BY KEN LITTLE
AND KRISTEN BUCKLES
FBI agents turned out in force Wednesday morning in a yard at 110 Rainbow Circle and proceeded to climb in trees and painstakingly search portions of the back yard at the address, looking for something.
Metal detectors were used in trees and on the ground, and one of the agents on scene said it was safe to say the search centered around "metal."
Kevin Keithley, supervisory special agent in charge of the Johnson City FBI office, said later Wednesday that the activity was part of a criminal investigation.
"It's basically an ongoing civil rights investigation that we've been working for the last year or so, and what we were doing today is just part of the investigation," Keithley said.
"We were there to search for evidence."
The owner and occupant of the house is not a focus of the investigation, or involved in any way, an FBI agent at the scene said.
At least 15 FBI agents were on the property by late morning on Wednesday. String was used to partition off sections of the back yard into grids, while other agents climbed ladders and ran metal detectors along trees in the yard.
Neighbors speculated the agents may have been searching for gun shells or shell casings connected with a June 17, 2006 incident.
Sheriff Steve Burns confirmed this morning that the investigation stems from the 2006 incident at a Jim Fox Road residence in which four suspects allegedly burst into the residence about noon and attacked two men inside.
That incident escalated into a law enforcement-related shooting in the Rainbow Circle yard later that same day.
Suspects reportedly bound the Jim Fox Road victims with tape and assaulted them by "hitting, kicking and pistol-whipping" them, according to arrest warrants.
Arrested on charges of especially aggravated robbery were 19-year-old Phillip Linden Manuel, of Davis Street; 18-year-old Bobby James (B.J.) Washington, of Cedar Street; and 20-year-old Michael Deshawn Lollar, of S. Sunset Street.
Charges were later reduced to aggravated robbery after a hearing in which defense attorneys argued that no "serious injuries" resulted from the incident.
A juvenile was also eventually charged in Juvenile Court in relation to the incident.
Washington, acquaintances said, is a 2006 Greeneville High graduate who played wide receiver and defensive back on the Greene Devils football team. He had signed to play football at Tusculum College beginning that fall.
Manuel and Lollar are 2005 graduates of GHS.
At the time, Sheriff Burns said Lollar was arrested near the Jim Fox Road residence where the robbery and assaults allegedly took place.
The remaining three suspects fled and were located later that afternoon at the Rainbow Circle residence where FBI officers were searching on Wednesday.
The sheriff also said at the time that Washington was taken into custody at the residence, but the two remaining suspects fled, he said, into a second-floor bedroom and leaped out a window.
The sheriff then reported that an officer fired three shots at the two suspects in an effort to stop them, but said that both continued to run, The Greeneville Sun reported at the time.
Later that day, the sheriff said that information led to officers' locating one of the suspects, who was found to be a juvenile suffering from a gunshot wound to one of his legs, hiding in an overturned refrigerator.
They took him into custody and to Takoma Regional Hospital for treatment of his wound.
He was later transported to a juvenile detention facility in Johnson City, according to reports published in The Greeneville Sun in 2006.
Manuel later surrendered to officers.
During a preliminary hearing for the three adults involved in the case, comments made by Judge Tom Wright indicated that the juvenile was charged in Juvenile Court and had since fled and remained at large.
No further information regarding the juvenile was readily available in the Sun archives, and Burns said today that he could not comment regarding the juvenile's case.
"To me, this boiled down to one thing, and that's whether or not the officer was justified in the shots that were fired," Burns said early this morning.
He noted that the FBI has indicated that the investigation has been ongoing for about a year, but said the Sheriff's Department discussed the case with them about four or five months ago.
"All of the events of that day were reviewed back in '06," he said. "There's been nothing filed in all that time until now -- until they're looking into it."
That, he later explained, means that no complaints had been filed in those years and the Attorney General's Office prosecuted the suspects without any question ever being raised.
"We looked at it back at the time and felt like, under the circumstances, that it was [justified]," he said.
Burns said he could not offer a comment "right now" on why the FBI is reviewing the case six years later.
He did not name the officer who fired the shots.
"I haven't released that name," he said. "I don't know if at some point it would be necessary to do that, but I'm not going to right now. It was one of the officers who had responded to that call on that day."
The sheriff concluded by pointing back to what he said he believes to be the purpose of the investigation.
"The bottom line, I think, is whether or not it was justified. That's the question that the FBI is asking, or that's the purpose of their investigation, I assume."
On Wednesday, agents confined their search to the back yard of the brick split-level house near the intersection with Pinecrest Road.
"I am not going to tell you what we found and what we haven't found. We will evaluate what happened today [Wednesday] and decide if anything else is necessary," said Keithley, of the FBI.
Greeneville Sun reporter O.J. Early contributed to this report.