News

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Opinion: DA Report Highlights ‘Terrible’ Leadership

A scathing 23-page report from the Hamilton County District Attorney’s office details the mismanagement, misdeeds and miscarriage of justice perpetrated by the leadership of the Hamilton County Department of Education and the former leadership of Ooltewah High School, columnist Jay Greeson writes in the Times Free Press. Summarizing the report, Greeson says the DA’s office found that the department failed to train its employees, supervise its students and appropriately handle the Ooltewah rape case last December. It also found examples of inappropriate activity at other area schools.

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Funk’s Legal Tab $20K and Counting

The state has paid Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk’s former law partner more than $20,000 to represent the prosecutor in ongoing legal matters, the Tennessean reports. And that amount is expected to grow with the state paying Nashville lawyer James Kay to defend Funk in a federal case. Funk is involved in four cases connected to his office’s handling of the domestic violence prosecution of developer David Chase. The paper looks at each of the pending matters.

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Judge: No Resentencing in Batey Rape Case

Nashville Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins has denied a request to resentence former Vanderbilt University football player Cory Batey, the Tennessean reports. Prosecutors had requested a new sentencing hearing after they learned of letters sent directly to Watkins on behalf of Batey. They argued that they should have been made aware of the letters prior to the sentencing. Watkins also denied a request from prosecutors that he recuse himself from the case.

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Clerk Used Office Computer to Send Child Porn

A former clerk in the Knox County Judicial Commissioner’s office, who assisted with the issuance of criminal warrants, has admitted to using his work computer to share images of child pornography. According to the Knox County District Attorney General’s Office, Joshua Ryan Fettig, 22, pled guilty to sexual exploitation of a minor in court this week and was sentenced to eight years. Investigators also searched other computers belonging to Fettig and discovered over 300 images of child pornography, WBIR reports.

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Federal Officials Accept DUI Fix

The National Highway Traffic Administration has confirmed that Tennessee is back in compliance with federal standards for drunken drivers under the legal drinking age, the Associated Press reports. A hastily-called special legislation session last week fixed a law that federal officials said would cost the state $60 million in federal road money. Humphrey on the Hill has the story.

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Case to Continue Against Memphis Prosecutor

Disciplinary proceedings will continue against Shelby County Assistant District Attorney Stephen P. Jones on two charges he violated rules of professional conduct in the prosecution of Noura Jackson, according to an order released yesterday. The disciplinary hearing panel did grant summary judgment on a third charge involving fairness to the opposing party, the Commercial Appeal reports. The Board of Professional Responsibility accuses Jones of failing to provide a witness statement to the defense. Jones argues he made an inadvertent mistake and did not knowingly withhold the document. The panel will now conduct an investigation.

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Judge Reopens Funk Case, State Hires Private Counsel

A federal judge has reopened a case against Nashville District Attorney General Glenn Funk, the Tennessean reports. Last week, U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger dismissed the lawsuit brought by David Chase because his lawyer, John Boucher, missed a deadline to respond. Boucher appealed the decision arguing that he was mistakenly following rules for the Eastern District. Yesterday, Trauger reopened the case and gave Boucher until Sept. 23 to respond. Chase is suing Funk and Assistant District Attorney General Katy Miller over how his domestic violence case was handled. In related news, the state has hired James Kay with the Nashville firm of Kay, Griffin, Enkema & Colbert to represent Funk and Miller.

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City Launches Website to Help with Expungement

The city of Chattanooga this week launched a website aimed at helping people with criminal histories regain the right to vote and expunge their records. The website, restoremyrights.com, provides information on the expungement and voting restoration processes. “This is a systemic issue that we can do something about,” said Chantelle Roberson, a local attorney who helped create the website. Mayor Andy Berke also pledged to help cover court costs for people who want to expunge their criminal records but cannot afford the $450 fee, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports.

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Nashville OKs Marijuana Bill, Memphis Takes Next Step

Nashville’s Metro Council approved a measure yesterday by a vote of 35-3 to allow reduced penalties for people caught with small amounts of marijuana, the Tennessean reports. Under the law, police will have the option of offering a $50 fine or 10 hours of community service as an alternative to those caught with a half-ounce of marijuana or less. The measure now goes to Mayor Megan Barry, who has said she will sign it. Also yesterday, the Memphis City Council moved a similar bill one step closer to enactment with a supportive vote on second reading. A vote on final passage is set for Oct. 4, according to WREG-TV.

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Chamber, ACLU, Others Unite in Justice Reform Effort

The ACLU of Tennessee, the Beacon Center, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Tennessee Association of Goodwills have launched the Tennessee Coalition for Sensible Justice, which will work at the state level for juvenile justice, sentencing reform and recidivism reduction. ACLU-TN Executive Director Hedy Weinberg says the coalition will be a “powerful advocate for smart-on-crime policies at the legislature,” the Nashville Post reports.

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Sentencing Reform Bill Stalls in Senate

A sentencing reform bill that once attracted bipartisan support appears to have stalled in the U.S. Senate, the New York Times reports. The bill, which sought to reduce federal mandatory minimum sentences and give nonviolent offenders a second chance, died in “a stunning display of dysfunction,” according to the paper. Senate leaders declared the bill dead after some who initially supported the measure became concerned about appearing soft on crime in an election year.

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Cold Case Task Force Close to Launch

Tenth Judicial District Attorney General Steve Crump says the formation of his proposed Cold Case Task Force is nearing completion. “We are down toward the very end of compiling all the case files we are aware of,” Crump told the Advocate & Democrat. Crump promised to form such a task force when he ran for office. He told the paper that the process has been longer and harder than he expected. His office has identified 60 to 65 unsolved homicides as well as backlogged rape evidence kits.

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800+ Immigrants Mistakenly Granted Citizenship

The U.S. government has mistakenly granted citizenship to at least 858 immigrants from “special interest countries” – those with national security concerns or with high rates of immigration fraud – according to a Department of Homeland Security audit released Monday. The department’s inspector general found that the immigrants used different names or birth dates to apply for citizenship and were not caught because their fingerprints were missing from government databases. The report also found that fingerprint records are missing for as many as 315,000 immigrants with final deportation orders or who are fugitive criminals. WRCB-TV has the story from the Associated Press.

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Pearls & Pinstripes Gala Planned for Sept. 30

The Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic & Sexual Violence will host the fourth annual Pearls & Pinstripes Gala Sept. 30 from 6-10 p.m. at Nissan Stadium’ West Club in Nashville. The event, which is the group’s annual fundraising gala, includes dinner, entertainment and live and silent auctions. Tickets are $125 each and may be purchased online. For a second year, the Tennessee Titans have partnered with the coalition to present the gala and to kick off October’s designation as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Learn more about the event in this release.

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Comments Sought on Federal Public Defender

The term of Doris Randle-Holt, the federal public defender for the Western District of Tennessee, will expire on April 21, 2017. She is eligible for reappointment, and the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals is seeking comments from those in a position to evaluate her performance.  A special Evaluation Committee will be appointed to review and assess Randle-Holt’s work and make a recommendation on her reappointment to the court. Written comments should be sent to the committee by Oct. 18. Get additional details in this announcement from the court.

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Knoxnews: Judge Jailing Poor Over Unpaid Fees

Knoxnews reports it has documented more than a half-dozen instances in the past few months in which Scott County General Sessions Judge James Cotton Jr. has sent poor people to jail because they fell behind in paying fees to a private electronic monitoring company. The investigation found that Cotton revoked defendants’ bonds after they showed up for court and then offered them freedom through use of the monitoring company; routinely placed poor and unemployed defendants on electronic monitoring without showing it was needed; and rejected plea agreements if the defendant owed outstanding fees.

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State Rep.: Marijuana Decriminalization Could Cost Cities

If the Nashville and Memphis city councils move ahead with plans to modify marijuana laws, state Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, says he may try to withhold state highway funding from those areas. The Tennessean reports that Lamberth, chair of the House Criminal Justice Committee, is considering legislation to deny funds from cities that do not enforce criminal penalties as outlined in state law.

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Memphis Groups to Hold ‘Law School for Journalists’

Several legal groups in Memphis have joined forces to host the 2016 Law School for Journalists Sept. 28 from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the University of Memphis School of Law. Topics to be covered include police-involved shootings, community-police relations, access to public records and state and federal court proceedings, and open meeting laws. Breakfast and lunch will be provided for registrants. The free event is sponsored by the Memphis Bar Association, Just City, the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, the University of Memphis School of Law and its alumni association and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee.

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Lawyers Observe Criminal Court with Eye to Reform

Earlier this week, lawyers who do not typically handle criminal defense work sat in Nashville courtrooms and watched how domestic violence and misdemeanor arrests were handled. The 15 lawyers fanned out among five courtrooms to observe whether defendants had lawyers and knew about their rights, and whether judges were asking about people’s financial status and ability to pay fines. The day was sponsored by ArchCity Defenders, a pro bono law firm in St. Louis. The Tennessean reports that the ABA is evaluating the program to see if it should be expanded to other cities.

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Man Charged with Threatening Federal Officials, Courthouse

A Murfreesboro man appeared in federal court Friday afternoon to face charges that he threatened to shoot up a courthouse and kill a U.S. congresswoman and senator from Hawaii, the Tennessean reports. Kaehiokahouna Stewart was arrested at his home. Court documents indicate Stewart went so far as to buy a plane ticket to Hawaii to carry out his plan. The government also alleges that Stewart sent threatening emails and posted threatening videos on Instagram specifically targeting the legislators.

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Court Dismisses Funk Lawsuit Because of Missed Filing

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Nashville District Attorney General Glenn Funk and Metro government because the lawyer who filed the case missed a deadline to provide information, the Tennessean reports. The lawyer for Nashville developer David Chase is asking for another chance, saying he made an honest mistake by following the rules of the District Court of Eastern Tennessee instead of Middle Tennessee. The case relates to Chase’s arrest on domestic violence charges. In the suit, he alleges that Funk spread false information about him and pressured him to drop a lawsuit against Nashville police.

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