News

DA Creates Unit to Prosecute Human Trafficking

Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk has formed a human trafficking unit inside the DA's Office. Four assistant district attorneys have been assigned to the unit, led by lawyer Tammy Meade, and will ensure full prosecution of human sex trafficking cases in Nashville, a press release from the office read. The move comes as the TBI creates the Middle Tennessee Human Trafficking Task Force, which this week arrested about a dozen people as part of an operation in Nashville, according to Knoxnews.com. The task force, which will include the DA's Office, End Slavery Tennessee and several local law enforcement agencies, is currently working to secure a federal grant to assist in prosecution of offenders and services for victims. Fox 17 has the story. Earlier this week, Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill giving TBI jurisdiction over investigations of human trafficking. 

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12 Graduate from Jackson Drug Court

The City of Jackson Drug Treatment Court recognized 12 people who completed its program and recognized former graduates and current participants as part of May’s celebration of National Drug Court Month. Under the leadership of Judge Blake Anderson, the court has helped 114 individuals since its inception in 2003. Mayor Jerry Gist told the Jackson Sun that the program has been effective in getting and keeping graduates sober.

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Charity Heads to Pay Fraction of Amount Owed

Three operators of phony cancer charities will pay less than one penny on the dollar toward their combined $106 million settlements, Knoxnews reports. The paper also says that investigators will not comment on whether any of them will face criminal charges after spending donations on lavish trips and personal paydays. The reduced settlement is based on their “documented inability to pay,” officials said. The cases likely will have to be resolved in court, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett said earlier this week.

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Court Brings Arguments to Boys and Girls State

The Tennessee Supreme Court will hold oral arguments before hundreds of high school students next week. At Boys State, held May 27 at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, the court will consider cases involving unlawful search and seizure and whether an employer can refuse to hire someone who previously filed a workers’ compensation claim. At Girls State, held May 28 at Lipscomb University, the court will hear cases involving termination of parental rights and whether records related to the Vanderbilt rape case should be released to the public. The AOC has more on the cases.

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Special Victims Unit Created in Chattanooga

The Chattanooga Police Department is launching a team of investigators that will be dedicated exclusively to working sex crime and domestic violence cases, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. The new special victims unit, which will include six detectives, aims to take over the investigation of all of the department's sex crimes by June 8, said Lt. Darrell Whitfield.

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Obama Expected to Sign Anti-Trafficking Bill

The House approved long-awaited legislation yesterday to combat human trafficking, sending it to President Barack Obama for his signature. The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act will expand law enforcement tools to target sex traffickers, create a new fund to help victims, and define child pornography production as a form of trafficking. Obama is expected to sign it. The Greeneville Sun has more from the AP.

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Batey Seeks Mistrial in Vanderbilt Rape Conviction

Cory Batey is asking for a mistrial as well as a new one in the Vanderbilt University rape case almost a week after his former co-defendant Brandon Vandenburg’s attorneys motioned for the same thing. With less than a month before his sentencing, Batey’s lawyer said the Jan. 27 guilty verdict should be set aside due to questions on whether the jury foreman misrepresented himself by not disclosing that he was a victim of sexual abuse. News 2 has more.

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250 Rape Kits Untested in Hamilton County

More than 250 sexual assault kits from three of Hamilton County’s largest law enforcement agencies were never sent to the state’s crime lab for testing, Channel 3 Eyewitness News reports. The oldest case in the backlog dates back to 1993, which makes it too old to prosecute. The station also found that the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office destroyed 80 of 104 untested kits and claims it plans to destroy more based on a court order. The tally of untested kits comes in response to a new state requirement that local law enforcement inventory the kits in their possession.

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Rutherford Veterans’ Court to Open by September

Rutherford County officials say the county’s first Veterans’ Court is on track to be fully operational by September, the Daily News Journal reports. The court, which was approved in February, will serve veterans who already are participating in the Drug Court and DUI Court, officials said. The program also will serve active-duty soldiers who run into trouble with the law. Rutherford joins Montgomery, Davidson and Shelby counties in launching Veterans’ Courts.

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TBI Releases 2014 Hate Crime, Police Assault Data

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) has released its annual statistical studies on hate crimes and law enforcement officers targeted for violence while on duty in the state. In 2014, law enforcement departments reported 340 victims of 295 bias-motivated incidents – a 2.6 percent decrease from 2013. However, the number of victims indicated in offenses with a religious bias increased from eight victims in 2013 to 21 in 2014. With regard to police officers assaulted in 2014, law enforcement departments reported 1,704 victims in 1,378 incidents – a 7.7 percent decrease from the previous year. No officers were killed in the line of duty in 2014, the Chattanoogan reports.

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Chattanooga Must Return $300,000 Federal Anti-Gang Grant

Chattanooga officials confirmed today that the city will have to return a $300,000 federal grant that was intended to help police monitor gang activity, as well as fund a special gang prosecutor position. The grant was awarded for use by a gang task force created by former Mayor Ron Littlefield, however Mayor Andy Berke disbanded the task force as soon as he took office, The Chattanooga Free Press reports.

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Defense Seeks Mistrial in Vanderbilt Rape Case

Attorneys for a former football player convicted of raping an unconscious Vanderbilt University student in 2013 have asked the judge to declare a mistrial, the Tennessean reports. The motion claims that a juror who heard Brandon Vandenburg's trial in January had intentionally withheld information during the jury selection process. The attorneys say the juror is a victim of statutory rape and could not have been an unbiased juror.

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TBI to Apply for Grant to Tackle Backlogged Rape Kits

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) says it is applying for a $2 million grant to help analyze backlogged rape kits, News Channel 9 reports. The pool of funds is part of a $35 million initiative from the New York County District Attorney’s Office. The TBI said 18 police departments in Tennessee will submit kits for testing.

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FBI Chief of Staff Named Acting DEA Administrator

Chuck Rosenberg, a former U.S. attorney and current chief of staff to FBI Director James Comey, has been named acting director for the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Associated Press reports. He will replace ousted DEA chief Michele Leonhart, who retired last month amid allegations of misconduct by agents and reports that they received lenient punishments. WRCB has the AP story.

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Cohen: Independent Prosecutors Should Probe Deadly Force

Cases involving police use of deadly force should be investigated by independent prosecutors rather than local prosecutors who often work closely with law-enforcement officers, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen told the Commercial Appeal on Wednesday. The Memphis Democrat’s comments came after he filed legislation conditioning federal criminal justice funding on whether state and local governments enact laws requiring that independent prosecutors handle allegations of deadly police force. Read more from the congressman's press release.

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Yates Confirmed as U.S. Deputy Attorney General

Sally Quillian Yates, most recently the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, was confirmed yesterday as deputy attorney general. The Senate vote was 84-12. Yates spent 25 years as the lead prosecutor in the Northern District of Georgia. She will join the U.S. Department of Justice as Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch’s second-in-command. The Atlanta Business Journal has the story.

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UT, LMU Team Up for 'Body Farm' Research

Finding the precise time of a victim’s death is a challenge that the Forensic Anthropology Center at the University of Tennessee is taking on with support from new National Institute of Justice grants and a partnership with Lincoln Memorial University, Knoxnews reports. Researchers there say the work is crucial to serving the criminal justice system. “If the courts don’t accept what we do, then we’re done,” program director Dawnie Steadman said. “There’s too much at stake.”

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Domestic Violence Now More than Half of Crimes

Domestic violence arrests spiked in Chattanooga over the weekend, WDEF reports. According to Family Justice Center director Dr. Valerie Radu new statistics show that more than 50 percent of all crimes in Tennessee are domestic violence. Radu anticipates the number of reported cases will increase in July when the Family Justice Center officially opens — an increase is considered good by experts because it means more victims are choosing to not stay silent about the abuse they encounter.

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Attorney Extortion Case Goes to Jury

The state wrapped up its case Friday against Clarksville attorney Carrie Gasaway and Adams attorney Fletcher Long, who are each facing one count of extortion. Prosecutors allege that the former law partners pressured a client to pay them $50,000 because they had wrongfully taken money from another client’s account to buy a building. The defense wrapped up its case this morning with only one witness, a former judicial commissioner who the duo approached about an arrest warrant for the client who refused to pay. The Leaf Chronicle has the latest developments.

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Lawyers Urge Court to Consider Electric Chair Claim

Lawyers at some of the state's most prominent law firms are urging the state Supreme Court to allow inmates to move forward with a claim the electric chair is an unconstitutional method of execution, the Tennessean reports. Twenty-two attorneys filed a brief with the Tennessee Supreme Court last week citing "a common calling to promote justice and public good." The court heard oral arguments in the case Wednesday in Knoxville.

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TBJ Includes Fiduciaries, Constitutional Convention of 1870

In the May issue, Nashville lawyer Scott Pilkinton examines the question of whether or not a felon can be a fiduciary. Turns out, it’s not an easy answer. Chattanooga lawyer and former TBA President Sam Elliott looks at "the two great issues" of the state's Constitutional Convention of 1870 and how it is still relevant today.

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ACLU Developing App for Videotaping Police

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is developing state-specific mobile phone applications that will allow users to record police officers in action and save the video to an external computer, WSMV reports. The new “Social Justice” app has been released in California, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska and Oregon. Apps for Michigan and North Carolina will be out within the next week. Other states, including New York and New Jersey, have similar products.

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49 Juvenile Court Officers Injured on the Job

Larry Scroggs, chief administrator of the Shelby County Juvenile Court, revealed this week that 49 detention and security officers were injured on the job, and two had to undergo surgery, during the last year. All injuries stemmed from efforts to break up inmate fights, WMCA News 5 reports. The information comes as the sheriff's office is about to implement a Department of Justice mandate to convert all juvenile court officers to deputies. Scroggs says that complying with the requirement will cost about $2 million.

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Haslam Signs Statewide Profiling Ban

Gov. Bill Haslam has signed legislation that requires all of Tennessee’s law enforcement agencies to adopt written policies to ban racial profiling, the Associated Press reports. The measure unanimously passed the House and Senate during the recent legislative session. WATE News 6 has the story.

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Public Defender, Mother, Talks About Racism

Ainka Jackson, an assistant public defender in Nashville, spoke last week during a mayoral candidate forum focused on criminal justice policies that have led to mass incarceration, which is disproportionately destructive to minority communities. Jackson, who is black and also a mother, a wife and a sister, spoke just after the riots in Baltimore about what it means to be a black woman, in all those roles, in today's America. Read her speech in the Nashville Scene.

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