Hammer Award: ADA Chris Scruggs

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.

hammerawardWe 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

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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

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Celitria Watson (L) and April Malone

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

thorne_peters_portraitcropOur 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

jason_white_cropThe 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

hammeraward

 

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.

 

 

 

–Concluded

 

 

 

 

Jason White framed in Bartlett Meth Case

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Jason White

Jason White was sentenced to 21 years in 1999 for a burglary when he was 18 years old, and, in 2017, was serving the last year of his sentence.

Jason Lamar White was indicted in April, 2016, by the Shelby County grand jury for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine along with his girlfriend, Kristina Cole.   Another Riverbend inmate, Montez Mullins, was added to the indictment a year later.

The case was discussed by The Post and Email, on 10/11/2017, 10/17/2017 and 11/16/2017. These posts include case documentation, an interview with Jason’s mother, Kimberly White and extensive phone follow-up by the Post and Email’s Sharon Rondeau.

Montez Mullins.

In Februry 2016, Montez Mullins admitted to Cole’s first attorney, Mark McDaniel, that he had arranged for the shipment of the contraband package.

Fox 13 News reported: “According to the DA’s Office, Mullins said Cole and White knew nothing about the drug delivery. He claimed a Hispanic man he met in prison gave him an address as a good place to deliver drugs in the Memphis area.

Mullins also said he told Cole that the FedEx package contained jewelry intended for his mother, according to investigators”.

Kristina Cole

Kristina Cole is a mother of three who was 43 at the time of her arrest in February 2016.   Her previous record was pristine.    She is Jason White’s girlfriend.

The Package.

fedex_label004.jpgThe package in this case contained about a pound of crystal methamphetamine and some baby clothes.  It was presented to FedEx as shipment number 808857073374 at a FedEx retail outlet in Visalia, California.  FedEx opened the package and called Detective Collins, who took custody of the package.

The original FedEx label was given in evidence, and  the address, on the  label is  2552 Linwood Road, Bartlett, TN 38134.  It is marked for “Standard Overnight” service, which is FedEx’s next afternoon service.    The label is in the customary format produced by FedEx’s shipping software.

Package was Intercepted.

Detective Collins picked up the package, contacted the Bartlett police, overpacked it in a UPS box and sent it to Bartlett Police Department.    There, Detective Mark Gaia obtained a search warrant for a different address than was on the original FedEx label.   He used 2552 Jenwood Street, Kristina Cole’s address.

Bartlett detectives then relabeled the package with Cole’s address.

This is confirmed in White’s appeal.

Defects in the Package Chain of Custody

Detective Collins did not testify and so could not be questioned on the origination of the package.

Delivery of the Package.

The package was left on Cole’s porch and the search warrant served after Cole took it in.   The package was found unopened inside the front door and a number of electronic items confiscated in the search, including Kristina Cole’s phones and laptop.

The planted text messages.

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Kristina Cole

The prosecution later asserted that Kristina Cole sent Jason White a text message confirming the arrival of the shipment.   The text messages on her phone were created during the time she was in custody at the Bartlett police station.

From the Post and Email documents, the record of arrest on page 8 shows an arrest time of 3:30 PM.   On page 11, the phone text log shows the “incriminating” text messages going out between 3:38 PM and 4:26 PM.   By that time Kristin Cole and her phones were in custody.

Detective Gaia admitted on the stand, under cross examination by Cole’s attorney, Kortney Simmons, at trial, that he had sent at least some of those text messages.

In addition, the destination of the text messages, (615) 917-3749 was never proven to be a contraband cell phone in the possession of Jason White.   Currently (on 4/15/2019) the number gives an “unavailable” signal.  “A TDOC officer claimed that he saw (Jason) flush a phone in prison, but he showed no evidence during the trial to connect Jason White to the number”.  This is confirmed in White’s appeal.

The TDOC officer in question was later fired for bringing contraband phones into the prison.

Chris Scruggs

Chris Scruggs, the prosecutor, lied during the trial, alleging that he had not heard of Montez Mullins’ involvement in the case until “this year” (2017), even though Cole’s then attorney, Mark McDaniels,  who had talked to Chris Scruggs and told him about Montez Mullins at the discovery point after she was arrested in February 2016.

Scruggs is one of the problem ADAs we have encountered.    He is one of the defendants in April Malone and Celitria Watson’s federal suit alleging that Scruggs participated in the alteration of wiretap evidence and in hiding exculpatory evidence from the defense.   He also recused himself from Thorne Peters’ case after fictional evidence of weed found in the cruiser which transported was added to the case documents more than four months after the arrest.

Scruggs is second only to Amy Weirich herself on MemphisTruth.org’s list of problem prosecutors.

Judge Robert Carter presided over the trial.

Defense Counsel issues.

The defendants had issues with their counsel.
Attorney Claiborne Ferguson, White’s attorney complained that Jason White assaulted him at 201 Poplar on 7/10/2017.   The incident report is in the Post and Email documents, on pages 2 through 14.   The reporting officer said that no-one saw White choking Ferguson, as he had alleged, his clothing was undisturbed and there were not marks of violence.   Deputies concluded that no assault had taken place.    White had just informed Ferguson that he was firing him as attorney.   This is confirmed in White’s appeal.

White attempted to have Ferguson removed as counsel, and act pro-se but the judge would not allow it.   The constitutional right of a defendant to defend himself was violated.  White eventually fired Ferguson at sentencing time.    White’s previous attorneys were Blake Ballon, and Jeff Mueller.

Kristina Cole hired first Mark McDaniel and then Michael Scholls, fired them both and reported them to the Board of Professional Responsibility.    She went to court with Kortney Simmons, hired from Jackson because she could not find a local attorney to take the case.

Other Prosecutorial Midconduct

Prosecutors are not allowed to make derogatory remarks or epithets about defendants at trial.   During Cole’s trial, Chris Scruggs said that Kristina looked like “a pig for the Junk Yard Dog”.    This was a reference to the prison gang, the Junk Yard Dogs, of which Jason White was a leading member in Riverbend prison.

The prison gang was led by Charles Thomas who appeared in our Jobs for Cash story.

Scruggs also referred to Kristina and White as “Bonnie and Clyde” during the trial.

The Verdicts

Kristina Cole was found guilty and given 13 ½ years.

Jason White was found guilty and given a 60 year additional sentence.    He will be over 90 if he is released.

Montez Mullins was found guilty and given 40 years.

Post Conviction

Jason White’s appeal was turned down in February 2019.
Kristina Cole and Montez Mullins’ appeal was turned down in November 2018.

— concluded —