News

DOJ to Help Memphis Reform Policing

The U.S. Department of Justice will begin working with the city of Memphis to review police policies – a task that could take between five and 15 years, according to Joe Brann who has overseen similar collaborative reform processes in other cities. The goal of the collaboration is to create a “cultural transformation” within the force that will benefit the department and rebuild community trust. A number of lawmakers and officials from Memphis, as well as U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton, had asked the department to help the city undertake a reform process. Local Memphis.com has more on the story.

read more »

Country Stars to Host Drug Court Fundraiser

Country music stars Clint Black and John Rich will headline a benefit concert Oct. 25 from 7 to 10 p.m. for the Davidson County Drug Court, Cherished H.E.A.R.T.S. (which provides counseling, housing and drug treatment for trafficking victims) and Grace Empowered (a court-ordered prostitution intervention program run by the Nashville District Attorney General’s office). The event and music showcase will be held at Mt. Richmore, the home of John and Joan Rich, the Administrative Office of the Courts announced today. Heavy hors d’oeuvres, drinks and valet service will be provided. Dress is country glam. Tickets are $500 and are tax-deductible.

read more »

Innocent Man Released After Serving 24 Years in Prison

A Wisconsin man who served 24 years in prison for a crime he did not commit is now free. A judge vacated Darryl Holloway's sexual assault conviction Tuesday, after new DNA ruled him out as a suspect. "Make better choices before convicting people," Holloway said in addressing the crowd upon his release. "Make sure you got the right evidence. Because when you do this, people lose, everybody loses." Holloway's release came about thanks to the help of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, which worked to overturn his conviction. Watch the video from WMCActionNews5.

read more »

Justices Hear Arguments on Lethal Injection Protocol

The state Supreme Court heard oral arguments this morning over whether Tennessee's lethal injection protocol constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Justices challenged lawyers trying to block the protocol, Knoxnews reports, and asked the plaintiffs' lawyers to suggest another execution method they would consider acceptable under the law. Lawyers representing the death row inmates argued that they shouldn't have to suggest alternatives as part of their legal challenge. Thirty-three death row inmates sued after the state moved from a three-drug lethal injection method to a one-drug method that their attorneys argue is likely to cause a condemned inmate to suffer extreme pain and can cause a lingering death. The Tennessee Supreme Court heard six cases on various subjects yesterday and today in Nashville.

read more »

New Marijuana Law Should Not Strain Court, Clerk Says

Memphis Court Clerk Kay Robilio tells the Commercial Appeal that she does not expect to need additional staffing or budget to implement the marijuana decriminalization ordinance approved Tuesday by City Council. The ordinance allows police officers to issue City Court citations for possession of a half-ounce or less of marijuana, punishable by a $50 fine or community service. Robilio said she and judges will discuss possible changes to court procedures Thursday.

read more »

Nashville Criminal Justice Center Coming Down

Demolition is underway at Nashville’s Criminal Justice Center, which will pave the way for a new facility to be built at that site. WSMV has videos from Sheriff Daron Hall.

read more »

Suit Challenges How Nashville PD Responds to Complaints Against Officers

The Nashville Scene looks at a civil rights lawsuit filed by a man who claims he was falsely arrested for driving under the influence after a traffic accident in Nashville. David Shearon of Christiana was later cleared of the charges by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. The Scene reports that Shearon’s suit uses his incident to examine the Metro Nashville Police Department as a whole and how it responds to citizen complaints. It says that from 2011 to 2015 citizens initiated 249 complaints against MNPD officers for “obstruction of rights,” but that 98 percent of those complaints “resulted in no finding or repercussions against the officer.”
read more »

Rutherford Deputy Seeks 2 Court-Appointed Lawyers

Joe Russell, an administrative deputy at the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Department, has requested two court-appointed attorneys to prepare his defense after being indicted alongside Sheriff Robert Arnold on federal fraud charges in May. WSMV reports that a federal judge has scheduled a hearing to determine if Russell may receive taxpayer-funded legal defense. Russell claims he needs two attorneys due to the large amount of witness interviews and evidence that must be reviewed.
read more »

Memphis City Council to Vote on Decriminalization Tomorrow

Memphis City Council members will vote tomorrow on whether to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, the Commercial Appeal reports. The vote comes two weeks after the Nashville Metro Council voted to approve a similar measure. If it passes, the ordinance would give police officers the option to issue a misdemeanor citation, punishable by $50 or community service, for possession of a half-ounce or less of marijuana. Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings and Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich are among those that oppose the measure, while the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators and many criminal justice reform advocates are in support of it.

read more »

Volunteers Needed for Saturday Expungement Clinic

One of the first events of the 2016 Celebrate Pro Bono Month is an expungement clinic planned for Saturday at Watson Grove Baptist Church in Nashville. From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., members of the TBA Young Lawyers Division will join with several community partners to offer legal advice to those seeking to expunge their records. For more information visit the event’s Facebook page or contact organizer and Memphis lawyer Amber Floyd.

read more »

Shelby County Launches 2nd Phase of Anti-Violence Program

Shelby County this week launched the second phase of a multi-partner public education campaign to aid children who are exposed to violence, the Commercial Appeal reports. The county is one of eight that was selected by the U.S. Department of Justice for the Defending Childhood Initiative, known locally as the Network for Overcoming Violence and Abuse. The program seeks to address the impact violence has on children through counseling, mentoring and training for law enforcement. The initiative is a continuation of work that began in 2011 with a $2 million federal grant from the department. The initial project set up networks for training and education.

read more »

Scott County Judge Ends Use of Electronic Monitoring

Scott County General Sessions Court Judge James L. Cotton Jr. has stopped using electronic monitoring devices in the wake of a newspaper investigation into the practice, Knoxnews reports. Cotton said he ended the program and terminated the services of Howard Barnett, who had been providing the electronic monitoring devices. He said he had no financial stake in Barnett’s firm and used the service as an alternative to bonds and jail for the poor. He expressed regret for any misuse and said he “self-reported” the newspaper's findings to the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct.

read more »

Lipscomb Hosts Panel After Screening Law Enforcement Film

Lipscomb University’s HumanDocs Film Series will feature “Do Not Resist” – a film that examines the militarization of law enforcement – Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in the university's Shamblin Theater. The documentary analyzes events in Ferguson, Missouri, follows a South Carolina SWAT team and explores controversial surveillance technologies. Following the screening, Metro Nashville Public Defender Dawn Deaner, retired Metro Police commander Bob Nash and former prosecutor Preston Shipp will discuss the issues raised by the film. The screening is free and open to the public.

read more »

Event Honors Domestic Violence Victims, Advocates

The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands and the Nashville Coalition Against Domestic Violence will hold the annual “Meet Us at the Bridge” event Saturday at 1 p.m. in Nashville to kick-off Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The event, held on the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge, honors those who have lost their lives to domestic violence in the last year. Awards also will be presented to those who have done outstanding work in the fight to end domestic violence. The Waller law firm will be recognized for its work with the Civil-Legal Advocate Program (CLAP), a partnership between Legal Aid and the Metro Office of Family Safety that provides free legal representation to domestic violence victims.

read more »

Domestic Violence Prosecutor to Speak at Luncheon

The Women's Fund of Greater Chattanooga is hosting the Fourth Annual Voices Luncheon Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Stratton Hall to mark the beginning of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Cindy Dyer, a former domestic and sexual violence prosecutor internationally known for her work on gender-based violence, will give the keynote address. Dyer served as director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women under President George W. Bush. Purchase tickets online or contact Katie Jackson at 423-752-4820. Chattanoogan.com has more.

read more »

Lawmaker May Seek to Amend Exoneration Law

Lawrence McKinney’s legal team is getting help from State Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, who has offered to meet with Gov. Bill Haslam about McKinney’s application of exoneration, the Tennessean reports. Pody also said he will consider asking Haslam to hold off on a decision about McKinney while he drafts legislation that addresses the exoneration process. Pody says he felt Tuesday’s Parole Board hearing was “looking to retry the case” rather than considering the exoneration request. McKinney’s 1978 rape and burglary conviction was overturned and his record was judicially expunged, but he needs an executive exoneration to be able to seek compensation for his wrongful imprisonment.

read more »

White House Official Discusses Policing in Memphis

Roy L. Austin Jr., deputy assistant to President Obama and director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity, was in Memphis yesterday to discuss community policing, body cameras and more during the 2016 Law School for Journalists, the Commercial Appeal reports. Austin expressed support for body cameras but raised questions about when video should be made public and where it should be stored. He urged Memphis residents to reach out to police and city leaders to start a dialog about race, called on police to examine implicit bias and challenged reporters to put crime stories in context to avoid erroneous perceptions.

read more »

Indigent Representation Task Force to Meet Friday

The Tennessee Supreme Court’s Indigent Representation Task Force will meet at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow in Room LP12 of Legislative Plaza in Nashville. The panel will hear presentations from Vince Dean, Hamilton County criminal court clerk and president of the Tennessee Clerks of Court Conference; Jerry N. Estes, executive director of the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference; Charme Allen, Knox County district attorney general; Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Mark Fishburn; and Justyna Garbaczewska Scalpone with the Tennessee Office of the Post-Conviction Defender. Get details about the meeting.

read more »

Sentencing Delayed in Vandenburg Rape Trial

The Friday sentencing of Brandon Vandenburg, a former Vanderbilt University football player found guilty in the rape of an unconscious woman more than three years ago, has been delayed until Nov. 4. The Nashville District Attorney’s Office requested the delay after Vandenburg’s legal team filed a large number of letters in support of their client, the Tennessean reports. Vandenburg is facing 15 to 25 years in prison.

read more »

Parole Board: No Exoneration for Man Cleared by DNA

A Wilson County man who served 31 years in prison on a rape and burglary conviction before DNA evidence cleared him of the crime was not recommended for exoneration by the Tennessee Board of Parole. The board voted 7-0 yesterday not to recommend formal exoneration for Lawrence McKinney, whose legal team said they now will request an exoneration directly from Gov. Bill Haslam. McKinney was released from prison in 2009 after his 1978 conviction was overturned. His record was expunged but his attempts to get an executive exoneration have so far failed, the Tennessean reports. If granted, the exoneration enables a person to file for compensation with the Tennessee Board of Claims.

read more »

Court Grants Review of 4 New Cases

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently granted review of four cases, which raise issues related to administrative employment appeals, marital property and two wrongful death claims. The Raybin Supreme Court Hotlist reviews each case and offers a prediction as to how each may be decided.

read more »

DOJ Won’t Prosecute Officer in Stewart Case

A federal review of the fatal shooting of Darrius Stewart has concluded there is insufficient evidence to support charges against former Memphis police officer Connor Schilling, U.S. Attorney Edward L. Stanton III announced today. The Commercial Appeal reports that the review, which began last year, examined witness statements, video footage of the incident and medical and forensic evidence. To prosecute the case, the government would have had to prove that Schilling used an unreasonable amount of force and acted willfully to deprive Stewart of his constitutional rights, Stanton said.

read more »

CCA Announces Nashville Layoffs

Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) plans to cut between 50 and 55 jobs at its headquarters as part of a restructuring and cost-reduction plan, the company announced today. The decision follows a rough stretch for CCA, whose stock price plummeted last month after the Justice Department announced it would stop using private prisons like the ones the company owns and operates. The Nashville Business Journal has more on the company’s restructuring plans.

read more »

Judges, Prosecutor Step Down from Huntingdon Case

The judges of the 24th Judicial District and District Attorney General Matt Stowe have recused themselves from a criminal case involving a Huntingdon attorney, the Jackson Sun reports. Stowe said that attorneys in his office have worked closely with attorney Benjamin Dempsey over the years. The judges said they recused themselves because Dempsey regularly practices in their courts. Dempsey was indicted by a Carroll County Grand Jury on a charge of sexual battery. A formal request has been issued to the Tennessee Supreme Court to designate a judge to preside in the case.

read more »

PD: Inmates Wait too Long for Mental Health Care

People detained at the Shelby County Jail are waiting an “extraordinary” amount of time for state treatment of serious mental illness, Shelby County’s chief public defender says in a letter to state officials. Referencing a “crisis” in admissions from the jail to state hospitals, Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush said in a letter to the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services that he is “shocked” by the delay for people who are court-ordered for treatment at the Western Mental Health Institute in Bolivar. The Commercial Appeal has more on the issue.

read more »