KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A Knox County detective who drew national attention for a sermon calling for the execution of gay people had been posting similar sermons since he was ordained in February 2018.
The case raises the question of whether the sheriff’s office should have known about Grayson Fritts’ sermons to his small Baptist church earlier.
The Knoxville News Sentinel reports sheriff’s office policy calls for employees to behave “in a responsible, professional, ethical and lawful manner” online, but the department does not monitor their behavior.
Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall, president of the National Sheriffs’ Association, said even large police agencies don’t have the staff to track every employee’s behavior online. That means sheriffs and police chiefs often don’t learn about a scandal until it hits the news.
“These kinds of events unfortunately aren’t that unusual, although I think this case is unique,” Hall said. “I don’t think we can really criticize the agency for not knowing.”
Fritts made no apparent effort to hide his beliefs. For the past year and a half, the church has posted videos of sermons in which Fritts repeatedly called for an Old Testament-style theocracy. Targets for hellfire ranged from LGBTQ people to felons to Jews and the nation of Israel, according to the newspaper. They also included other Christians such as Catholics and Pentecostals.
Fritts said that in his ideal world the government wouldn’t intervene in domestic violence cases where “we really don’t have any authority.”
In a Nov. 4 Sunday sermon, he told his congregation, “Follow the Bible and then tell me we have a lot of crime. … The felons would be dead because we’d kill them.”
Fritts has been a Knox County Sheriff’s Office employee since 1999 and detective since 2014, investigating murders, rapes, robberies and other violent crimes.
Knox County District Attorney Charme Allen has said her agency is reviewing all pending cases investigated by the detective for any potential bias. She is also assigning an assistant district attorney to receive complaints about closed cases.
Fritts remains on paid sick leave, where he’s set to draw more than $5,000 until a voluntary buyout takes effect. Sheriff Tom Spangler said he removed Fritts from duty after the newspaper reported on the anti-gay sermon, but he won’t fire Fritts because he fears a lawsuit.
Hall wouldn’t criticize the handling of Fritts’ case, but said if Fritts worked in Davidson County, he would have been fired.
“I tell all my officers: If you can’t treat everyone equally, you can’t work here,” the sheriff said.