Knox County District Attorney General - Charme P. Allen

Investigation Reveals Robert Bailey Died of Drug Overdose

Posted: 01/26/2022

District Attorney Charme Allen determined that no criminal charges will be filed regarding the death of Robert Bailey who died as the result of a drug overdose after swallowing two bags of controlled substances while in a police transportation wagon.  Our procedure following an in-custody death is to bring in the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to conduct a thorough and independent criminal investigation.  In order to maintain the integrity of the investigation, evidence collected during the investigation, including body camera evidence, is not released until the criminal investigation is concluded.  The investigation cannot be concluded until all necessary reports are finalized.  In every homicide investigation, the final autopsy report issued by the Regional Forensic Center is necessary to determine both manner and cause of death.  The Final Autopsy Report in this investigation was issued on January 25, 2022.  After receiving the autopsy containing the medical examiner’s determination that Mr. Bailey died of a drug overdose and the manner of death was an accident, Mr. Bailey’s family attorney was contacted.  Per our procedure, we attempted to meet with Mr. Bailey’s family and allow them to review evidence before any evidence was released to the public.  We made repeated efforts to contact the Bailey family through their attorney by phone, text, and email.  Despite our repeated requests to meet with the family, we have not heard from their attorney today.  Even though their attorney is not answering our calls, we hand-delivered a copy of the findings to his office, and we remain hopeful that we will be able to meet with this family who lost a loved one, as we are able to do in the vast majority of cases without issue.

Now that there is no longer the potential of compromising the investigation because the criminal investigation is complete and the cause of death has been determined, we can release the findings of the investigation to the public.  On January 6, 2022, shortly after midnight, Knoxville Police Department Ofc. Simmons conducted a traffic stop on a vehicle with only one working headlight, near the intersection of Linden Avenue and Cherry Street.  That vehicle was driven by Mr. Bailey, and Artrina Bickerstaff was a passenger in the vehicle.  Ofc. Simmons asked for Mr. Bailey’s driver’s license and insurance.  When Ofc. Simmons ran a records check, he learned that Mr. Bailey had an outstanding warrant for Domestic Assault and a parole violation warrant issued by the Tennessee Department of Correction Board of Parole on a previous conviction for Possession with Intent to Sell Cocaine.  As a law enforcement officer, Ofc. Simmons was obligated to take Mr. Bailey into custody on those outstanding warrants.  Mr. Bailey was handcuffed and placed in the back of Ofc. Simmons’ cruiser without incident.  A K9 unit was called to the scene.  The K9 alerted to the odor of controlled substances coming from the vehicle.  A subsequent search revealed a small amount of cocaine in the vehicle.

A KPD transportation wagon driven by Ofc. Merritt arrived at the scene to transport Mr. Bailey to the detention facility.  When Ofc. Merritt removed Mr. Bailey from Ofc. Simmons’ cruiser, Mr. Bailey complained that his shoulder hurt, stating he previously had surgery on that shoulder.  To alleviate pressure on his shoulder, Ofc. Merritt stated that he would handcuff Mr. Bailey with his hands in front of him instead of behind him.  Because there were already other arrestees in the wagon and Mr. Bailey would be handcuffed in front, Mr. Bailey had to sit in an individual compartment in the wagon.  Mr. Bailey climbed into the wagon on his own and was handcuffed with his hands in front of him.  Officers allowed Mr. Bailey to contact his mother by telephone before being taken to the detention facility.

While in the transportation wagon, Mr. Bailey removed a bag of controlled substances from the groin area of his pants.  Mr. Bailey began stuffing smaller bags of controlled substances into an adjoining compartment of the wagon that contained a female arrestee.  When the female arrestee saw bags of drugs coming through the compartment wall, she yelled for Mr. Bailey to stop.  When she yelled, Mr. Bailey can be seen on video putting a bag in his mouth.  Mr. Bailey turned and sat with his back to the camera.  When Knox County Sheriff’s Office intake officers opened the door to begin booking Mr. Bailey, he was not responsive.  KCSO officers radioed a “Code Blue” and alerted KCSO nurses that there was a medical emergency in the Sally Port.  KCSO personnel immediately began rendering first aid, including administering CPR and giving Mr. Bailey naloxone.  Mr. Bailey was transported to the University of Tennessee Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.

The next day, an autopsy was conducted at the Regional Forensic Center.  During that autopsy, no lethal injuries were identified; however, two bags were removed from Mr. Bailey’s esophagus.  One bag was intact, but the second bag was open.  Samples were drawn and sent to a laboratory in Pennsylvania to determine whether Mr. Bailey had drugs in his system.  Those toxicology results showed that Mr. Bailey had fentanyl, 4-ANPP, methamphetamine, cocaine, and hydrocodone in his system.  On January 25, 2022, the medical examiner ruled that Mr. Bailey’s death was “caused by acute fentanyl, methamphetamine, cocaine, and hydrocodone toxicity with other significant conditions of hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.”  The manner of death was determined to be an accident.

The bags of drugs collected from Mr. Bailey’s esophagus and from the transportation wagon were analyzed by forensic chemists at the TBI.  The intact bag recovered from Mr. Bailey’s esophagus contained methamphetamine, cocaine, fentanyl, and xylazine, a veterinary tranquilizer commonly used as a cutting agent.  The open bag recovered from Mr. Bailey’s esophagus no longer contained controlled substances, consistent with the contents being absorbed by Mr. Bailey’s system.  The additional bags recovered from the transportation wagon and from Mr. Bailey’s person contained methamphetamine, cocaine, fentanyl, heroin, 4-ANPP, gabapentin, metonitazene, and xylazine.  The bags were also tested for DNA, and those results showed DNA consistent with Mr. Bailey.

In a subsequent interview of the passenger, Artrina Bickerstaff, she revealed that Mr. Bailey had picked her up earlier in the evening.  Mr. Bailey was in possession of a meth pipe already loaded with methamphetamine that the two of them smoked.  When police pulled Mr. Bailey over, Mr. Bailey tried to get Ms. Bickerstaff to take possession of a bag with multiple bags of drugs in it.  When she refused, Mr. Bailey shoved the drugs in his pants in his groin area.  Ms. Bickerstaff did not disclose this information until January 18.

“It is my obligation as a lawyer and the chief law enforcement officer in this jurisdiction to ensure that the law is followed, the rights of the individual are protected, and justice is administered,” said DA Allen.  “Releasing evidence before the appropriate time has the potential to both compromise the integrity of the investigation and violate the rights of the criminal accused.  Without a thorough investigation, our ability to learn the truth is hindered and justice cannot be served.  Every family deserves to know the truth.  As soon as I received the final autopsy report and completed the investigation, I could share the truth with this family.  Tragically, Mr. Bailey died of a drug overdose.”

If you have any questions, please contact Sean McDermott at 865-215-2515 or sean.mcdermott@knoxcounty.org.  For more information about the District Attorney’s Office, visit our website at www.knoxcounty.org/dag and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Knox County Tennessee - District Attorney General Seal
City County Building 400 Main Street
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Knoxville, TN 37902