Tag Archives: Shelby County

Four sentenced for Shelby County jail drug smuggling

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Prosecutors say four former sheriff’s employees have been sentenced to federal prison in a scheme to smuggle what they thought were OxyContin pills in the Shelby County Jail.

Media outlets report U.S. Attorney Edward L. Stanton III’s office announced the sentencings Friday of Marcus Green, Brian Grammer, Torriano Vaughn and Anthony Thomas.

Stanton spokesman Louis Goggans says in a news release that after inmates tipped off authorities, law enforcement agents posing as associates of cooperating inmates arranged with the jailers to have pills smuggled into jail in exchange for cash.

Goggans says pills provided to the jailers were placebos and were ultimately recovered by law enforcement.

Vaughn, Green and Grammer were sentenced to one year plus one day in prison. Thomas was sentenced to one month in prison.

Shelby DA fights censure petition

By Adrian Sainz, Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich said Friday she is fighting an attempt by a state board to censure her in connection with a murder case she handled as a prosecutor.

The Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee filed a petition for discipline on Monday against Weirich. The petition says Weirich should be disciplined for actions during the February 2009 trial of Noura Jackson, who was accused of fatally stabbing her mother more than 50 times in June 2005.

The petition says Weirich improperly commented on Jackson’s right to remain silent and refrain from testifying. During closing arguments, Weirich said: “Just tell us where you were! That’s all we are asking, Noura!”

Weirich was walking across the courtroom toward Jackson and addressing the jury when she made the statements, the petition said. Weirich also “gesticulated by raising both arms to point and gesture” at Jackson, the petition said.

“It is a well-settled principle that a prosecutor may not comment upon a defendant’s exercise of the Fifth Amendment right not to testify,” the petition states.
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Memphis teacher unions’ dispute goes to court

A question of whether Shelby County Schools is taking money out of teachers’ paychecks against their will has dragged the school district into an ongoing feud between local and statewide teacher unions, reports the Commercial Appeal.

The Memphis Shelby County Education Association is suing SCS for continuing to collect dues out of teachers’ paychecks for the Tennessee Education Association, even after the two groups disaffiliated last year. According to court documents, that amounts to about $67,000 every pay period and affects about 4,200 employees.

A chancery court judge ruled Monday, however, that SCS can continue making the withdrawals until the court matter is resolved. A hearing date has been set for Feb. 8.

SCS attorney Rodney Moore said no money has been given to TEA against employees’ wishes. He said because of the separation of the two union groups late last year, SCS has been continuing the payroll deductions for TEA union dues, but hasn’t yet transferred that money to TEA pending approval of each employee.

Moore, who noted “we don’t understand the complaint,” said the issue is between MSCEA and TEA — which wasn’t even listed as a party on the lawsuit. TEA is fighting that, and has filed a petition to intervene in the case. Moore also noted the school board voted in November to stay neutral in the fight between the two unions.

MSCEA executive director Keith Williams said the group is suing the school system and not TEA because it is the school system that deducts the money from employees’ paychecks.

Williams said Monday morning’s hearing was the first time he’d heard SCS say they were holding on to the dues and not yet giving the money to TEA. He said he thinks dues have only been collected erroneously for one or two pay periods.

MSCEA attorney Michael Floyd argued in court that SCS violated a memorandum of understanding that outlines payroll deduction procedures.

“My complaint says they stole this money from these people,” Floyd said.

Republicans miss Shelby delegation meeting

Columnist Otis Sanford observes that the Shelby County delegation to the state Legislature “is rarely, if ever, on the same page.

And unless it’s on the floor of the state House and Senate or during meals, members are rarely in the same place when constituents are around.

That was painfully obvious last Tuesday during a legislative town hall meeting at the National Civil Rights Museum ostensibly organized by the Shelby delegation. Except that only Memphis Democrats were at the meeting — all but one of whom is African-American.

Not a single Republican in the 19-member delegation bothered to show up.

…Democratic Rep. Karen Camper, who chairs the Shelby delegation, sent out notices about the town hall to each member on Dec. 17. A follow-up reminder went out on Monday.

Fellow Democratic Rep. G.A. Hardaway insists the snub was deliberate. Except for two or three GOP members, “they pretty much ignore us. As soon as they got the supermajority, that’s when the arrogance set in.”

That’s simply not so, says Republican state Sen. Mark Norris of Collierville, the Senate majority leader. Norris was in Nashville on other legislative business Tuesday. He also did not attend another legislative gathering a day earlier at Memphis Pink Palace Museum.

Norris said he alerted Camper’s office beforehand that he had a conflict. He also said the organizers did not seek input from all members before scheduling the meeting.

“They just announced they were doing this. Nobody reached out to try to find a date where we could all get together for a town hall meeting.”

As a result, the well-attended gathering was noticeably one-sided — racially and politically. Since Democrats have virtually no power in Nashville, it was also no doubt fruitless.

This is not to suggest that local GOP lawmakers care nothing about the needs of Memphians. But I do wish that our delegation would try harder to get on the same page every once in awhile.

AG says Shelby County not liable for $1.1B

The Tennessee Attorney General opined Tuesday that Shelby County government isn’t responsible for paying the dissolved Memphis City Schools system’s $1.1 billion liability for retiree health benefits unless the County Commission votes to assume the obligation, reports the Commercial Appeal.

So the billion-dollar question is, who is responsible for making the payments against that Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) liability?

On Wednesday, County Commissioners said the city was the responsible party, but Memphis Chief Legal Officer Bruce McMullen said the city isn’t responsible for the liability of a special school district created by the state, and would fight any lawsuits to pay the money.

“There’s no obligation on the city. There is nothing in this,” he said, holding up the opinion, “directing the city to say anything. And I do want to point out to you that this is an Attorney General’s opinion. This is basically an advisory. This is not a judge just ordering or ruling or anything of that nature.”

“I’m not going to opine about who specifically is responsible,” he added. “What I’m going to tell you is that the city of Memphis is not responsible.”

Note: The opinion, requested by Sen. Brian Kelsey, is HERE.

Four more Shelby schools going to ASD

Four Shelby County schools will be converted into charter schools under the state-run Achievement School District next year, reports the Commercial Appeal. They are Caldwell-Guthrie Elementary, Kirby and Raleigh-Egypt middle schools and Hillcrest High.

Sheffield Elementary will stay with Shelby County Schools after the Aspire Public Schools charter network failed the application process.

Caldwell-Guthrie and Raleigh-Egypt will enter the Scholar Academies charter network. Hillcrest and Kirby will become part of Green Dot Public Schools. Neither Green Dot nor Scholar is based in Memphis, but both have schools operating under the ASD here.

The ASD announced the conversions Friday after a four-month process to determine which schools on the state’s priority list of the bottom 5 percent of schools would be taken over.

“They now have the opportunity to get the support that they need to be able to fulfill the potential that the students have,” incoming ASD Superintendent Malika Anderson said. Anderson, currently the district’s No. 2 official, takes over from Chris Barbic Jan. 4.

The news came days after a Vanderbilt study concluded the SCS turnaround plan in the Innovation Zone has seen more early successes than the ASD.

“Researchers indicated this work takes time, and we look forward to continuing to both research and reflect on the findings that our partners have around the impact that we are making,” she said.

The four additional schools mean the ASD will oversee 33 schools next year, with 31 in Memphis. When the state created the first priority school list in 2012, Memphis had 69 schools on the list. With four more entering the ASD, that leaves 11 schools that are still on the list but not in the ASD or in the SCS Innovation Zone.

…ASD leaders have said they hoped increased parent involvement this year would quell some of the controversies of years past. But the process has not been without contention. News conferences and rallies have been held in front of schools in both the ASD and SCS, including one called by SCS board member Stephanie Love and state Rep. Antonio Parkinson opposing the ASD less than 24 hours before Friday’s announcement.

During his speech to media, Parkinson pledged to seek a reallocation of turnaround resources, referred to the ASD an “experiment” and compared it to the Tuskegee Experiment, a 40-year medical experiment where black participants with syphilis were left untreated.

On Friday, Anderson called Parkinson’s comments “very unfortunate … given the gravity and the horrendous nature of the Tuskegee Experiment that was inflicted on black youth not too long ago.”

The ASD “is far from experimental,” she said. “This is a promise made and a promise kept.”

In a statement Friday, Parkinson said the Raleigh-Egypt move may not be a “done deal” and is exploring options to prevent it from shifting to ASD control.

Shelby DA asks judge to step aside in more than 200 cases

Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich has called on Criminal Court Judge Carolyn Wade Blackett to recuse herself from more than 200 cases, reports the Commercial Appeal. A defense attorney, Michael Working, has now filed a motion asking for recusal of Weirrich’s office from handling cases in the court – creating a “chaotic” situation in Blackett’s courtroom Thursday.

About 60 people waited in the courtroom just before noon during a recess. (The judge) told lawyers variously that “I can’t sign anything at this time,” and “I can’t do anything.”

(Working) wrote in a motion this week that the “total disqualification from all pending matters of the only African-American woman serving as a Criminal Court Judge in a community that is approximately two-thirds African-American would appear to be an especially egregious deprivation of democracy by dismissing the people’s elected representative on the bench.”

In June, Blackett granted a new trial in the case of Collierville High School teacher Michael Halliburton who was convicted of attempting to kill his wife. The jury in that case commented on the “conduct of counsel” during the trial, she said…. The Court of Criminal Appeals overturned her decision to grant a new trial and Halliburton was sentenced to 21 years Monday by Judge Bobby Carter.

…(In the appeals court decision, Judge Alan Glenn wrote that Blackett’s “conduct after hearing comments from the jury in the case could reasonably be viewed “as evidencing a personal bias or prejudice against members of the staff of the Shelby County District Attorney General,” but that a recusal from all cases prosecuted by Weirich’s office “would be an impossibility.”

Weirich asked Blackett to recuse herself from the cases on her docket saying her impartiality “might reasonably be questioned.”

TBI to investigate police-involved deaths

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation will now handle all inquiries into officer-involved deaths for both the Memphis Police Department and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, reports the Commercial Appeal.

That includes any officer-involved shootings as well as suspicious prisoner deaths while in custody, officials said.

All three departments as well as the Shelby County District Attorney’s office signed the “memorandum of understanding” on Oct. 1.

…In a prepared statement, Armstrong said the agreement is “another step in the right direction to ensure transparency.” However, the memorandum contains no provisions for making the results of those investigations public. Under state law, all TBI investigations are sealed.

That can hamper the public’s understanding of what happened in such a shooting, or why an officer was not prosecuted.

In 2012, for example, former Memphis police officer Terrance Shaw shot and killed 15-year-old Justin Thompson under questionable circumstances. The TBI investigated, and the D.A. declined to indict Shaw.

However, the TBI file was never released, and the only reason details were revealed to the public was because they were included in Shaw’s MPD personnel file.

Second lawsuit filed against state over education funding

The Shelby County School Board announced Monday it has filed its own lawsuit against the state over education funding, separate from one filed earlier by Hamilton County and other Southeast Tennessee school system, according to the Commercial Appeal.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in Davidson County. It accuses the state of “failing to equitably and adequately fund public school education for all students,” the district announced in a release Monday morning.

School board chairwoman Teresa Jones called Monday a “pivotal day” for SCS.

“This is an unprecedented move for the district but we feel it is the right thing to do to ensure we can provide a solid, adequate, quality education for all our children,” she said.

The school board voted in May to hire legal counsel to fight the state over how it funds public education, acknowledging at the time a lawsuit was possible.

SCS is not the first district in the state to file suit over this issue. In March, Hamilton County and school boards in six smaller systems jointly sued the state. Metro Nashville and Knox County school districts have yet to get involved.

The 38-page suit is separate from the one filed in East Tennessee, SCS leaders said. Given Shelby County’s high poverty rate, SCS officials said they wanted to argue their point separately. the firm representing SCS has won a similar case in Kansas, district officials said.

State lawmakers have never fully funded the formula for public school allocations, called the Basic Education Program, or BEP. SCS leaders said previously if they were to get what the formula says it is entitled to receive, they would get $103 million more per year.

Henri Brooks gets probation for putting false address on election petition

A judge on Thursday sentenced former Shelby County commissioner Henri Brooks (also a former state representative) to two years probation, 80 hours of community service, a mental health assessment, but no fine for falsifying her address on a petition to run for Juvenile Court clerk.

Further from the Commercial Appeal:

Judge Paula Skahan said at the end of the four-hour sentencing hearing that there was “absolutely no excuse” for listing a false address on election documents and while this case was for one incident, Skahan said Brooks had been doing it since 2010.

Elected officials, Skahan said, should be held to a higher standard.

Brooks, who served two terms on the county commission, plans to appeal.

“We respect the decision of the court and of course we will exercise our right to appeal. The judge is the judge. We can respectfully disagree with her assessment. We’ll just take the next appropriate step and appeal,” said Brooks, 66.

Brooks’ lawyers Andre Wharton and Michael Working were seeking diversion, which would have allowed the conviction to be removed from her record, which is not the case with probation.

And was not known whether the felony conviction will impact her state and county pensions.