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The Knox County Attorney General’s Office said it is looking into a detective that called for the government to arrest and execute LGBTQ community members.
Angela Gosnell, Knoxville News Sentinel

The Knox County Attorney General’s Office said it is looking into a church sermon by a Knox County sheriff’s detective that called for the government to arrest and execute LGBTQ community members.

In the hourlong sermon based on an Old Testament passage, Detective Grayson Fritts, also a pastor at All Scripture Baptist Church in Knoxville, told his congregation June 2 that he believes that federal, state and county governments should arrest, try, convict and “speedily” execute people within the LGBTQ community on no more grounds than a cell phone photo of a person participating in a Pride event.

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Sheriff Tom Spangler issued a statement Wednesday afternoon, after the Knoxville News Sentinel first reported about the Fritts’ sermon, that Fritts had asked two weeks ago to take a county buyout offer. Spangler said he agreed, and Fritts is on paid sick leave until it takes effect July 19.

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“I want to be very clear that it is my responsibility to ensure equal protection to ALL citizens of Knox County, Tennessee under the law, my oath and the United States Constitution without discrimination or hesitation,” Spangler said. “Rest assured that I have and will continue to do so.”

Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen said Tuesday the attorney general’s office knows about the matter and will respond accordingly.

“As district attorney, I have dedicated my career to the belief that justice is blind and that all people are entitled to equal protection of the law,” Allen said. “I always have, and always will, prosecute fairly and justly, based upon the law and the evidence, without prejudice, bias, or discrimination of any kind.”

Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, said it is “particularly reprehensible when people use religion and their position in law enforcement to attack our community,” Sanders said.

Fritts delivered his sermon at the church near downtown Knoxville on the first Sunday of Pride Month, which honors the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots, considered a galvanizing moment in the gay rights movement.

“This is why we celebrate pride,” said Sterling Field, Tennessee Equality Project chairman for Knox, Blount and Anderson counties. “We’ve had police brutality in the past. Pride started with the Stonewall uprising 50 years ago as a group of folks trying to assert that they deserve to be alive and deserve to have dignity and respect.”

Field pointed out violence against the LGBTQ community is real, including the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando three years ago that cost 49 people their lives and a shooting in 2008 at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church that killed two people.

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Knox Pride President Jennifer Green said the organization has not previously encountered any issues with the sheriff’s office, and works with the Knoxville Police Department and the city on security for the event. 

All Scripture Baptist Church describes itself as an “independent, fundamental, King James Bible only, soul-winning church,” on its website. “Don’t expect anything liberal, watered down, or contemporary here,” it goes on to say.

At points during a video of the sermon reviewed by the Knoxville News Sentinel, Fritts screams into the microphone, advocates for police riot teams to haul off Pride participants en masse and uses multiple slurs against the LGBTQ community.

He also targeted Christians and others who support the LGBTQ community.

Fritts referenced his law enforcement career multiple times during his sermon, first telling the congregation “such arrests and executions should be carried out by our government, not Christians,” pausing for laughter as he added, “unless you’re a policeman.” 

Fritts has worked for the Knox County government since 1999 and was named a detective of the month in 2017. 

Reach Brittany Crocker at brittany.crocker@knoxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @brittcrocker.

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