Memphis, TN. In the wake of the ACLU’s civil rights victory over the City and MPD, Celitria Watson and April Malone are bringing a lawsuit against the City, County and six officials for evidence tampering and prosecutorial misconduct.
April Malone and Celitria Watson sue Memphis and Shelby Co.
April Malone and Celitria Watson have a Federal court case pending in the Tennessee Western District. They are appearing pro se because of inability to find an attorney willing to take on the City and the DA.
View the MemphisTruth.org video on youtube here. It contains extended interviews with April Malone and Celitria Watson.
The Federal Case
The case was filed in March 2018 and is currently awaiting a hearing in Judge Mark S. Norris’ court.
A hearing was scheduled for November 26th 2018 but instead, the case was reassigned from Judge John Fowlkes to Judge Mark Norris and no hearing is scheduled at the time of writing.
The defendants are Shelby County and prosecutors Paul Hagerman, Austin Scholefield and Chris Scruggs; and City of Memphis and MPD officers Thurmond Richardson, Jonathan Overly and William Acred.
The action alleges fraudulent misrepresentation, negligence, false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The complaint lists 52 separate facts in the case.
Central Issue in the Federal Case: the Wiretap
The prosecutors Paul Hagerman, Austin Scholefield and Chris Scruggs obtained a warrant to wire-tap April and Celitria from July 13th to September 16th 2016.
MPD officers Thurmond Richardson, Jonathan Overly and William Acred implemented the wiretap
From the fact that their cellphone carriers did not have a gag order and were free to discuss the case with Ms Watson and Ms Malone during and after the warrant period, we know that the wiretap warrant was not served on their carriers.
The MPD officers used a device called Stingray to perform the wiretap. Stingray is a Cell tower (IMSI) emulator used by MPD and manufactured by Harris and Co. Stingray is also used as a generic name for all IMSI catchers, whether made by Harris or other manufacturers. The technology is basic and it is possible to build your own IMSI catcher from standard components for about $1500.
Standard practice is for Harris Corporation is to have their police customers sign a non-disclosure agreement. MPD usually refuses to release Stingray information, or to confirm or deny they have them.
Stingray is not just an eavesdropping device. It emulates a cell tower, and it has the capability of changing the cellphone signals. Stingray conducts a “man in the middle” hacking attack on the phones it is tracking, obtaining the encryption key and instructing the phones to downgrade their security protocols. It can even be used to change the firmware on the device to hack the phone. Essentially, IMSI catchers can do anything they want to a phone.
In this Washing Times article, “Advanced IMSI catchers have … the ability to alter communications and intercept the contents of unencrypted phone calls and text messages, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation
Cell text messages and conversations can be recorded in the Stingray and downloaded. Stingray is equipped with USB ports, an RS232 older serial port and a wired Ethernet “RJ45” port so it will talk to any PC or phone.
This Federal document gives procedures for obtaining a tapping warrant in these cases. However, Google Backup copies of the texts are encrypted with a second key in transit and can’t be read by the Stingray operators without a long delay for decryption. In this case the Google Backup messages appear to not have been noticed by the Stingray operators.
This is how MPD intercepted and changed Celitria’s texts. As can be seen from the text message dumps above, her text to her brother Kendrick Watson was altered from
“Nun what up”
“Nun what upNun what upYea how’s your day! just dropped off that money to Ms Jay Oli”,
as it appears on the MPD wiretap report. The bottom copy is the original text sent to Google backup, encrypted and unaltered.
We note that the MPD wiretap report is on MPD letterhead. It is more usual for wiretap reports to be produced on the carrier’s stationery.
As can be seen from the 45 minute delay in the Stingray sending on the text, the Stingray operators had time to stop the text, download it to a laptop or phone, alter the text, reload it to the Stingray and send it on its way. By contrast, the unaltered backup text “What to do sis” went through immediately at 7:03 PM.
The strange format of the message, with missing spaces or linefeeds, may be explained by the message being transferred between two different computer architectures. We are guessing that it traveled from a Linux system in the Stingray to a PC based system for editing, and back again. These architectures represent new lines and carriage returns differently, and it is not unusual for lines to be joined up like this if not properly translated. We also guess that the transfer back to the Stingray added the altered message to the end of the original message rather than replacing it as probably was intended. This is most likely due to operator error.
The content of the message is itself suspect. Ms. Watson’s texts are succinct, so why would she type the exact same text twice without word spacing or end of lines?
Of course, although we know that IMSI has the capability of changing texts, and we think that might have happened, MPD could simply have downloaded the texts from the Stingray and altered them in a text editor. In that case, the original text would have arrived at the recipient unaltered, and we don’t have access to Kendrick’s phone to check the state of the message as received.
The police were said, by Kendrick Watson’s attorney, to have two flash drives, one with the unaltered texts, and the other with the altered version of the texts.
The reference to bringing money to Ms. Oli was used to press charges of money laundering on Ms Malone and Ms Watson.
At this point we review the history of their cases.
Operation Jail House Rock
“Detectives said 21 people in total conspired to give drugs or illegal contraband to inmates, and Mayor Luttrell said some of those 21 are staff.” In the event no staff was charged in these crimes, and the final count of charged suspects was sixteen.
Among other issues, there was apparently a cover-up of prison staff involvement despite some arrested red-handed.
Ms Malone and Ms Watson arrested.
On January 31st 2017, Ms Malone were arrested at her home, and Ms Watson at her work, by heavily-armed paramilitary police of the Organized Crime Unit (OCU). OCU is part of the Multi-Agency Gang Unit (MGU). Patricia Malone-Johnson, Ms Malone’s mother, was also arrested that day, among 16 individuals arrested and held in a police vehicle at Tillman Precinct.
Kendrick Watson, Ms Malone, Ms Watson and Patricia Malone-Johnson were indicted together with sixteen counts each of conspiracy to take controlled substances into a penal institution, money laundering, and conspiracy to money-launder. Twelve other individuals unknown to Ms Malone and Ms Watson were arrested and charged.
Kendrick Watson is Ms Celitria Watson’s brother and Ms April Malone’s boyfriend.
Kendrick Watson was first incarcerated in 2014 on charges of marijuana possession with intent to distribute, which Ms Watson and Ms Malone say were false. Kendrick Watson’s defense was proceeding well when he was added, with the Malones and Ms Watson, to the Jail House Rock defendants.
Kendrick Watson’s handwritten letter from the jailhouse is in the Post and Email piece. It seems that the primary reason for the indictment of the women was to put pressure on Kendrick Watson to accept a plea deal. Kendrick plead guilty to two sets of charges, with an additional twelve years on the contrababd charges, and is currently serving a combined 23 years in a Morgan County state penitentiary.
Kendrick Watson has had 14 cases in County Criminal Court dating from 1998 when he was eighteen, but his first conviction was in 2014 from marijuana-related felony charges stemming from a 2011 arrest.
How the Case went in County Court.
From the Post-Email “Celitria provided to her attorney, and her attorney to the prosecution and to Malone’s attorney, documentary evidence that Celitria’s text messages to Kendrick, harvested by means of a wiretap warrant signed by Weirich, had been altered.” This resulted in Celitria Watson, April Malone and Patricia Malone being severed from the Jail House Rock case, on 7/10/2017. Celitria and April’s cases were dismissed and Patricia took a plea to bringing contraband into a prison she had never been in.
Although the ladies had been severed from the case, Kendrick’s trial continued, even though the prosecutors were aware of the exculpatory evidence, which the ladies were not allowed to present at Kendrick’s trial. There were allegations of defense attorneys not passing discovered evidence to their clients, and operating under the direction of the prosecutors.
Among the bogus documents at issue was a Suspicious Activity Report, supposedly from a bank, which was allegedly fabricated by MPD and used to justify a wiretap. The false SAR was not logged through the regular MPD bank liaison who processes SARs, and has chain of custody issues.
The money laundering charges were based on $25 which Celitria Watson spent on flowers, with the florist’s email receipt as evidence, and another $125 in credit card charges made by April Malone.
Several of the attorneys on both sides have been reported to the Board of Professional Responsibility, and Judge Lee Coffee is thought to have involved himself with the prosecution.
Ms Watson’s and Ms Malone’s records have been expunged, and their County court records contain only traffic offenses.
Ms Patricia Malone-Johnson has numerous items on her record in County Court, mostly more than fifteen years old, and one more recent citation. Her record also appears to have been expunged of the contraband charge she plead to. This is unusual as expungement is usually associated with first offenses, diversion programs and probation agreements.
We have noted that the records of CLERB clients are routinely expunged without the defendants requesting expungement and we think MPD does this to restrict record access to the media in sensitive cases.
As Federal court dates draw near, Ms Watson and Ms Malone have noticed frequent unmarked police cars following them, even though they have no criminal case pending.
The Dodge Charger and SUV above were seen at Ms. April Malone’s workplace several times during the last few weeks. The vehicles have police equipment, including LE bumper, siren, internal cage, mounted spotlight, half moon hubcaps and hidden blue dome lights. They are typical of vehicles used by Multi-Agency Gang Unit and the Organized Crime Unit.
The only reason we can think of is that MPD is harassing them for taking the Federal case. MPD have a pattern of harassing litigants. We consider this political harassment rather than legitimate law enforcement tactics.