Tennessee detective responds after backlash for hate-filled sermon

Tyler Whetstone and Brittany Crocker

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – A Tennessee district attorney general said prosecutors will review all pending cases involving a detective who delivered a hate-laced sermon calling for the execution of LGBTQ people at a church here earlier this month. 

Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen also said she will assign an assistant district attorney to take complaints about any past cases involving the former detective, Grayson Fritts, a 30-year veteran of the Knox County Sheriff's Office. Fritts was put on sick leave earlier in June.

“I find this speech personally offensive and reprehensible. As District Attorney, my constitutional obligation is to protect the integrity of the justice system," Allen said in a statement late Wednesday.

June 12: Tennessee detective's church sermon calls for execution of LGBTQ people

"When any potential witness in a criminal proceeding expresses an opinion of hatred and/or bias towards a class of citizens, I am ethically bound to explore that witness’ credibility," Allen said. "Accordingly, I am reviewing all pending cases involving Mr. Fritts to scrutinize them for any potential bias.

"Although my office has never received a complaint regarding Mr. Fritts prior to this incident, I have assigned an Assistant District Attorney to receive complaints regarding closed cases, and I will act on those complaints as justice dictates.”

The sheriff's office also shared Fritts' personnel record, which showed only two minor reprimands. Fritts also was involved in two shootings.

All Scripture Baptist Church Pastor Grayson Fritts, former KCSO detective, speaks with the media ahead of the Wednesday service at the church's Cherry Street location in Knoxville, Tennessee on Wednesday, June 12, 2019. Fritts has come under fire for preaching in a recent sermon that the government should arrest and execute LGBTQ community members.

In the hourlong sermon based on an Old Testament passage, 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 cellphone photo of a person participating in a Pride event.

The sermon was delivered 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.

Fritts defended his comments in his sermon Wednesday, saying that he is not alone in his beliefs, but said he’s the only one willing to take a stand for it. 

“I’m not an anomaly. I am a Baptist preacher that is just preaching the Bible and if it offends society, then it’s going to offend society, but if all these other pastors would grow a spine … and would stand up just like I’m standing up. …”

Sheriff Tom Spangler issued a statement Wednesday afternoon 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.

Fritts said the buyout was not related to his sermons. 

"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."

A person who wished to remain unidentified dropped off a Pride flag with an attached note reading "Dear Pastor Fritts, I don't know what happened to you, but I am so sorry. Love, Thy Neighbor" at All Scripture Baptist Church on Cherry Street in Knoxville, Tennessee on Wednesday, June 12, 2019. Fritts has come under fire for preaching in a recent sermon that the government should arrest and execute LGBTQ community members.

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.

"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 that cost 49 people their lives and a shooting in 2008 at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church that killed two people.

More: Remembering the 49: 3 years after Pulse massacre

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

Follow Brittany Crocker and Tyler Whetstone on Twitter: @BrittCrocker and @tyler_whetstone.

This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Tennessee detective responds after backlash for hate-filled sermon