium plate. “Yes, I have a new nickname, it seems – Hammerhead,” he said, laughing. “And my scar has a holiday look to it – it’s shaped like a candy cane.”
He was at UT for two days after the surgery, and when he left his face was very swollen. Doctors told him he could not drive for three weeks due to the possibility of seizures from the brain bleed and issues related to having a concussion. To date, he’s had no seizures. His first day back on full duty was Monday, Jan. 14.
The man who assaulted him, who has not been apprehended, is now described as in his mid-20s to mid-30s, 6 feet tall and weighing around 160 pounds. The suspicion is that Hardin was hit with some type of tire iron with claws, based on the type of damage it did to his head and skull. Today, there is a reward of $23,400 for anyone who can lead detectives to the assailant. An anonymous Oak Ridger contributed $5,000 to the total. The assailant could be facing attempted-murder charges.
If anyone witnessed the incident or has information on the suspect, KPD asks that they please call the crime information line at 865-215-7212. Callers can remain anonymous.
Hardin, 51, never saw his attacker. He never felt any pain. He has no memory of the attack beyond dropping to his knees. He never lost consciousness. Witnesses who saw the attack said the man ran into the parking garage of the University Towers apartments at the intersection and vanished. No weapon was found in the area.
There are a few interesting pieces to this story:
- His wife, Adrienne, was at the game with Hardin’s mother, leaving along with many other fans about the time he was assaulted.
- After wrapping up pre-game traffic control, Hardin headed to their Seymour home to check on the dog and eat a bite of dinner, and while there he watched the first half of the game. Then he drove back for the traffic-control job at the intersection.
- While a student at the University of Tennessee, he was an assistant for the Vols from 1985 to 1989 and has the pictures to prove it.
Hardin could easily pass as a former football player. He’s 6-2 and a robust 250 pounds … and a diehard Vol fan.
Here is what he says of the incident: “There was a truck in the traffic, first in line, waiting to make a left turn from Clinch onto 17th north to get to the interstate. He had the big mirrors. I let them go and when I was hit I thought at first one of the truck’s big side mirrors clipped me. That made sense. I went down to a knee and thought to stay up and not let anyone get to my gun or Taser, because I didn’t know what was coming next or what had happened. Then things went really fuzzy for a long time.”
The guy driving the truck was Cody Griffith, a Vol fan from Alexandria in Middle Tennessee. A volunteer firefighter, Griffith immediately stopped and jumped out of his truck to help Hardin. The two have talked since and Hardin told Griffith, “It’s ironic, because my first thought was it was your mirror on the truck that hit me.” Griffith flagged down an ambulance on its way to Children’s Hospital, and they gave him some first-aid supplies to help and also called an ambulance for Hardin. He wrapped Hardin’s head to stop the bleeding.
Working the intersection with Hardin was Officer Chelsea Wright. She did not see the assault either. “We were both in the intersection, maybe 50 feet apart, facing north on 17th and the guy ran up the hill behind me,” Hardin says. Their police cruiser was parked on Clinch facing away from the intersection, so its in-car camera could not record what happened. He says the protocol has now changed so all cars will face intersections.
Hardin thinks this was a premeditated and deliberate attack on a police officer. “I do not take this personally. It was directed at the uniform and not at me personally. I don’t really know how to feel about this because I don’t know the guy’s motives,” he said.
Hardin was late becoming a cop. A native of Adamsville, Tenn., he came to Knoxville after high school to attend UT, graduating with a bachelor’s in business and a minor in education. He then earned his master’s in business and marketing and an Ed.S. certificate from Lincoln Memorial University. Hardin became a teacher and coach at Farragut High School (1993-2001), then coached at Maryville College for two years and was head baseball coach at Gatlinburg-Pittman High for three years.
Then he changed course and was a Knox County Sheriff’s Office deputy for four years before joining the KPD.
Away from the job, Hardin enjoys his two teenage step-kids, who attend South-Doyle High School. He’s also active in Big Brothers Big Sisters of East Tennessee, and his Little Brother is a junior at South-Doyle.
“This could have been worse, a lot worse, and I’m lucky it wasn’t,” Hardin said. “What I’d really like to know is why – why this guy did this. I’d love to talk to him.”
Editor’s Note: This is part of a weekly series – Our Town Heroes – highlighting Knoxville’s emergency-service professionals. Watch for this feature every Monday on KnoxTNToday, and if you have suggestions about a first responder/emergency-services professional we should feature, email Tom King.