News

Shelby DA Offers Training for Truancy Mentors

The Shelby County District Attorney’s office is recruiting mentors to work with middle school students, parents and schools to decrease habitual truancy, reduce student contact with the juvenile justice system and reduce youth involvement in criminal activity and gangs. The office is sponsoring a training program this Saturday for those who are interested. The session will take place from 9 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. at the Office of Youth Services and Community Affairs, 315 S. Hollywood at Central. Prospective mentors who plan to attend should notify program director Harold Collins, (901) 222-1395.

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Editorial: Rehabilitation Vs. Incarceration a Tough Choice

In an editorial, the Commercial Appeal on Monday looked at a local case of two teenage boys accused of participating in a mob attack, and whether some youths can be rehabilitated within the juvenile system or if the severity and nature of their crimes warrant transfer into the adult system. A decision by Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael is pending on whether they should remain within the juvenile justice system, where they may have a better chance to be rehabilitated, or have their cases transferred to Criminal Court, where they would be handled as adults.

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Sprinkler Vandalism Causes Damage, Security Issues at Juvenile Facilities

Shelby County Juvenile Court officials hope to upgrade detention facilities to stop flooding and security problems that are occurring when detainees damage overhead fire sprinklers. The current system pours down water and unlocks cell doors when a sprinkler head is damaged. “When this happens, it drops water in offices and in hallways, doing damage to the ceilings and computers and desks and that sort of thing,” Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael told the Commercial Appeal.

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U.S. Attorney: Justice System Needs to Catch Up with the Times

U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton III spoke in Memphis Thursday about youth violence, WREG reports. Stanton says it’s time for a change in the justice system because Memphis, and the rest of Shelby County can’t arrest their way out of violence. He argued mass incarceration has never made our streets safer. Stanton brushed off suggestions the Department of Justice mandate that gives most kids court summons instead of jail time is leading to more violent crime, stating this mandate protects kids from a potentially racially biased system.

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Shelby DA Asks for Additional Resources

Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich says her office needs a larger budget and additional staff to effectively combat crime, which includes operating a number of youth crime prevention programs. Weirich told the county commission’s law enforcement committee this week that her office has not received additional staff since 2007 and no new prosecutors since 2009. Enforcement and holding people accountable is “job one,” she said. “But, but, but, but, there also has to be much focus and much commitment to prevention and to intervention because arrest alone is not going to solve many of the issues that we deal with in this community.” Read the full interview in the Commercial Appeal.

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Haslam Stands By Closure of Taft Youth Center

Gov. Bill Haslam is defending his decision two years ago to close the Taft Youth Development Center in Bledsoe County, though some argue that loss of that facility has led to increased violence at Nashville’s Woodland Hills Youth Development Center. “I think the move to close Taft was right, and I think if you talk to anybody who’s actually involved there, I don’t think closing Taft has anything to do with some of the challenges we’ve had at Woodland Hills,” the governor told reporters last week. But state Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, who led legislative opposition to Taft’s closure, believes the state would not be seeing these problems if Taft were still open, arguing it was better suited to deal with the “worst of the worst” teens. Sexton recently wrote a letter urging Haslam to consider reopening Taft, the Times Free Press reports.

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Another Breakout Hits Youth Facility

Late Friday night, 13 teens overpowered a guard and escaped from the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center in Nashville but all were captured by Sunday morning, according to WSMV TV. The station also reports that the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) says preliminary indications suggest that Woodland Hills staff did not follow proper procedures during the incident. DCS says it is “conducting an expedited internal affairs investigation into the most recent escape” – the fourth known breakout in the last five months.

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Nashville Opens Advocacy Center for Domestic Violence Victims

Mayor Karl Dean on Thursday helped cut the ribbon for the Jean Crowe Advocacy Center in Nashville, WKRN reports. The facility, located in the Ben West Building at the Nashville courts complex, is a family justice center that will serve as a place where domestic violence victims can get assistance as they go through the Davidson County court systems. The advocacy center came about after the recommendations were made in a 2013 Domestic Violence Safety and Accountability Assessment, which was released a year ago. The 3,300-square-foot area is a safe place for victims to go on their court dates while waiting for their cases to be heard to avoid contact with alleged offenders while waiting for the court proceeding.

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CASA Celebrates 30 Years of Service

CASA Nashville today celebrated its 30th anniversary of serving abused and neglected children in Davidson County. Mayor Karl Dean, Rep. Jim Cooper and Juvenile Court Judge Sheila Calloway were on hand to join CASA staff, board members, donors and volunteers in celebrating the milestone. “Please know how much we appreciate the work that you do, “ Dean said. “It is absolutely vital to the juvenile court, it’s vital to the kids here in our city, and it is just a critical service.” At the close of the ceremony, Judge Calloway read a proclamation issued by Gov.Bill Haslam declaring Sept. 26 as CASA Inc. Day in Tennessee.

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Data Reveals Prior Problems at Youth Detention Center

Woodland Hills Youth Development Center in Middle Tennessee was already having problems in the months leading up to the escape of 32 teens from the facility, according to recent data. The information obtained by The Tennessean shows between January and early September, there were 145 reported incidents of violence at Woodland Hills. Everette Parrish, an attorney appointed to represent the civil rights of youths at the facility, said he has received several reports from youths who escaped and returned, or were captured, that physical abuse had factored into their decision to flee. A special unit within the Department of Children's Services has opened investigations into abuse and neglect of teens at the facility, officials said last week. The Johnson City Press has more

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Student Volunteers Sought for Teen Court

Teen Court representatives have been speaking at high schools throughout Sumner County this month to recruit new members, the Tennesseean reports. Any student in grades 9-11 interested in participating in the court should apply by Sept. 30. Youth court programs intervene early in delinquent or unruly behavior and provide first-time offenders an opportunity to face a jury of their peers. The Sumner County program has helped 348 youth since its inception. For more information, contact Tammy Kellogg, programs coordinator for Sumner County Juvenile Court, at (615) 451-6035. Learn more about other youth courts from the TBA.

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State Officials Discuss Juvenile Detention, Truancy Issues

Judges, state legislators and members of the Department of Children Services (DCS) recently gathered at the West Tennessee Research and Development Center in Jackson to address issues they face in working with children and juveniles. Topics discussed at the meeting included overcrowding at the Madison County juvenile detention center, truancy and compulsory attendance problems, the Jackson Sun reports. Newly elected Shelby County Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael said the fight to get kids in school and keep them there is important for combatting many problems he sees. “Education is the key to success,” he told the group, which also included Jackson Juvenile Court Judge Christy Little, Sen. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis, and DCS Commissioner Jim Henry.

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Comedy Show to Benefit Wilson County CASA

Proceeds from the Oct. 10 showing of “The Second City 55th Anniversary Tour” will benefit Wilson County CASA and its work on behalf of neglected and abused children. The show will take place at 7:30 p.m. at the Capitol Theater in Lebanon. Second City has given rise to such comedians as Jim and John Belushi, Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert. The anniversary tour brings its legendary comedy to cities across the country. General admission tickets are $50 each and are available online. VIP tickets provide access to the pre-show cocktail party and special seating.

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DCS Reviews Transportation Procedures After Escape

The Department of Children Services (DCS) is reviewing the transportation procedures of one of its largest private contractors after two teens escaped during transportation in two separate incidents on Sept. 2 and Sept. 10. Omni Visions, a Nashville-based private contractor for DCS, provides foster care placement, therapeutic services, treatment centers and other services for children in DCS custody. WKRN News 2 spoke to Omni Visions Director of Children Services Kathy Joyner who said they are also reviewing how the two teens escaped. 
“The safety of the kids we serve is paramount,” Joyner said. “Every time we have a child run we are worried.”

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DA: Deadly Force Against Juveniles Can Be Justified

In light of the recent attack at an East Memphis Kroger store, District Attorney General Amy Weirich spoke about deadly force against juveniles at a press conference Tuesday. Weirich said Tennessee law allows people to use deadly force to protect themselves or others if their lives are at risk but that issue is not cut and dry, as the country has seen in several highly publicized incidents. Saturday night, a large group of juveniles attacked three people and vandalized a fourth person’s car outside a Kroger store. WREG has more.

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Memphis Receives More than $1 Million in Grants to Combat Gangs, Domestic Violence

The city of Memphis has received two grants by the Department of Justice to combat gangs and domestic violence, U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton announced yesterday in a press release. Totaling $900,000, the “Grant to Encourage Arrest Policies and Enforcement of Protection Orders” will help enforce protection orders and protect victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. “Project Safe Neighborhoods Grant” is a $148,885 grant to reduce gang and gun violence locally. The Memphis Flyer has more.

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DCS Asks for Security Audits at Juvenile Facilities

A preliminary report sent to Gov. Bill Haslam by the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) calls for a security audit of the state’s youth development centers following two incidents last week at the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center in Nashville. The first incident, which occurred last Monday night, involved the escape of 32 teens, five of whom are still at large. Two days later, 24 detainees broke into the yard wielding sticks and spraying a fire extinguisher. The audit would examine security protocols at Woodland Hills as well as at Wilder Youth Development Center in Somerville and Mountain View Youth Development Center in Dandridge. WCYB News 5 has more.

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Memphis DA Investigating Parking Lot Attack

Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich says her juvenile prosecution team will take on responsibility for making sure justice is done for the victims of a mob attack Saturday night at a popular Memphis shopping center, WMC News 5 reports. Weirich says it is too early to say whether the attacks were racially motivated, but suggests there may be enhanced charges because the assaults happened in a mob setting. Police have downplayed the idea that the attack against an unsuspecting customer and two teenage employees was a hate crime or a gang-related incident. They already have arrested and charged 10 teenagers and one adult, but are asking for the public’s help in identifying additional suspects.

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Tennessee CASA Holds Annual Meeting

Tennessee CASA will hold its 2014 Annual Meeting Sept. 17 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the Nashville Public Library. The event will feature brunch, a keynote address from Davidson County Juvenile Court Judge Sheila Calloway and presentation of awards that honor those making an impact for Tennessee’s abused and neglected children. Michael Leach with the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services will receive the the Champion for Children Award, while Tawny Spinelli with the Tennessee Children’s Cabinet at the state Department of Health will receive the Light of Hope Award. The library is located at 615 Church St. in Nashville. Free parking is available for up to 90 minutes in the library garage. Register online by Sept. 10.

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Gov. Haslam Requests Report on DCS Center Violence

Gov. Bill Haslam has asked the top executive at the Department of Children's Services for a report on the violence at Woodland Hills Youth Development Center, the Tennessean reports. Officials handcuffed 24 teenagers early this morning after a riot broke out at Woodland Hills, the site of an escape that drew national headlines earlier this week. Six of those escapees remained at large as of last night. It is unclear when Commissioner Jim Henry will complete the report.

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Most Escaped Teens From DCS Center Back in Custody

Metro Police officers have recaptured most of the 32 teens who escaped from the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center on late Monday, the Tennessean reports. Metro Police is teaming with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to track down the six remaining escapees.

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Knox Juvenile Court Facility Revamp Completed

The ribbon formally was cut yesterday for the expanded Carey E. Garrett Juvenile Court Building in Knoxville, Knoxnews reports. The 8,926-square-foot project cost nearly $4 million — more than $600,000 over the original budgeted amount. It includes four new courtrooms, mediation rooms, holding cells, an enclosed sally port for law enforcement vehicles and expanded space for the clerk’s office. The building will now serve as the central location where all matters pertaining to juvenile justice and child support services in Knox County will be handled.

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Judge Philyaw Not Reappointing 2 Magistrates

Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw said he is not reappointing two of six court magistrates, Chattanoogan.com reports. Leaving their posts will be Emma Andrews, who has been a magistrate for 16 years, and Elizabeth Gentzler, a magistrate for four years. Both handled child support and parentage cases at the Child Support Division. Philyaw described his actions saying, “The magistrates serve at the pleasure of the judge. Coming into a new term, it has been decided to not reappoint these two ...” Philyaw also said a replacement for Andrews has been chosen, but he is not yet ready to announce the name.

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Child Trafficking Forum Set for Memphis

A coalition of federal agencies will hold a forum on human trafficking Sept. 9 from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. The event will focus on combating child and youth exploitation with the goal of building greater awareness and better responses to the problem of child trafficking. Special training by the office of U.S. District Attorney Ed Stanton will be provided to law enforcement officers in attendance. Sponsors include the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Registration is free, but is required.

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Deputy DA Honored for Child Abuse Prevention Work

The J. Stephens Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse in Crossville recently honored Deputy District Attorney Gary McKenzie for his years of advocacy on behalf of Upper Cumberland children at risk of abuse and neglect. In presenting the award, the center noted that McKenzie has worked for more than a decade to seek justice for victims of abuse/neglect, has been part of several grass-roots efforts to improve the services available to victims and has worked to strengthen laws concerning abuse and neglect. McKenzie has worked in the district attorney’s office since graduating from law school in 2000. He was named deputy in 2007. Last week he won election as 13th Judicial District Criminal Court Judge, Part I. See a photo of the award presentation in the Crossville Chronicle.

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