This week has been a game changer. Memphis history will forever be divided into the pre-ACLU era and the post-ACLU era. MPD in particular is in crisis, and, because of role of public safety in our local elections, the crisis extends into the political sphere.
The trial itself.
We saw a steady stream of MPD brass take the stand and be defensive. The City strategy has been to try to make the police look reasonable, and to paint the activists as crazy fools. This strategy plain failed, as Paul Garner, Elaine Blanchard, Earle Fisher and Keedran Franklin presented well on the stand. It is notable that the City did not send Jim Strickland or any of the”public safety” advocates to defend their police buddies.
The defense cut their losses on Thursday and pulled the plug on trying to discredit more activists or putting more police on the stand. Essentially, they accepted defeat after a very poor display of legal skills.
MPD is not a monolith. It has leaders jockeying for position as the next director, a large number of disaffected members who are still disgruntled over pensions and benefits, a degenerate and poorly led MPA and a sizeable contingent of out and out racists who are chafing at being led by an African American director.
We can expect instability at MPD. At this point I see little benefit in stirring the pot at MPD. We’ve stirred. Stirring done.
At this point we need to be concerned that the police will revert to form and lash out at civilians and activists. We suggest extreme care in interactions with police as we await the verdict from the trial. We have no need to provoke further reactions from MPD. We’ve already unleashed the nuclear option.
Strickland’s administration has not been watching the backs of their police. He has been declining to comment on the sub-judice proceedings. We expect this to continue.
In the meantime, the hitherto solid eight or nine vote pro-police Council block is already showing signs of fragmenting. Joe Brown and Edmund Ford are term limited and won’t need to expend political capital on defending the police.
Berlin Boyd is up for re-election. He has been at odds with the Kemp Conrad knee-jerk brand of police support, voting against Conrad in the August 2016 marijuana ordinance. Boyd knows that he needs to put some distance between himself and the law and order lobby. He’s been reaching out to certain activists with some truly strange proposals.
Jamita Swearengen, as the new chairman of the Public Safety Committee, has been conventionally pro-police, generally following the MPD’s COP community policing line. She made a speech at CLERB extolling Blue Crush and the deployment of 490 new spycams, which City Council approved a budget of $1.5M for on July 10th.
Patrice Robinson has not been saying a lot about policing.
Of the white Council members, all part of the Caissa group, the more extreme police fans like Kemp Conrad and Reid Hedgepeth, with Bill Morrison, are term limited. We might see some posturing from them. Ford Canale remains a cypher, although he rang the Public Safety bell in his August election campaign, apparently with less effect than his predecessor.
We don’t see much incentive for Council members to expend political capital on defending police prerogatives. In fact, we think some of the previous pro-police coalition, especially Berlin Boyd, are already maneuvering to create some advantage for themselves.
Activists have ling sought a strengthening of CLERB powers. CLERB needs subpoena power, and the ability to make binding recommendations for disciplinary actions and policy and procedure changes. Look to Memphis United, fresh from Paul Garner’s performance on the witness stand, to be making proposals. In addition, it appears that the administration has successfully sabotaged the ability of CLERB to post documents on its own website and on the City archive site.
It’s hard not to see the canny Garner taking advantage of MPD’s predicament.
Mike Rallings, as the officer who presided over the decline in MPD political interference, and because of his unconvincing defense of his policies on the stand, is damaged goods. He has been left dangling by his political masters. There is no question that he can survive past the election of the next mayor in 2019. He either takes control of his fate and resigns, or the political upheaval that now starts will result in his firing.
Rallings has been fully vested in his MPD pension plan for about a year.
It seems very clear that a new director can’t come from the culturally compromised MPD. The next Police Director must be chosen on the basis of a proven record of community policing. The internal candidates who have been preened as Ralling’s successor are infected with the racial disease that infects the force and will be rejected.
Our suggestions for police director include Anne Kirkpatrick, Oakland CA police chief. She applied for the job in 2016. Another is John S Thompson, Camden NJ police chief.
The 2019 City elections
The current mayor and most of City Council were elected in 2015 with dog-whistle campaigns, evoking public safety with racial coding to get elected. The dog whistle was already losing its effectiveness. J Ford Canale blew the dog whistle in the Super 9-2 election and his vote was down 25% on Philip Spinosa’s 2015 performance. David Lenoir used the dog whistle in the County Mayor election and was convincingly defeated by Lee Harris.
Incumbents will be forced to run on other issues. Insurgent candidates will focus on poverty, economics and policing, where incumbents have a dreadful record. Strickland has not been brilliant at the basics. The Caissa Seven have been exposed as the next best thing to a political conspiracy.
Expect a lot of surprises as incumbents and challengers jockey for position and make economic arguments. Expect opponents to rally around retaining IRV in the December referenda, and issues like EDGE, economic development, energy policy, CLERB, policing and poverty to be well aired in the election runup.
Policing has been the lynch-pin of Memphis politics, especially in the last election cycle. The pin has been pulled from this grenade.
People need to be very careful out in the streets.
In the halls of power, expect surprises. 2019 will be fought and won on real policies, not the stalking horses of yore.
Orgel Family LP is William and Benjamin Orgel’s investment company.
Three Madison Partners is the previous owner of the site at 1544 Madison. It is thought to be connected to Boyle Investments, who are mentioned in the 1544 Madison deeds.
Berlin Boyd’s Tower Contributions
Berlin Boyd received the following contributions from the above investors between 2014 and 2017: 2/20/2014: Steven (Exec VP for Asset Development at Tower) and Sharon Chandler; Craig (Exec VP for Carrier Leasing at Tower) and Cathy Weiss; Bill and Robin Orgel; Jay Lindy; Craig Royal (VP for Construction and Operations at Tower); and Adam Slovis donate a total of $11,950 to Boyd’s County campaign. All contributions from this section are from the Shelby County Election Commission.
April 2014: Jay Lindy donates $500 to Boyd
March-April 2015: six Tower executives / spouses donate $8,500 to Boyd 2015 District 7 campaign
October 2015: six Tower executives / spouses donate $9,000 to Boyd District 7 campaign for the runoff
6/1/2017: Benjamin, William and Robin Orgel, Susan Lindy, Adam Slovis and Sharon Chandler donate $6500 to Boyd.
7/13/2017: Cathy Weiss and Craig Royal donate $2000 to Boyd.
Total donations in this period from Tower associates: $39,450.
There were additional donations in kind for the 6/1/2017 fundraiser at Bill and Robin Orgel’s house.
The Tennessee Brewery is an Orgel development. The site, at 495 Tennessee St, was bought by 495 Tennessee LLC which was owned by William Orgel on November 5th 2014. The Commercial Appeal also named Jay Lindy and Adam Slovis as partners. The Commercial Appeal tells the story of the development. The former Goldcrest 51 brewery, built in the 1870s, closed in 1954 and has been vacant since the 1980s. A succession of previous owners ending with The Tennessee Brewery LLC, had spent millions stabilizing the structure but on 11/5/2014 495 Tennessee Partners bought the property for $850K, in a predatory purchase. On 2/10/2015 495 Tennessee Partners bought a parking garage site across Tennessee St. and assembled incentives: parking garage funding, PILOT tax abatement, federal historic preservation tax credits and a city grant to replacing century-old utility infrastructure. Berlin Boyd was helpful with these City boons. Another site north of the Brewery was also acquired for additional apartments.
On 5/26/2015, Boyd seconds and votes for a $2.5M capital grant to MLGW after Orgel makes a presentation to the Budget Committee. The grant was for improving utility infrastructure at Tennessee Brewery. Boyd did not recuse himself from this vote.
6/23/2015 Boyd votes at City Council for the budget containing the $2.5M MLGW line item, for Tennessee Brewery. Boyd did not recuse himself from this vote.
12/15/2015: Boyd votes for a $2,250,000 contract at City Council (item 51) for project PW01270, for public infrastructure around the Tennessee Brewery. Boyd did not recuse himself from this vote.
5/12/2016: Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC) approves $28.1M PILOT for Tennessee Brewery.
3/8/2018 LUCB approves street closures for 1544 Madison, minutes (pdf). Boyd was present during that meeting, although not a current member of LUCB.
Berlin Boyd’s access at DMC
We obtained Open Records DMC emails from Boyd and from DMC to Boyd showing that Boyd and DMC executives were in constant communication, attended meetings together and had casual coffee dates. It is clear that Boyd’s Council status provided him immediate top-level access at DMC.
9/5/2017: Berlin Boyd votes on City Council for a cell tower special use permit for Tower Assets Newco IX LLC, one of Bill Orgel’s cell tower ventures. This vote happened after the 1544 Madison property deal, so Orgel was a partner of Boyd at the time of this vote. Boyd also voted for an Orgel cell tower on 4/1/2015.
The Snuff Factory
On 17/1/2016 Bill Orgel bought a vacant property at the northeast corner of Keel and N. Main for $250,000. Deed 1Deed 2 (pdf), trading as Keel Steet LLC, with the same Viscount Ave corporate address as the other Orgel businesses.
This site is a couple of blocks north of the Pinch District, which is undergoing major redevelopment, with Bass Pro and the $9 Billion St Jude expansion. Berlin Boyd applied to the State of Tennessee to expand the Tourism Development Zone northwards. He has been promoting the Pinch redevelopment plan since late 2015. It is still to be seen what will happen at The Snuff Factory, but Boyd and Orgel are on the job.
EDGE and the 1544 Madison Development
1/1/2016 Berlin Boyd became the City Council representative on the EDGE board for calendar 2016. EDGE minutes.
2/2/2016 Boyd has a dispute with EDGE board chairman Reid Dulberger over minority contracts by PILOT recipients. Dulberger responded with a report at the February 17th Edge meeting with some numbers on minority and women contracts by PILOT recipients. The Boyd / Dulburger dispute seemed to recede after this, although some commentators say that the dispute provided Boyd with some leverage over Dulberger and the EDGE board. During Boyd’s year as City Council rep on EDGE, he was not marked present at a single EDGE board meeting, although the access that was granted him as a board member placed him in an excellent position to lobby the EDGE Board and employees.
10/19/2017 $6,177,765 PILOT granted for 1544 Madison, showing $24,775,069 in capital investment
2/12/2018: Smart City writes on EDGE’s “loosest slots in town”, questioning the need for more residential PILOTs. Downtown and Midtown are in the midst of a residential property boom, occasioned by the City’s decision to discontinue new sewer connections in the County. Residential PILOTs are far outside the norm for local government, and, as the announcement of the cessation of new sewer hookups dates only from August 2017, adding a redundant stimulus without first assessing the effect of the sewer impetus is irresponsible. The only proven benefit of residential PILOTs are a tax handout to the property owners.
3/8/2018 LUCB approves street closures for 1544 Madison, minutes (pdf). Boyd was present during that meeting, although not a current member of LUCB.
Berlin Boyd’s access at EDGE.
Boyd’s dealings at EDGE has given him a lot of access to their highest policy-making levels. We received Berlin Boyd’s email log (pdf) from EDGE via Open Records Request. He received 76 emails between September 2016 and March 2018, mostly invitations to Board meetings, EDGE Performance Review meetings and ED Finance Committee meetings. While Boyd was not marked present at any EDGE meetings we can find, a second Open Records request produced these eleven emails between 2015 and 2017 with additional meeting appointments. Boyd met, at City Hall, First Tennessee Bank, University of Memphis and EDGE, with EDGE management, including Reid Dulberger and Carmen Franklin. It is clear that Berlin Boyd had almost unrestricted access to EDGE board members from January 2106 to present, during the critical time when EDGE was considering residential PILOTs and specifically the pilot granted for 1544 Madison Partners in October 2017. Boyd was a super-lobbyist for 1544 Madison Partners.
Berlin Boyd’s relationship with Slovis, Orgel and their associates and ventures dates from at least 2008. Boyd received over $39K and other political donations from them. He voted on Council four times for over $10M of benefits to Tennessee brewery, and at LUCB and Council for at least eight Orgel cell tower permits. He has met with DMC executives many times in the course of his official business.
He was an EDGE board member and met numerous times with EDGE executives during a time when EDGE changed policy to allow residential PILOTs and when EDGE granted a $6.1M PILOT to a venture of which he is a partner.
He voted for an Orgel cell tower in September 2017 when Boyd and Orgel were partners, without recusing himself.
A question for Berlin Boyd.
Berlin Boyd. You have been in a position to influence the granting of valuable benefits to your partners in 1544 Madison. Can you show us a cashed check for the amount of your investment in 1544 Madison? Edge valued the investment at $24,775,069. Did you pay the $4.12M that your one sixth share is worth?
If that was a freebie, please explain exactly what you did for 1544 Madison Partners and its individual partners to deserve such a valuable boon?
CORRECTION: 7/5/2018. We removed a photo of Reid Hedgepeth and an incorrect reference to his company. We inserted an additional item related to a $2,250,000 contract for infrastructure work at Tennessee brewery for which Boyd voted on 12/15/2015. Apologies to all concerned.
This Slate article about Dylann Roof, where he was quoted saying “You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country, and you have to go.” debunks the myth of Black on white violence.
Behind the myth of black rapists was an elemental fear of black autonomy, often expressed by white Southern leaders who unhesitatingly connected black political and economic power to sexual liaison with whites. “We of the South have never recognized the right of the Negro to govern white men, and we never will,” said Sen. Benjamin Tillman on the Senate floor in 1900. “We have never believed him to be equal to the white man, and we will not submit to his gratifying his lust on our wives and daughters without lynching him.”
We all know that during times of enslavement, the raping was being done by the slave owners. Ida B Wells and others debunked Jim Crow era allegations of Black rape against lynching victims. Genuine rapes of white women by Black men seem always to have been exceedingly rare or non-existent.
Nonetheless, this specter of Black violence against white people is still very much in existence. We see white politicians, like Jim Strickland, Kemp Conrad, Reid Hedgepeth, Bill Morrison and Worth Morgan harping on public safety, with coded references to the mythical danger posed to white voters by unrestrained and savage Black people.
Jim Strickland’s 2015 campaign.
Steven Reid, Jim Strickland’s 2015 campaign manager, wrote “How A Throwback Campaign Made History In Memphis”. The campaign did extensive polling and decided that Strickland’s Council public safety emphasis was the right strategy for the Mayoral campaign. They focused on the 70% of voters who were over 55 and used traditional media instead of electronic as that age group don’t use social media much. The article does not mention anything about encouraging racial vote splitting, which also helped Strickland greatly.
The article mentions some of the dog whistles in Strickland’s campaign, borrowed from his Council positions. “Strickland had long advocated for zero tolerance with violent criminals. And in the wake of a rash of juvenile crime in the city, including a high-profile attack on citizens at a Kroger store, Strickland had become critical of the mayor for failing to enforce curfew laws”. The linked article in Reid piece is a dead link. We substituted another similar media link. The campaign made a special effort to shore up white voters in the couple of weeks before the election.
The articles treat the public safety issue as a found phenomenon, failing to mention Strickland and his allies roles in stoking this fire, with help from the media.
Media Dog Whistle
The media, especially TV, have often been accused of dog whistling. This Commercial Appeal article which featured the third photo of the workers taking a break in the print version, was widely criticized for portraying negative racial stereotypes, by showing the Black youths taking a much needed hydration break, and by the selection of a quote from Mark Luttrell, one of the few white people in the article, using the loaded word “idleness” in the headline. CA Editor Mark Russell agreed that CA editorial policy was at fault in this instance, and the CA has since done a better job at avoiding racial coding.
This Channel 5 piece is typically coded, as was the Plaza Kroger piece we quoted in the Reid article.
The White Alliance on City Council.
Strickland had worked with members of the Caissa Seven in the 2015 council. The 2016 council is controlled by the Caissa Seven. Strickland is associated with Brian Stephens of Caissa Public Strategy, who had a prominent management role in Strickland’s Mayoral transition team. Philip Spinosa’s replacement, J Ford Canale, is expected to vote the Caissa Seven whip. He is closely associated with Strickland, Spinosa and Hedgepeth via the CBHS old boys network.
It is easy to see the Caissa Seven agreeing with “We of the South have never recognized the right of the Negro to govern white men, and we never will,” as per Sen. Benjamin Tillman. The Caissa Seven persuaded themselves that they are protecting Memphis from itself.
Council is gerrymandered to produce six white and seven Black councilors. This already under-represents Black voters by about 10%, and keeps the white delegation within one vote of control. By recruiting Berlin Boyd, they maintain a 7-6 vote lock. In addition, Joe Brown has always voted “law and order” with the white minority. Brown received a $5,000 donation from Memphis Police Association in 2015, and donated $500 in turn to Mike William’s (MPA President) mayoral campaign.
The Dog Whistles
Zero tolerance, both for violent crimes and in-school infractions. This falls heaviest on Black people. School disciplinary problems are escalated to the juvenile justice system.
juvenile crime is often a coded reference to crime by Black youths, including the example of the Kroger disturbance given by Stephen Reid above
curfew is disproportionally used on young Black people.
Memphis Shelby Crime Commission Youth Violence Plan (PDF). They are talking about Black youth violence and increased prison time.
The Case of CLERB
The current situation of CLERB is a well-documented history of how far Council members will go to protect the police force against transparency. In 2015, after a far-reaching campaign, Memphis United forced an ordinance on City Council to revitalize the long-moribund CLERB. The matter was eventually delayed until November 2015, when it was passed. Worth Morgan then introduced a new measure in 2016 to curtail CLERB’s subpoena powers.
Bill Boyd, proposed an amendment to reduce the CLERB budget on 6/16/2015
Kemp Conrad voted against the CLERB budget on 6/16/2015. He egged Berlin Boyd to ask for a November vote rather than an early approval of the CLERB ordinance on 8/4/2015. He also made vicious personal attacks on Memphis United’s Paul Garner and the pro-CLERB lobby from the council dais that day. He tried fear mongering, quoting an email from MPD Director Toney Armstrong saying that homicides would increase 20% if the ordinance is passed. (8/4/2015). Conrad also voted against the final CLERB ordinance on 11/3/2015.
Jim Strickland, on the basis of an Allan Wade opinion, produced a last minute amendment on the third reading of the CLERB ordinance, removing CLERB’s subpoena powers, 7/7/2015.
Berlin Boyd on 8/4/2015 asked for a four month delay in voting for the CLERB ordinance, after a phone call on the dais and calling MPD Director Toney Armstrong to the mic.
Reid Hedgepeth also voted both to delay CLERB on 8/4/2015 and against CLERB reactivation on 11/3/2015.
Also voting to delay CLERB on 8/4/2015 : Bill Morrison and Joe Brown.
In 2016, Worth Morgan introduced a measure to curtail CLERB’s limited subpoena powers, which passed on 8/9/2016. Voting for clipping CLERB’s wings: the Caissa Seven: Kemp Conrad, Reid Hedgepeth, Berlin Boyd, Bill Morrison, Worth Morgan, Philip Spinosa and Frank Colvett. Joe Brown also voted for.
Police directors Armstrong and Rallings and MPA president Williams also intervened in the CLERB dispute. After the August 2016 vote, Worth Morgan failed to attend every CLERB meeting. As he was the Council liaison on CLERB, this severed the direct connection between CLERB and the city, and introduced an additional obstacle for CLERB using its cumbersome subpoena process via Council.
The example of CLERB shows how the law and order faction on Council works closely with MPD to protect it from even the mild transparency that CLERB offered.
The voting patterns around the CLERB votes are typical of the other votes on Council involving police. The main exceptions were Berlin Boyd’s marijuana ordinance in August 2016 where Kemp Conrad was the lone nay vote in a generally popular measure, and in the negotiations around the 2017 budget when the police budget was marginally cut in sub-committee. The Caissa Seven seems to recognize that Berlin Boyd needs to play to his district and relaxes the whip on him occasionally.
MPD’s Institutional Interest
We have seen MPD steadfastly victimizing the Black population, from the early slave patrol days, through the 1866 Memphis Massacre, Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era, the Crump regime and the extraordinary measures taken to suppress the Civil Rights movement under Chandler. Even now, MPD is actively pursuing activists, many of whom are Black.
I have always assumed that current MPD racial profiling is part of their institutional DNA, and they are being racist because they have always been that way. There’s plenty of evidence for that.
But the dog whistle politics of the Caissa Seven and their predecessors coupled with the way the Caissa Seven protect and enrich the police adds another motive for police behavior. They are operating in their institutional self interest by enforcing the Caissa agenda. They are rewarded for enforcing racist policies.
The Wharton era pension debacle created a large pro-police movement, with Mike Williams as their leader. Facebook groups like “Just the Facts” are an example. The Caissa Seven and Strickland tapped into this movement.
Between 2008 and 2017, the MPD budget has grown by about a third ($60M), at a time when other City budgets were being cut to the bone. It is the biggest share of the City budget.
Mayor Strickland, with the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission, attracted private funding for police retention, and the administration has been emphasizing police training classes and police recruitment. Public safety employees were given additional wage increases in the 2017 budget.
The CLERB episodes gave the Caissa Seven another opportunity to show MPD that their interests are being looked after.
All this is not surprising. Machiavelli wrote in “The Prince” that rulers have to protect their security force, even when they do wrong. The Caissa Seven and Strickland need the police to protect their positions and the economic interests of their financial backers.
MPD has every reason to play along with the dog whistle politics. It enriches and protects them. They are actually being encouraged to double down on their repressive, racist history. It’s not a few bad apples. It’s the institution.
Dog whistle politics is a real thing. Its main function is to use traditional racist memes to make white voters afraid. The practitioners have also perverted community policing by using programs such as COP and neighborhood watches to recruit Black pastors and community activists to also gain police support in the Black community. Our recent post on the CCC’s misinformation campaign shows how MPD used a mailing list of supporters to get the word out.
It has been a successful strategy in preventing the 64% Black majority from controlling the levers of power. Or, if you like, keeping white minority control of the city.
Its consequence has been a protected, out of control police force which is motivated to profile the Black community, and the activist groups who are #woke to these issues.
Our CLERB archive addresses the problem that CLERB has not been posting their minutes and documents on-line. We created this partial archive to redress this problem. The lack of an archive makes CLERB’s transparency objective hard to achieve. Not being able to administer this essential function is also part of CLERB’s issues. In the two days since we published this piece, CLERB has published some letters and also corrected an indexing problem on the City site.
Our CLERB Prequel is a narrative of how CLERB got to be the way it is. It takes the story from Paul Garner’s arrest in 2013 through the most recent political change in summer of 2016.
This piece will refer to these sources as ARCHIVE with date or PREQUEL with date. Both are in date order.
In this post, the intention is to show that CLERB was deliberately engineered to be toothless, and how it was done. Identification of the faulty engineering suggests ways to fix CLERB. We create a list of the changes that CLERB members have asked for and show why these changes are necessary.
The Groups in Play
The police department actors were
Toney Armstrong, MPD Director in 2015, when the matter came to Council. Armstrong (PREQUEL 4/21/2015) and Mike Williams, Memphis Police Association (MPA) President are quoted in the Memphis Flyer as: “… Both Director Toney Armstrong and Memphis Police Association President Mike Williams took issue with the idea giving the board subpoena power, claiming that it could impact the officers’ Fifth Amendment rights …”. Toney Armstrong later lied (PREQUEL 8/2/2016) saying “My support for CLERB has not changed.” Armstrong is quoted by Kemp Conrad as the source of an email saying that homicides will increase 20% if the ordinance is passed. (PREQUEL 8/4/2015). Homicides did not increase 20% after CLERB.
MPA also said (PREQUEL 7/7/2015) that there were already enough controls in place at MPD.
Current Director Mike Rallings, who has stonewalled all recommendations of CLERB (ARCHIVE 5/10/2018) as per this letter from CLERB to Mayor Strickland.
The 2015 City Council group opposed to the revitalization of CLERB included:
Bill Boyd, who proposed an amendment to reduce the CLERB budget by half (PREQUEL 6/16/2015) and voted against the CLERB budget.
Kemp Conrad also voted against the CLERB budget (PREQUEL 6/16/2015). He egged Berlin Boyd to ask for a November rather than an early resumption of the CLERB ordinance (PREQUEL 8/4/2015). He also made vicious personal attacks on Paul Garner and the pro-CLERB lobby from the council dais. (PREQUEL 8/4/2015). He tried fear mongering, quoting an email from MPD Director Toney Armstrong saying that homicides will increase 20% if the ordinance is passed. (PREQUEL 8/4/2015). Conrad also voted against the final CLERB ordinance (PREQUEL 11/3/2015)
Jim Strickland, on the basis of an Allan Wade opinion, produced a last minute amendment on the third reading of the CLERB ordinance, removing CLERB’s subpoena powers. (PREQUEL 7/7/2015). Last minute amendments are often used to derail motions in Council.
Berlin Boyd (PREQUEL 8/4/2015) asked for a four month delay in voting for the CLERB ordinance
Reid Hedgepeth also voted both to delay CLERB (PREQUEL 8/4/2015) and (PREQUEL 11/3/2015).
Also voting to delay CLERB (PREQUEL 8/4/2015): Bill Morrison and Joe Brown.
The 2016 City Council group who altered CLERB’s subpoena powers include the group we know as the Caissa Seven: Kemp Conrad, Reid Hedgepeth, Berlin Boyd, Bill Morrison and newcomers Worth Morgan, Philip Spinosa and Frank Colvett. This group has voted as a bloc on all police issues except for Berlin Boyd’s marijuana ordinance in August 2016. Joe Brown, who had received $5,000 from the MPA (Memphis Police Association) PAC and who had passed on $500 of this to Mike Williams 2015 Mayoral campaign was very pro-police and anti-CLERB.
We had seen how Jim Strickland had introduced the idea that CLERB could not have subpoena power and tried to have this power removed on 7/7/2015. This cause was taken up in 2016 by new Council member Worth Morgan. Morgan had been Chair of the Council’s Public Safety and Homeland Security sub-committee since January, 2016, and was ex-officio the CLERB city liaison member.
(PREQUEL 7/5/2016 and 8/9/2016) Worth Morgan introduced a measure to remove CLERB’s limited subpoena powers. A furious debate ensued, with CLERB supporters again in the chamber. CLERB, through its Council liaison, would request Council to issue the subpoena, and the case would be heard as a Council meeting. This version of subpoena power was passed, with only Kemp Conrad voting against the compromise.
Worth Morgan’s attendance at CLERB meetings is recorded in ARCHIVE. He attended only the April and June 2016 meetings, and missed all 17 meetings subsequent to June 2016. This had the effect of making the cumbersome subpoena process even more so, due to the City Liaison’s role in the procedure. Morgan’s chronic absence from CLERB severed the only link to City Council.
What to do about CLERB?
The obvious move, to try and get City Council, to change the CLERB ordinance is a non-starter with the current City Council incumbents. Although Philip Spinosa has left Council, his hand-picked replacement, J Ford Canale, is likely to vote with the Caissas. Joe Brown is very anti-CLERB, so the votes are just not there. Maybe after 2019, especially if CLERB can be made an election issue.
CLERB could consider asking Council for a subpoena at the next available opportunity. It would be a good opportunity to test the process. The outcome may inform the voters.
Allan Wade was the originator of the “opinion” that the City has no right to delegate subpoena powers. It first surfaced on the record as a comment by Jim Strickland (PREQUEL 7/7/2015). Wade is known for providing dubious legal opinions as required by Council.
Attorney Bruce Kramer (ARCHIVE 7/14/2016) pointed out that Knoxville has a CLERB with direct subpoena powers. There is no mention of delegation of subpoena powers in the City Charter or statutes. This would suggest that the issue could be litigated.
CLERB binding recommendations.
During the 2016 discussion of CLERB at City Council, (PREQUEL 7/7/2015), in an assumption that goodwill would exist with all parties, CLERB recommendations were made non binding on MPD. As there has been no goodwill on the part of Director Rallings this might be revisited. On the face of it the votes are not there on Council to improve CLERB, but Rallings has so violated the intent of the 2015 CLERB discussion that the Council vote lock might be broken.
There are issues with CLERB administration. The failure of CLERB to get its minutes and meeting documents properly indexed on the City Online Meetings portal is inexplicable. The video from the regular City Hall meeting rooms seems to be automatically updated but the CLERB administrators would have to follow the same process to catalog meeting minutes and other documents that other City scribes use. If the City site admins are somehow blocking this process, that issue would need to be escalated.
The issue of personal information in complainant case notes is often cited. The Tennessee Open Records law is very clear that documents which contain certain personal information, such as health details, and some personally identifying information, must be redacted before publication.
The CLERB website is finally live. Normal practice for a website with periodic document downloads is to provide the administrator with a software tool and security access to upload new documents.
At the time of writing, there have been some improvements to the CLERB tab on the City meetings page and a new page has appeared on the CLERB site with eight documents. (ARCHIVE). These are new and welcome. But way not enough.
CLERB cannot meet its transparency objective until the clerical task of uploading all its documents, and keeping them current, is complete. We created our archive to serve as a source of documents and also to show CLERB how it is done. It is not persuasive to blame the City for these omissions. As yesterday’s new page as shown, CLERB do have control over their site and could have added documents anytime. Or paid $40 for a blog page and done it there. No excuses for lazy publication.
CLERB is authorized for one additional employee. CLERB could avail of an intern from the city. The Tennessee Law Society has offered to put CLERB on its books as a recipient of pro-bono legal help, but CLERB refused this offer. Lack of manpower is not an excuse.
In CLERB’s letter to the Mayor of 5/10/2018, the following solutions were offered.
“1) Director Rallings to be reasonable and at least meet us in the middle on our decisions (compromise),
2) A new police director who will work with us (CLERB)
3) A new ordinance that gives CLERB binding decision-making power, or
4) an amendment to the current ordinance, which gives appellate power to the mayor over the police director’s decisions”.
Make Recommendations for MPD policy change.
In (ARCHIVE 11/17/2016) John Marek pointed out the CLERB cannot change MPD P&P but can make recommendations for policy changes.
What specific recommendations to make? That’s a wonky subject. MPD’s P&P manual is voluminous. It would be a lifetime task to make it right. A few changes are suggested by the CLERB work product.
Premises Advisory / Hazard Location Policy
Reginald Johnson’s case (ARCHIVE 11/11/2016 and 3/9/2017) suggests a P&P change. After trying to hold MPD to account for investigating the death in 2014 of his son Samuel, and after his CLERB case was upheld, Mr Johnson’s house was flagged by MPD as a “hazard location” via a data construct called a “premises advisory”. After a large turnout of MPD cruisers to his house for a routine call, Mr Johnson, considering his beat-down and macing by police, was understandably intimidated. Mid South Peace and Justice took up his case and, in May 2018, Mr Johnson had a meeting with Director Rallings and other officers, in which he was told the premises advisory would be removed. The term “Hazard Location” or “Hazard List” was used by all commentators. The term “Premises Advisory” was first introduced by MPD brass during the May meeting with Mr. Johnson, who reported verbally on the meeting. MPD refused to create any record of this meeting.
MPD needs a policy which governs the use of premises advisory and/or hazard location designations. This should include criteria for creating this datum, notification of the subject, a review procedure, and a procedure for challenging use of this procedure. This P&P recommendation could be attached by CLERB to Mr. Johnson’s case as an addendum.
DR501: Attendance at Court.
This is a much-abused existing policy. It is in the P&P Manual, chapter 1 section 3, DR 501. (PDF). In his testimony to CLERB, (ARCHIVE 11/17/2016) Reginald Johnson mentioned that his case was dismissed when the arresting officer did not show up in court.
DR501: “All commissioned members of this Department are considered officers of the court and shall testify or give evidence before any Grand Jury or court of law when properly called upon to do so and when there is no properly asserted constitutional privilege, or when immunity from prosecution has been granted…”.
Why this is significant, is that an arresting officer is required to appear for the preliminary hearing, where she is required to prove probable cause for the arrest. Officers have been observed to not turn up for the preliminary hearing in order to make a case go away. This might be because a false arrest was perpetrated, or as a reprisal or punishment, where the arresting officer never planned to attend the preliminary, or because the arrest is problematic or sometimes as a courtesy to a fellow officer who is on trial. We posted about this issue, with several examples.
While not attending is a breach of regulations, the worst that happens according to anonymous police sources, is a half-day suspension, and a slap on the wrist is more common.
Why preliminary appearance is important.
Being arrested and having to go through the process of detainment, obtaining bail and legal representation, and take time off work for court appearances is expensive and time consuming for a defendant. Currently the arresting officer is incentivized to allow the case to proceed through the prosecutor’s process, in the hope that the defendant will take a proffer. This can leave the defendant liable for court costs and with a conviction on their record.
The jeopardy and cost issues for the defendant are much greater than any punishment the officer will attract for not turning up. It follows that, if a cop is planning to ditch the case at the preliminary hearing, that the prosecution process should end as quickly as possible, to minimize the harm to the defendant.
We have spoken to police who maintain that it is a policeman’s right to arrest anyone and put her in the jail for 14 hours or so, and to evade consequences by not appearing for the preliminary hearing, a sort of job perk.
Suggested changes to DR 501.
When the missed court appearance is a preliminary hearing, a wrongful arrest should be assumed and IAD should be required to open a false arrest case.
Mandatory and increasing punishments for not appearing at a preliminary hearing should start at a week’s suspension for first offence, and increase for every offense thereafter.
A third offense should be punished with mandatory dismissal from the force.
The existing DR501 has provision for genuine health-related and other excuses for non attendance.
Police should be encouraged to reveal to the prosecutor and defense that he will not attend the preliminary hearing as early as possible in the case, and this should result in immediate dismissal of the case. There should be a reduced punishment for the officer when this happens.
Any pre-trial plea agreement should go to the preliminary hearing for ratification by a judge, so the plea and the case can be thrown out if the officer does not appear, or if he fails to prove probable cause for the arrest. An IAD case should be automatically opened whenever probable cause is not established for the arrest.
Internal Affairs Case Acceptance Policy
MPD’s Internal Affairs sometimes rejects cases. Normal practice for police internal affairs bureaus is that a case should be started for each and every complaint by the public. Federal Department of Justice standards (PDF) states, on page 12 “The widest possible net should be thrown open at intake to receive all complaints from all possible sources of complaint.”
MPD’s IAD does not open a case for every complaint. Instead, they sometimes create a “miscellaneous note” for a complaint. This directly affects CLERB because a rejected IAD complaint can’t be taken up by CLERB.
I personally experienced this, when I called IAD in November of 2016. I had been arrested, and the arresting officer failed to turn up for the preliminary hearing. When I approached CLERB to take up my filming-the-police case, they could not because IAD had rejected the case. I escalated the IAD complaint to the lieutenant in charge, who adamantly refused to open a case. In the end, as Paul Garner’s CLERB case covered similar ground, I gave up trying to get IAD to take the case.
IAD can, and does, create a catch-22 situation by this policy, where cases can be kept from CLERB.
CLERB should make a recommendation that IAD’s policy be changed to be in line with normal police practice and DOJ recommendations. A case must be opened for each and every complaint.
Additional actions by CLERB.
CLERB is likely to encounter additional opportunities to consider P&P changes in the course of their work.
A P&P change that is rejected by MPD can still be taken to Council as an ordinance, or perhaps the Police and Homeland Security sub-committee can take direct action with the police.
The current Council is unlikely to pass a new amendment to the CLERB ordinance to add subpoena powers or to allow mandatory CLERB recommendations.
But the current Council might entertain reasonable small changes to the P&P.
New City Council 2019
The political options for a new City Council regarding CLERB may become greater. There are two additional measures which should be done, given the political will:
Amend the CLERB ordinance again to give CLERB direct subpoena power, and be ready to defend this measure in the courts.
Amend the CLERB ordinance to give CLERB authority to make binding recommendations to the Police Director, including the ability to amend the MPD policy and procedures manual.
Increase the CLERB budget and authorized staff positions.
Next from memphistruth.org is the final piece of the CLERB series. It delves into the political process by which white control over policing is maintained, and its relationship to the economics of power in the city.
Caissa Public Strategy operates behind the scenes. Their stable of client politicians dominates City Council, they’ve worked for Mayor Strickland’s administration and they have a host of business clients, for whom they perform a range of services, from reputation management to marketing to “crisis management”. They are one of the best-connected entities in town.
The first section here “The Caissa Seven” is an analysis of the contributions received by each Councilor and their expenditures with Caissa. It clearly shows how the Caissa Seven dominates Council. This is motivation for a closer look at some of Caissa’s other activities.
The second section, “Caissa Client: Fellowship Memphis and the Rick Trotter case” shows how Caissa orchestrated the “crisis management” of a previous Rick Trotter sex offense at Fellowship Memphis. Trotter was fired in 2010 from his job at Fellowship Memphis when the church elders found he had been secretly videoing women in a bathroom at the church. He then went to Downtown Church, who had been told of his Fellowship history. In 2016 he was arrested for upskirt photography at his new church, and indicted in October 2017. Caissa Public Strategy were called in by Fellowship Memphis and engaged in “crisis management”. The ongoing police investigation of the Fellowship case has apparently stalled. The insight into how Caissa manages client reputations behind the scenes is revealing. A further post is planned, a deeper dive into the shenanigans at Fellowship Memphis. David Bonner termed Fellowship a “cult or cult-like” entity.
Our third section includes basic biographical details on Caissa’s owners, Brian Jefferson Stevens and Paige Walkup.
Caissa, with their massive and mostly secret network, pops up in odd places, generally when an official document has to be filed. Everyone in the media sees their hand in occasional flashes, and knows they are there, but we see few attempts to document their scope and influence. This series of articles is an attempt to gain some insight into what they do, and how.
Note to viewers: I expect some of the links in this article to go away. Not to worry, I have copies of everything. Please inform me of broken links and I’ll annotate them with an alternative source. In this story, broken links are a part of the narrative.
The Caissa Seven.
Above: Frank Colvett, Berlin Boyd, Reid Hedgepeth, Kemp Conrad, Worth Morgan, Bill Morrison, Philip Spinosa. (City of Memphis)
Fig. 1 was created by totaling all contributions, and all expenditures to Caissa Public Strategy, filed at the Election Commission for the period January 1st 2015 to June 30th 2016, for all Council incumbents.
Reid Hedgepeth did not use Caissa in this election cycle. He was first elected in 2007, before Caissa was founded, and had his own campaign habits set. We include Hedgepeth in the Caissa Seven on the basis of this Daily News article featuring a Brian Stephens interview, which identifies Hedgepeth as part of the Caissa contingent. He also donated $5000 to the Republican Party on his Pre-General 2015 campaign disclosure, and Republican affiliation is another marker for the Caissa Seven.
Kemp Conrad’s expenditures for the Pre-General 2015 disclosure are not on file. We estimated $30,000, based on other candidate’s patterns. All the other numbers were taken straight from the campaign disclosures.
We can see a clear breakdown of City Council. The Republican-oriented mostly white Caissa Seven had average contributions of $146K while the African American opposition group had average contributions of only $34K. The Caissa Seven netted five times the money of the opposition, and spent even more, because some Caissa candidates also loaned large amounts to their campaigns, including Worth Morgan’s $50,000 loan.
Although the opposition group is a recognizable subset of Council, they don’t vote as a group and Edmund Ford has a lot of similar, big money contributions to the Caissa Seven. They are an individualistic group.
On the other hand, the Caissa Seven share a common agenda, and tend to vote as a bloc on issues critical to the big money politics of the Memphis white power elite. This can be clearly seen in policing-, zoning, budget and property related issues. Some latitude is allowed on non-critical agenda items, including Berlin Boyd’s and Kemp Conrad’s divergent votes on Berlin Boyd’s Marijuana measure in August 2016. The Commercial Appeal called it a “rare split vote”.
Violations of the Open Meetings Law have been alleged. We don’t know what mechanisms might have been used to apply an apparent whip to the Caissa Seven, and, in many cases, the other Councilors. The only apparent linkages are some shared staffers at City Hall, Allan Wade, the Council Attorney, and their handlers at Caissa, all of whom would have had legitimate reasons to talk to multiple Council members. We don’t want to speculate on whether there was a Whip or how it might have been applied, but we also don’t understand how complex resolutions suddenly formed from whole cloth.
As Caissa operates behind the scenes, the existence of their own “party” in City Council is reason for concern. Caissa also worked in the Jim Strickland Mayoral transition in 2015. Their influence, which they exert on behalf of their private clients, is pervasive in City Government.
Bill Morrison worked for Caissa as George Flinn’s campaign manager. Those campaign disclosure documents are missing from the Election Commission site, but two knowledgeable sources confirm.
Caissa also worked for County Commissioners Heidi Shafer and Willie Brooks. The 2014 County election cycle candidate disclosures are so incomplete that we don’t want to infer anything , except that Caissa’ influence in the County is also strong.
Caissa Client: Fellowship Memphis and the Rick Trotter case.
Caissa is a company of secrets, and their client list is one of the biggest of those secrets . We defer discussion of their clients for a future article in this series and focus on a single case here, Fellowship Memphis.
Wondering Eagle blog has done numerous pieces about Trotter’s career over the years. In this August 2016 post, David Bonner talks about Caissa Public Strategy’s involvement in the Trotter case.
According to a joint statement by Downtown Church and Fellowship Memphis, Trotter’s previous employer, “Trotter was employed as a Worship Director by Fellowship from August 2005 to February of 2010. In February 2010, it was reported that Trotter was engaged in inappropriate conduct”. Trotter had made video of people using a bathroom at the Church.
From David Bonner’s August 2016 blog post: Asterisks are inserted by us and refer to the notes at the end of the extract.
“.…In the case of Fellowship Memphis the hiring of a PR firm to supposedly “investigate” the situation creates a number of questions that deserve asking. … Fellowship Memphis recently hired a PR firm called Caissa Public Strategy. … Caissa is led by Brian J. Stephens * and I am hearing from my sources that the investigator is Jessica Muntz**. Jessica is a graduate of Mississippi State University, and you can see her background in LinkedIn right here. While Caissa is referred to as a public relations firm in this Christian Post article it says that Fellowship Memphis hired a PI firm. The reality is that it can be both. In this interview you *** can hear Brian J Stephens talk about how Caissa works. They help clients win and do what it takes to win and allegedly teach organizations and companies that crisis can also be an opportunity. …
For a church to go and hire a PR firm signals a couple of things for me. First is that this place is very cult like or cultish. Second is that its (sic) very much and (sic) indicator that it still is committed to maintaining the alleged cover up. I wonder if the reason why Caissa is hired is because of their knowledge of the news media and if that is a response to the articles about Fellowship Memphis in the Commercial Appeal. …
If you live in the Memphis area and you are contacted by Caissa this is my advice to you. First of all remember that this firm is not neutral. They are not there to get the truth out. They have been compromised in this one way. Money has exchanged hands and this firm is dedicated to defending the client, which in this case is John Bryson and Fellowship Memphis. It should be stated that you have your rights and you do not have to cooperate with them if you are approached. Their goal in the end is to plug leaks and to do damage control for Fellowship Memphis. When it comes to allegations of criminal activity there is one organization you should go to first and that is the Memphis Police. It’s my understanding that the Memphis Police are investigating the situation with Rick Trotter. They have three years of recordings to go through and they have a lot of victims to identify. But remember if you are approached you are free to walk away and not cooperate. You have done nothing wrong, this behavior is more indicative of what you would see in the dark underworld of the mafia. I also would suggest that you not get angry at Jessica Muntz as she is just doing her job. Be polite, cordial and treat her with respect but remember you do not have to talk with her and anyone from Caissa. If you have knowledge of an alleged crime I again would implore you to go to the Memphis Police. They exist for that purpose and are trained to handle these kinds of issues. If any of you guys have any experiences with Caissa you are free to post them here on this blog.
* Brian Stephens’ bio on the Caissa website. At the time the blog was posted, the “Leadership” page clicked through to individual biographical pages. These individual pages have since been removed and Bonner’s link is showing a “HTTP 404” error, indicating that the page was not found. As of 10/28/2017, none of the Leadership individual entries click through to an underlying bio page. This is how Brian Stephens bio looked on July 14, 2016, courtesy of Archive.Org.
** Jennifer Muntz’s bio on the Caissa website has been removed since this blog was posted. Muntz has left Caissa’s employ. Here’s Jessica Muntz’s Caissa bio, as it appeared on 9/2/1026, at Archive.org.
*** This link pointed to a post in LPBC.com. The Lipscomb Pitts Breakfast Club is a volunteer outfit run by Jeremy Parks. The post in question is a radio show broadcast from 1/14/2014 entitled “Gestalt Community Schools: Copeland Coaching and Caissa Public Strategy featuring an interview with Brian Stephens. We retrieved the Stephens interview segment from Archive.Org. Streaming audio here.
Although the removed links are fairly trivial, the fact presumably Caissa chose to change their site and also that Parks redacted his own site is interesting. This is the sort of thing an expert in “reputation management” does all the time.
Caissa was called in to perform “crisis management” when the Fellowship story blew up again at the time of Rick Trotter’s August 2016 arrest.
The screen snip above right is from Watch Keep blog post dated 8/22/2016. The phone number is Jessica Muntz‘s cell number.
JB Martinez, one of the alleged victims of the Fellowship Memphis alleged voyeur, writes about her experience. She describes steps taken by Fellowship Memphis to hide evidence and to browbeat victims to not report the alleged crimes.
Because the Trotter video has been hidden, and was seen only by two Fellowship elders, the alleged victim list is hard to compile, but we do have a list of people who used the bathroom at a time when Trotter was known to be videoing, which we will share with media.
The proof of Caissa’s effectiveness is that, until now, Rick Trotter, despite being fired for sexual impropriety at Fellowship Memphis, was able to go to Downtown Church and continue photographing women up-skirt for another six years, despite Downtown being notified of the reason why he was fired at Fellowship. The sorry episode resulted in no prosecutions and only a few media mentions.
We have recently seen signs that Caissa is actively pursuing “reputation management” in the late-October – early November timeframe. Caissa operatives have been contacting Fellowship Memphis alleged victims.
On November 2nd, a mention of Caissa in a post apparently resulted in a Caissa employee joining the group, less than two hours later.
We are seeing heightened activity.
We invited Brian Stephens to comment on this article, but he did not return two calls to his office and cellphone. His book title is “Only Morons say No Comment”.
Caissa Public Strategy is headed up by Brian Jefferson Stephens and Paige Walkup. Caissa have removed their personal bios, which were clickable from their Our Team page. Here’s an archived version of the team page from 2016, where the potted bios are still visible, courtesy of Archive.org
Brian Jefferson Stephens attended Marion Military Institute from 1988 to 1992, was awarded a BS by Appalachian State University 1992-1995, and has a law degree from University of Tulsa College of Law, 1995-1998.
He worked as an attorney at Allen, Scruggs, Sossaman, and Thompson from 1998 to 2003, Tennessee Law license 1999, operated a lawn care business as Ecosystems Inc (SOS Control # 000460890) from 2004 to 2010, was Executive Director of Rebuild Government in 2009 to 2010 and started Caissa Public Strategy with Paige Walkup in December 2010.
Stephens was awarded the Army Achievement Medal, according to his Linkedin page. This is only awarded to lower ranks in the military, so we conjecture that he had an Army Reserve deployment somewhere in his career. 60,000 of these were awarded since 2001.
Caissa was registered on 12/28/2010 to take over the business of The Stephens Group Law Firm. Paige Walkup is the co-owner and Managing Director
Paige Beverly Walkup attended North Carolina State University from 1990 to 1992, has a BA from Elon Univ (1993 to 1996) and an MA in Applied Anthropology from University of Memphis (1997-1999).
She taught at Univ. of Memphis from 2000 to 2009, was Resource Development and Marketing Director at United Housing from 1998 to 2009, Project Administrator at Rebuild Government from 2009 to 2011, and was a founder of Caissa Public Strategy in December 2010.
*confirmed still at Caissa. **Confirmed to have left Caissa
Conclusions and Summary
Caissa’s political clients and allies, the Caissa Seven, dominate City Council by a one-vote majority, and also dominate in raising political contributions. Caissa also has hooks in Jim Strickland’s administration and in various City programs and functions.
Caissa has played a role in helping the elders of Fellowship Church hide from the consequences of their alleged involvement in covering up a sex crime, and enabling the alleged perpetrator, Rick Trotter to work at another church, Downtown Church. Fellowship Memphis failed in their duty to report the alleged crimes to the authorities, and Downturn Church, despite being informed of Trotter’s firing for sexual misbehavior, failed to protect their own members from similar abuse.
At least three links in the original David Bonner blog, all relating to Caissa, have been removed since the blog was posted. Caissa conducted interviews with victims and some of those victims have not cooperated with official inquiries. Evidence in the case may have gone missing. MPD were never noted for efficient handling of sex and domestic abuse cases . The seven year delay in handling the Fellowship Memphis cases, despite some victims filing complaints, for a case not involving rape kits, is excessive. We have questions.
We like to characterize this Fellowship mess as an onion. There’s an outer layer consisting of Caissa’s “crisis management” of the troubles of the church elders. The second layer is the role of the Fellowship management in dealing with the Trotter case, which seems to include activities around the disposition of physical evidence and possible interference with victims and witnesses. This started when the Trotter activities were first reported in 2010 and involved Caissa more recently. The inner layer of the onion is the alleged crimes of Trotter himself. It’s three different sets of behaviors, occurring in different time frames and involving three different sets of protagonists. If there were crimes involved, some of them may have statutes of limitation issues.
We think another layer of “crisis management” is in the process of formation at the time of writing, November 2017.
Next post: Caissa’s clients and contracts. Coming soon.