“… And the thunder rolls!” Garth Brooks sings.
Indeed, “Thunder” did roll for the Knox County Sheriff’s Office Tango motorcycle unit when a young officer named Todd Davon Sleet patrolled during eight years on a BMW 1150.
Years removed from Tango, Sgt. Sleet is still known as “Thunder” around the KCSO and is a patrol supervisor. This 49-year-old Knoxville native is a 27-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office who was reared in Western Heights before the family moved to the Park Ridge community in East Knoxville.
Sleet is a proud Roadrunner, a graduate from Austin-East High School in 1990. Next was four years in the U.S. Army as a paratrooper with the famed 82nd Airborne out of Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, and when he came home, he applied and tested for a job with KCSO and the Knoxville Police Department. KCSO called first and offered him a job that he accepted. Today he is the senior law enforcement sergeant at KCSO.
“I really knew when I was a kid, I wanted to be in law enforcement,” he says. “And that didn’t change. I wanted to be that person who helped make changes and try to do something to stop the drugs, the murders and help young people. It’s what I love to do. I love everything about my career.”
Helping young people is key in his new role that begins August 1. After 16 years on patrol, he becomes a supervisor in the KCSO Schools Division Unit that covers 41 schools within Knox County. This unit – approximately 25 officers strong – focuses on rapid response as the first-line emergency team and primary force protection.
Sleet and wife Penny are the parents of two teenagers who attend Gibbs Middle School and Gibbs High, so he has a clear idea of what the needs are when it comes to schools.
Murders and violent crimes in Knoxville and Knox County are happening more and more it seems and the majority involves young people. Many are centered in Sleet’s old stomping grounds around and near Austin-East and in East Knoxville. We asked him “Why?”
“The root cause is drugs, finding money to pay for the drugs and young people getting high on drugs,” Sleet said. “Part of this is also tied into domestic violence. Many of these young people today have no respect for life and a lot of them are young teenagers who don’t have much respect for anyone period, including themselves or anyone else.”
Sleet said much of the drug business in Knoxville and Knox County is being run by dealers and gangs from Detroit and Chicago using the I-75 corridor.
He also mentions the trend across the country of DAs (district attorneys) being soft on crime, either not charging offenders or allowing them easy bail and quick trips out of jail. “What they are doing is clearly not working and until this soft approach stops and we resume enforcing the laws, this will get worse,” he added. “Yes, we can impact this everywhere but it’s going to take time, a lot of time.”
Sleet is a former member of KCSO’s SWAT Team, spent 20 years as a crisis negotiator and today is a commander of the department’s
Mobile Field Force Team, also known as the Riot Team. All are career strengths he brings to his new school security assignment.
When you ask members of the department about Thunder, here’s what two had to say:
Captain Todd Clark: “When you worked with Todd, you didn’t get just a co-worker. You got someone you developed a deep friendship with. From his military service to his career in law enforcement, he has exemplified honor, commitment and a passion for serving others.”
Capt. Jason Lubienski: “… Sgt. Sleet is professional, dependable, loyal, intelligent, caring and energetic. He is always willing to do the extra work required to accomplish the goals of the Sheriff’s office.”
Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and was the editor of two newspapers. Suggest future Our Town Hero stories at [email protected] or call him at 865-659-3562