In April 2019, we wrote about Jason White, who was framed for a pound of meth by Bartlett detectives and ADA Chris Scruggs, recipient of our first Hammer Award for over-zealous prosecution. White was, until recently, serving 60 years at the West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Lauderdale County.
White was spirited out of state Monday May 20th in a carefully planned operation.
Jumping ahead a little, it seems clear that Shelby County is ready for a brand new DA in 2022, one that is committed to dismantling Amy Weirich’s system of mass incarceration. Let’s suppose there might be an ad-hoc host committee formed to find the best possible candidate and provide her with the most and best campaign resources we can find.
Daniel Connolly of The Commercial Appeal has recently outed Mike Cross, former Collierville and Shelby prosecutor, and Judge Jim Lammey for racism on social media.
We commend Mr Connolly’s enterprise and, seeing that we have our own research on prosecutorial and other criminal justice misconduct, we decided to follow his lead.
Our criterion for membership of our rogue’s gallery is something an ADA Hammer like Chris Scruggs would appreciate. Three strikes and you’re in for good. When we document three perversions of justice, you get our Hammer Award.
Shelby Co. District Attorney’s office has a hammer award, given to prosecutors who break the rules to get convictions. This is our Hammer Award.
ADA Chris Scruggs
The first recipient of our Hammer Award is Chris Scruggs. He’s a long time prosecutor and has headed up the West Tennessee Drug Task Force, an inter-agency unit, which works with the Multi Agency Gang Unit and its Organized Crime Unit.
Drug prosecutions are especially problematic, as a large part of mass incarceration. There are perverse incentives including civil forfeiture, which engenders corruption, and the imposition of minimum sentencing laws has made this area especially problematic.
Chris Scruggs taken to Federal Court
We first encountered Chris Scruggs in the Federal case taken by April Malone and Celitria Watson against three DAs and three MPD police officers. In this case, Ms Watson had an automated cloud back-up app running on her phone, She was able to prove that the version of a wiretap log of her text messages had been altered by the prosecution and police to add incriminating statements. In addition, a bogus bank Suspicious Activity Report was used to obtain the wiretap warrant. The prosecution team was aware of the fabricated evidence.
Ms Malone and Ms. Watson were able to prove their innocence and their cases were severed and dismissed, but Kendrick Watson, Celitria’s brother and April’s significant other, was given and additional nine years on his sentence using the same fabricated evidence. April’s mother, Patricia Malone, took a misdemeanor plea for time served.
Chris Scruggs and Planted Weed
Our piece on Thorne Peters‘ bust at Imbiblio’s night club describes how Chris Scruggs had to recuse himself from a second trial of Peters and others because of his misconduct in the first case.
In the initial December 2008 raid, some weed which had been thrown down in commonly accessible areas was found, but this was not allowed as evidence because there was no search warrant. The arrest affidavit was altered months later to add a small baggie of weed supposedly found in the cruiser used to transport Peters, and the case was dismissed.
In addition to the evidence tampering, this case showed the abuse of bail. Peters was held on $400K bail and ended up serving 19 months on a charge which had a maximum penalty of less than one year. Peters’ insistence on his day in court called the DA’s bluff. The DA’s expected to plead out, which would make the weakness of their case moot.
Peters was again arrested in July 2009 on the evidence of a confidential informant, Ashley Egan, who was paid $2000 for her testimony. Egan was later sentenced to several terms of imprisonment, was described by her SCSO handlers as a junkie and was a client of the mental health court, which usually requires mental health treatment for its defendants. Chris Scruggs, who had been cited for his role in the 2008 bust, recused himself from this case in October 2010, after the snitch testimony had been given.
Third Strike: Jason White’s case
The 2016 cases of Jason White, Kristina Cole and Montez Mullins is especially egregious. Bartlett police intercepted a package containing a pound of meth, relabeled it with Kristina Cole’s address, got a dubious warrant for the altered address, and busted her. They confiscated her phone and sent some text messages to a phone they thought, but never proved, belonged to her incarcerated boyfriend, Jason White. They subsequently added Montez Mullins, who admitted to organizing the shipment, to the docket. The defendants were sentenced to a total of 113 1/2 years.
The arresting officer testified to the changing of the destination address and the bogus text messages on the stand, so Scruggs, as the prosecutor, would have known these facts while being briefed on the case before trial. Cole and White were innocent bystanders to Mullins’ prison meth distribution scheme.
Chris Scruggs: Congratulations
Chris Scruggs is a deserving recipient of our first Hammer Award.
We will be awarding future Hammer Awards to prosecutors, judges, law enforcement and individuals who get three strikes for overzealous enforcement of mass incarceration.
Updated 5/17/2019: We took the appendix of this book and showed how it could be a questionnaire that a hypothetical selection committee could put to candidates to gauge how committed they are to prosecutorial reform.
“Prosecutors wield extraordinary power in the criminal legal system. How they exercise their power can be the difference between fairness and inequality, justice and corruption, and a community with faith in its justice system or one that feels betrayed by it.”
We don’t usually do book reviews, but Emily Bazelon’s book “Charged. The new movement to transform American prosecution and end mass incarceration” is a phenomenon we can’t ignore. It is a textbook and a case study of how to replace Amy Weirich.
Local DAs are the officials with the most influence over mass incarceration.
We previously reported on the Fair Punishment Project’s report “The Recidivists: New Report on Rates of Prosecutorial Misconduct“. One of the four DAs profiled in the book was Amy Weirich, with an account of six of her cases which had been reversed by appeals courts. Weirich was nailed for repeat Brady violations and due process violations. Amy Weirich was, in 2017, fast becoming the poster child for prosecutorial misconduct.
“Charged” confirms Amy Weirich as the most corrupt champion of mass incarceration in the country. The book is structured as two case histories, one of Amy’s persecution of Nuora Barnes for murdering her mother, and the other following a young Black man, pseudonymously named Kevin, as he wends its way through a diversion program in the Brooklyn office of DA Eric Gonzales, who has slashed mass incarceration since his election.
This is the most complete account of the Nuora Barnes case, and Weirich doubles down on vicious and illegal tactics throughout the case. Jackson eventually took an alford plea after the Tennessee Supreme Court vacated her conviction. Weirich did not have the grace to release Nuora on bail, and, rather than releasing her after ten years, forced her to accept a plea deal to avoid further incarceration. Bazelon forged a close relationship with Nuora Jackson and paints an intimate portrait of a soul in Amy’s hell.
In the midst of alternating through six chapters each on Kevin and Nuora’s cases, Bazelon adds organizational chapters.
The final chapter is a survey of the issues faced by some of the new reform prosecutors and how they were tackled. It’s a troubleshooting guide for reform DAs.
Possibly the most valuable resource in the book is the appendix, a list of 21 principles for Twenty First Century Prosecutors, grouped under the objectives of reducing mass incarceration and increasing fairness in the system. This is a great starting point for a questionnaire for new DA candidates.
This book is a gift to criminal justice advocated in Memphis. It contains a motivational story, potential national sources of support, accounts of the pioneer reform DAs who are already elected and helpful organizational principles.
Amy Weirich is the Public Enemy Number One for national reform advocates, who are well funded.
We received additional material on Alfredo Shaw’s TV retraction of his Crimestoppers snitch. We have a video from a local TV channel and a sworn statement made to Federal court by Alfredo Shaw outlining how he was coerced into giving false witness in Tony Carruthers death penalty case. We have also had several phone interviews with death row inmate Tony Carruthers.
We also got two more documents in the provenance of the CI ledger which Earley Story is using in his case. Additional documents from Tony Carruthers attorney requesting the documents, the DA’s denial and a court order demanding the ledger be produced add extra detail. We also have a better image of the CI ledger document. Earley Story had another appearance in Division 8 before Judge Chris Craft and we provide notes of this hearing. The Post and Email blog reports on Mr Story’s case and we have an account of his most recent court appearance last Monday.
We had an interview last week from a confidential source whose story matches the Alfredo Shaw modus operandi, generally confirming Earley Story and Tony Carruthers’ narratives. We can’t print any more about this at present.
First up, the Alfredo Shaw confessions.
Alfredo Shaw confesses
This document was filed on April 21st 2011 in Western District of the Federal Court. Shaw swears that Assistant DA Jerry Harris and MPD officers Wilkinson and Roleson briefed him, on or before March 27th 1994, on the Tony Carruthers murder case, showing him the case documents. Other than media coverage, he had no other information concerning the case and had not, as he later claimed, spoken to Carruthers about the February 1994 case. Shaw made a false statement to police on March 17th and provided the same witness statement to the Grand Jury soon after.
Shaw on TV
Around February 28th 1996, Shaw gave this interview to Channel 13. He described how he contacted MPD Homicide, was approached by prosecutor Jerry Harris and offered $2000 and dismissal of charges to testify as instructed. He talks about police and ADAs coaching him with “bits and pieces” for his Grand Jury testimony. A prosecutor talks about Shaw’s other crimes, how he lied on this case and others and how Carruthers and other defendants should be protected from Shaw. The fact that Shaw’s testimony was used again on Earley Story in his 1997 – 1999 case, and upwards of ten other defendants, tends to deflate this argument.
Shaw threatened by prosecutor
Shaw was visited and threatened in the jail by Harris, Wilkinson and Roleson just after the Channel 13 report aired, who threatened and intimidated him and said they’d go after him if he did not revert to the original, concocted story. Later, Harris said that they would not call him as a trial witness for the prosecution, but Carruthers called him as a defense witness. Harris told Shaw before his appearance that he would prosecute Shaw for perjury unless he want back to the agreed testimony. He did so, recounting conversations with Carruthers which never occurred. Subsequently Harris’ promises of time served on a number of felonies were carried out. Shaw still feared retaliation from the prosecutor’s office at the time he gave this statement.
Earley Story in Court March 4th 2019
We saw Earley Story as he started his attempt to clear his record. Earley Story was also framed with the help of testimony from Alfredo Shaw, who withdrew his testimony in an interview with Phil Campbell of the Memphis Flyer, and was forced by prosecutors to revert to his original bogus story at court.
Here’s our notes from March 4th, Shelby Co. Criminal Court Division 8, Judge Chris Craft. I am not a shorthander so the quotes only are literal.
09:42 AM. Earley Story requests records from the previous hearings to be added to the file.
Judge Craft: Are you going to call witnesses?
Earley Story: No
Judge Craft: Do you know which prosecutor is handling the case?
An unidentified prosecutor stands up. He does not know who is handling the case. The case records were destroyed.
The judge told Mr Story to sit down.
12:50 PM. Earley Story says that the prosecutor’s office filed a response denying all charges.
About 3:00 PM
Earley Story is called to the mic and says he would like a default judgment per his motion.
Earley Story: On October 29th, when I received this information concerning my innocence, I filed on time and I received no information until January 15th 2019 when I receieved a letter.
Judge Craft: From me. Where did you get thirty days to respond?
Earley Story: Tennessee law.
Judge Craft: There is no such limit.
Earley Story: I believe my motion should have been heard more timely.
Judge Craft: We have not heard a motion yet. We need to stay focused on the topic of this motion for default judgment. Do you understand the process? I am asking what law says thirty days. When I ask a question I require an answer.
Earley Story: 55.01 Tennessee Rules for Civil Procedure. When a party fails to respond within thirty days judgment is by default. Does that mean you are denying a hearing?
Unidentified Prosecutor: That rule does not apply in criminal court. The state denies all allegations. We supplied Earley Story a copy. This is hearsay about Alfredo Shaw. Today we are asking for the motion for default judgment to be dismissed.
Earley Storey mentions his motion for Judge Craft to recuse himself.
Judge Craft: We don’t change the subject. We are not supposed to help (pro se litigants). The state says they filed a response.
Earley Storey: The response was not timely. 29th October to March is not timely.
Judge Craft: I am ruling that the writ is defective because there is no certificate of service. I wrote Earley Storey to come to court February 11th to set the attorney. Mr Story said he would represent himself pro-se. I am denying the motion. Any other motion?
Earley Storey: Motion for the judge to recuse himself.
Judge Craft: The motion to recuse is not in the jacket. (Clerk hands him a document). We can fix that today.
Earley Storey: I want a response to the motion I filed in the clerk’s office.
Judge Craft: I want to make sure your rights are preserved. I can’t set a date for a hearing until a motion is in the jacket.
Earley Storey: I filed a motion for Judge Craft to be disqualified. Maybe it is in the wrong jacket.
Judge Craft: I am setting a date of March 21st for report because a motion is not filed.