(LifeSiteNews) — The FBI has not satisfied a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for a 2022 recording of Mark Reno, the man who allegedly burned down the Planned Parenthood center in Knoxville, Tennessee. The FBI acknowledged the request in a letter dated April 20, 2023, assigning the Request No. 1589943-000, but has not issued any other communication since that acknowledgement. As of the May 26 update to its FOIA database, the FBI is searching for potentially responsive documents.
On December 31, 2021, fire destroyed the Planned Parenthood Center in Knoxville, Tennessee. Within days, the Knoxville Fire Department determined that the fire had been intentionally set. Mark Wilbanks, Assistant Chief for the Knoxville Fire Department, told LifeSiteNews that the fire had been started inside the structure. At the time of the fire, the building had been closed for renovation and expansion.
On November 1, 2022, the Department of Justice (DOJ) posthumously named Catholic Mark Reno as the arsonist, based, in part, on a conversation with Reno that was surreptitiously recorded by an undercover investigator for the Knoxville Fire Department on April 26, 2022. This is the recording for which the FOIA request was made.
The recording of Reno from April 26, 2022, is mentioned in two affidavits made by two different FBI agents.
The first affidavit, dated July 15, 2022, was made by FBI Special Agent Jessi Mann pursuant to an arrest warrant for Reno for allegedly shooting at the John J. Duncan Federal Office Building in Knoxville. The recording is described in sections 5-8 of the affidavit. The description includes verbatim quotes. Agent Mann did not report any aspect of the conversation as relating to an abortion facility. (Agent Mann did assert that Reno had been at the protest at the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021, but that he had not entered the Capitol.)
The second affidavit, dated September 13, 2022, was made by FBI Special Agent Thomas Calhoon pursuant to a civil-forfeiture warrant. The same April 26 recording of Reno is described in section 27 of this second affidavit. This description of the recording does not include any verbatim quotes, but Agent Calhoon summarized aspects of the conversation this way: “Reno made several statements about the destruction of the [Planned Parenthood] Center and a plan to burn the Center when reconstruction began. Reno also indicated that he had conducted surveillance on the remaining clinic (Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health) and had developed a plan to burn this clinic.”
Comparison of sections 26 and 27 in Agent Calhoon’s affidavit reveals that the April 26 recording was made by an undercover investigator for the Knoxville Fire Department (KFD).
Because Agent Calhoon identified the investigator an agent for KFD, the journalist initially sought a copy of the recording from KFD under the Tennessee Open Records Act. However, Eric Vreeland, Deputy Director of Communications for the city of Knoxville, responded by email on November 11, 2022. “The City of Knoxville has no records responsive to your request,” he said. “While a Knoxville Fire Department investigator may have assisted in the federal investigation, the City possesses neither the requested audio recording nor a transcript. The City was not in charge of this criminal investigation, and the City is not the custodian of another agency’s investigative files.”
Under the Tennessee Open Records Act, LifeSiteNews has made repeated requests to the Knoxville Fire Department for all records related to the fire, but only the incident report has been delivered thus far. In response to the latest request, Vreeland wrote in an email dated April 25, 2023, “The 710 N. Cherry Street fire remains under investigation … there are no additional documents or records that are public records at this point due to the investigation.”
Although the April 26, 2022, recording was made by a KFD investigator, KFD did not consider Reno a suspect in the fire. On the morning of November 1, 2022, just after the Department of Justice publicly accused Reno, Wilbanks said in a phone interview that he was surprised by the allegation. The suggestion that Reno was the arsonist did not come from the Knoxville Fire Department.
Reno died in the custody of the U.S. Marshal Service on August 15, 2022, having been detained since his arrest on July 18, 2022, for allegedly shooting at the John J. Duncan Federal Office Building. (He was released on a temporary medical furlough on August 14, 2022.)
It appears that no Tennessee-based law-enforcement agency was ever involved in the criminal investigation of the Planned Parenthood fire. According to the DOJ press release, the criminal investigation was conducted by the FBI, ATF, and U.S. Marshals Service, with substantial assistance from the Knoxville Fire Department.