The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office is conducting an investigation into Tuesday night’s Williamson County Schools board meeting that saw anti-mask protesters heckle and harass masked attendees of the meeting, including some medical professionals.
One of these interactions was recorded in a video produced by the Williamson Home Page, which has now been viewed more than 3 million times on Twitter, republished by news outlets around the world, and on Thursday was commented on by President Joe Biden during a White House speech.
Anti-mask demonstrators heckle masked people (some of whom are Drs/nurses) leaving 08/10/21 #Williamsoncountytn #schoolboardmeeting following one man to his car and shouting “we will find you” & “we know who you are” @WilliamsonHmPg 1/2 pic.twitter.com/u8wbdfr3Xj— Matt Masters (@formvscontent) August 11, 2021
That video showed a masked man who spoke in favor of a mask mandate for elementary schools being followed to his vehicle by a group of people who were shouting and aggressively approaching the man before surrounding his vehicle as he attempted to leave the parking lot.
Two of the men involved in the incident yelled at the man in his car, telling him, “we know who you are,” and “we will find you,” before WCSO deputies and Franklin Police officers helped clear a path through the crowd to allow the man to leave the parking lot of the county building complex.
The video has caused outrage online, with many noting law enforcement’s seemingly tepid response to the escalating situation inside and outside of the meeting room.
Williamson County Sheriff Dusty Rhoades was inside of the meeting room when deputies removed two people from the meeting for being disruptive after about an hour of continued outbursts, while dozens of protesters left voluntarily after one man was forcibly removed.
Outside of the meeting, that now viral video then showed a WCSO sergeant address the crowd in an attempt to de-escalate the situation, saying, “I'm begging ya'll to be peaceful.”
That meeting delivered a 7-3 ruling to mandate masks for WCS elementary school students through Sept. 12, when the issue will be revisited.
So far, no charges have been filed against anyone involved in the dramatic events. Sheriff Rhoades declined an interview request, instead issuing a statement via email on Thursday.
“In law enforcement, we have to constantly strike a balance between maintaining the peace while respecting the rights that citizens have for free expression, even when the expression is unpleasant or even hostile,” Rhoades said in a statement. “When expression crosses over into behavior that is violent, law enforcement’s role is clear and the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office will intervene to address those criminal acts when observed or when they are brought to our attention. There needs to be a more civil discourse at public meetings and elsewhere and we will continue to work with other elected officials and community leaders to help strike that balance. We do take our obligation to protect our citizens very seriously and I am always open to suggestions about how we can do a better job.”
While FPD officers were also on the scene of the incident, WCSO was the lead agency in charge, as the meeting took place in a county building and on county property within the Franklin city limits.
As of Thursday afternoon, no one has been arrested, cited or charged in the incident, and no further information about the nature, details or scope of WCSO’s investigation was made available.