Blacklists from A to Z: New Zoo Z-list

In this Smart City Memphis article, “with the Memphis zoo parking design now revealed, the final decision is headed inevitably to Mayor Strickland’s desk after a week of public comment. That’s where the buck stops.  There will undoubtedly be intense lobbying of the mayor by both sides.  It is hard to see how the design, which seems senselessly to consume more than two acres of parkland at Overton Park, will not light the fuse for another round of vigorous opposition.”

First we had the City’s A-list, the blacklist of individuals requiring escorts at City Hall.  Now we have the Zoo’s blacklist, the Z-list.   This list has Hunter Demster and myself on it.  It has another thing in common with the A-list – a mysterious MPD construct, the “Authorization of Agency” form.

Hunter called me on Tuesday February 21st and told me that the Zoo had posted photos of both of us at their security checkpoints.   So we saddled up and arrived at the Zoo a little after 4 PM .   We photographed our Zoo mugshots through the glass of the unattended parking shack.

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Hunter’s and my photos are posted in the Zoo parking shack. Photo taken through the glass.

When we got to the Zoo entrance, we engaged the Zoo attendants and asked them why our photos were posted, and they said that we were banned from the Zoo and we had to leave.  They said they’d called the police and we should leave to avoid arrest.

While we were walking back across the parking lot, a police cruiser pulled up in front of Zoo plaza, and Officer Dan Adams dismounted.  He called us, and we turned around and went back to the south-western end of Zoo Plaza.

orifice_dan_adams
MPD officer Dan Adams at the Zoo

Officer Adams was combative right off the bat.   He said that MPD had an Authorization of Agency on us and we had to leave.    We asked why we were being asked to leave public City property and mentioned that we had committed no crimes.

At that point, a second cruiser pulled up with an unidentified female officer.   We asked for a supervisor because her colleague was raising his voice.   She led Officer Adams a small distance away to the lion statue and they conferred briefly.

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Police conferring at Zoo Plaza.

The officers came back over and informed Hunter and I that we were being detained.  Hunter was cuffed behind his back by Officer Adams, led to Adams’ cruiser, parked in front of the Plaza and locked in the back.

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Hunter Demster being cuffed by Officer Dan Adams

The female officer locked me in her cruiser, uncuffed, but took away my phone and camera.

Here’s the video Hunter took of this interaction, from the first appearance of Officer Adams to where we were informed we were being detained.

At this point, the narrative continues from the back of Adams’ police car where Hunter managed to get his camera going and broadcast live.    This video was featured in the Commercial Appeal article.

Antonio Blair and Mark Ravi take up the video narrative from the Zoo parking lot.

During the twenty minutes or so we were in the cruisers, the two original cops were seen in the video working on an Authorization of Agency form, which the Zoo and those police officers had said that they already had filed.   An MPD supervisor arrived after a while, talked to the officers but did not address us.

Eventually, the two cops released Hunter and me, and waved a folded piece of paper at us, which they said was an Authorization of Agency.  They said we’d be arrested if we again entered Zoo property.   They would not show us what was on the paper.

Hunter was later interviewed on video.   Channel 5 reported.

What is an Authorization of Agency?

I am not a lawyer.  Tennessee trespass law is governed by § 39-14-405.  This requires a subject to be advised that she is trespassing, and be given an opportunity to leave, before trespassing can be alleged.   There’s also a provision for property owners (or “employers”) to pay a fee to the Secretary of State to have their property listed on the No Trespass Public Notice List.

Besides the Z-list, we saw Authorization of Agency (AOA) used in the A-list (PDF).   The list is printed on MPD form AA0306, their Authorization of Agency form.   The form is entitled “Listing of Persons Barred from Premises”.   In theory, the named property owner has previously notified the named individuals that they are banned from the named property.   The A-list AOA was written for Mayor Strickland’s home address, and contains 57 activists’ names,   Other individuals who were already on the City Hall exclusion list  were added to the A-list, without being on an AOA form.  There were some individuals listed twice on the A-list.

Lieut. Albert Bonner, MPD head of City Hall security at the time, had extracted the 57 names from active MPD political intelligence files, had the Mayor sign the order, and added a note in the corner of each page saying the named individuals were required to have an escort in City Hall.   The rest is history.  The ALCU court case is ongoing.

Another prominent misuse of the AOA is  Amy Weirich’s (Shelby Co. DA) “Operation Safeway” , which has been used to harass homeless individuals and for fishing expeditions.

We can’t find any law locally that modifies the State law, or any regulation in the MPD Policy and Procedures manual  relating to the Authorization of Agency.   Several cities in California, Virginia, Alabama and Oregon have a similar letter, but it does not designate individuals and is like the Tennessee law, in that the property must be posted.

Authorization of agency, as a legal term, is usually a form of power of attorney authorizing a representative to act in relation to specific transactions.

We have concerns as to the legality of the AOA, its use to implement a political blacklist by a quasi-Governmental City contractor, and the absence of due process around the device.   This may well be a civil rights matter, especially in view of its repeated use as a blacklist.

Hunter and my previous Zoo visit.

The SmartMemphis article is unclear about why we were banned by the Zoo.  The answer may lie in our previous visit to the Zoo.  After reports that chainsaws had been heard somewhere north of the 17 Acres, Hunter and I decided to visit the Zoo during Free 3-hour Tuesday on 26th September 2017.

ice_rink
An ice rink being built at the Zoo on Sept 26.

We entered the Zoo without incident and walked eastwards towards the Reticulated Giraffe enclosure on the eastbound tram route.  Along the way we noticed that two Zoo employees were following us.   We checked out construction of an ice rink that was in progress east of the giraffe house, and then turned back towards the Zoo entrance.

Along the way, we turned south towards the 17 acres, in an unfenced and unposted area used for Zoo employee parking.  The two Zoo employees shouted at us from a 50 yard distance to leave the area.  We immediately headed north back on the main drag and resumed heading for the exit, pausing from time to time to view exhibits.

recon_cop
MPD officer in biker boots escorting Hunter towards the exit.

When we got near the Hippo Camp, we were approached by an MPD officer in motorcycle gear.  He asked us to leave, and the policeman walked Hunter to the main gate, while the Zoo employees walked behind me.    When we got to the main gate, Hunter inquired why we were being asked to leave.  The cop said that the Zoo wanted us gone and we’d be arrested if we didn’t, so we left.   There was no violence or even raised voices, we never entered any fenced or posted area, and we left when asked.

recon_2_aooms
Zoo security following me towards the exit.

I also visited the Zoo in June and took photographs without incident, and also took photographs in the Zoo parking lot and from a drone at various times in 2017.

What’s next?

“Save the Greensward” is planning an event, “Free Tuesday at the Memphis Zoo”, on Tuesday Feb. 27th.  Park protectors intend to line up in an orderly manner for admission to the Zoo.   Hunter and I plan to attend.

The Zoo Parking Plan, a highly defective document, goes to the Mayor for contract approval on Wednesday.

 

 

SmartMule Urban Blight

By Stephanie Diane Ford and Fergus Nolan

Adam Guerrero
Adam Guerrero Photo Credit Libertas School

 

Adam Guerrero is a 38-year old former teacher,  who was recently fired from  Libertas Montessori School in Memphis.  He operates a business, SmartMule LLC based at 3713 Townes Ave.

Guerrero is a U of M graduate who was separated from West Point after undergoing mandatory counseling.

Prior to Libertas, Adam Guerrero was an SCS high school teacher, but he was let go from Raleigh Egypt and from Pathways in Education charter school due to failure to meet professional requirements.   Libertas is an ASD school and Adam Guerrero also ran the permaculture program there.

This story is difficult for us because Adam Guerrero is seen as a part of a loose social justice movement, and many activists see these disclosures as divisive.   We normally fry bigger fish, but Guerrero gets support and cash from the community and his activities are very different to the narrative he projects.

In this post, we look at:

  • Adam Guerrero’s nine, mostly blighted, lots in North Memphis, with emphasis on his Shasta and Clyde Ave. locations,
  • How he raised funds for North Memphis Farmers Collective and Grow Memphis and appropriated funds and assets from those fundraising efforts.
  • How he skirts tax and employment law for his, often young, employees, and how he maintains unsafe workplaces for these young workers.

 

kids_trailer
Smartmule kids working hard (Photo credit: Facebook)
  • He has prominently featured Black people in his promotional material and fundraising, although his one remaining site overseer is a white supremacist.
  • Rather than combating blight, the Adam Guerrero property empire has seen an increase in blight around some of his lots,
  • his many former apprentices, interns and other unpaid help have not had a career benefit from their association with SmartMule.

We view SmartMule and Adam Guerrero as a concern, because his victims have included workers and neighborhoods in some of the most vulnerable communities in Memphis.

Adam Guerrero’s Property Empire

Adam owns these properties in his own name.   Click the links for photographs , documents and detailed site descriptions.

  • 2267 Shasta: Guerreo obtained this lot through a $1 deed transfer from Memphis Tilth, a community oriented non-profit land cooperative. This property is severely blighted, unsafe, has a suspected racist squatter, and uses child labor.
  • 0 Decatur: This industrial-zoned lot hosts the St Jude composting operation, see below.
  • 0 Shasta: An untended and unimproved blighted lot.  Nearby City-mowed lots are neater and trash free.
  • 0 Clyde: An unimproved garbage-strewn and uneven lot which encroaches on Lucille Price Park.
  • 0 and 2250 Hunter: Gardened and well maintained by neighboring residents.
  • 2296 Hunter: An untended and unimproved blighted lot attracting local blight.
  • 1107 and 1113 Breedlove: An untended and unimproved blighted lot with garbage and dogs.

Guerrero was formerly a Garden Leader and board member of  Grow Memphis, which is now Memphis Tilth.  SmartMule LLC is a member of North Memphis Farmers Collective.   His level of involvement has recently been much lower than the 2015 peak, due to disputes with members of these organizations.

His total investment of $811 for the nine plantation lots has produced an assessor’s valuation of $39,100.    All of the lots, except for the 2550 Hunter lots, are untended, contain blight and some are also hazardous to workers, local residents and the environment.   Guerrero also owns his Townes Ave residence, which is now often unoccupied since his recent move to Frayser.

NMFC
Original members of NMFC in happier days: (from left) Danielle Salton, Kevin Woods, Nathaniel Davis Jr., Stephanie Ford and Adam Guerrero at Cooper Young Community Farmer’s Market in the summer of 2015. (photo credit: Facebook)

Guerrero’s  level of involvement significantly declined after the 2015 peak due to disputes with member farmers. All original members of the Collective no longer collaborate significantly with or have ended business associations with Adam, after SmartMule took over the Kickstarter and most of its proceeds.

Guerrero was taken to court in 2011 for bad odors from improperly maintained compost bins; standing water, which was acting as breeding grounds for mosquitoes; alleged rat infestation and other pest-related issues at his Townes Ave. home.   He answered his neighbor’s and Code Enforcement’s case with a social media blitz, and by parading three young African American children in court.

Guerrero was found guilty of failure to cut grass and failure to remove personal property in Environmental court, fined and assessed costs, on 11/29/2017. Case # 17501410, Shelby Co.

The Shasta Plantation

The property at 2267 Shasta Ave consists of one plot owned by Adam Guerrero, another owned by the city, and several owned by Sylvester Sullivan, an African American neighbor, on which a broken-down travel trailer is parked.  It backs onto Cypress Creek at the southern edge of the property.  Prior to purchasing his lot, Guerrero erected a fence around the entire area, seizing his neighbor’s land.   An altercation over land rights, during which police were called, (pdf) occurred during this time.

Shasta workplace dangers
Unsafely piled construction debris, including a board with nails pointing upwards, at Shasta (Photo: Fergus Nolan)

As can be seen from the photographs, the plantation at 2267 Shasta is strewn with garbage and overgrown weeds.   The broken down travel trailer has no water or sanitary connections.   We are unaware of how human sewage from the trailer’s resident and from on-site workers, and slurry from the animals on the site, are handled to keep the adjoining Cypress Creek safe from contamination.   There are also workplace safety hazards in the form of piles of construction junk, including boards with protruding nails, fencing material with cut wire ends, chemicals and the unfenced Cypress Creek.

Hoop House
Hoop house shown mostly on City property. (Photo Credit: Shelby Co. Register)

This photo from County Register records, shows Adam Guerrero’s lot outlined in blue, with the hoop house mostly on County-owned property to the south.

This hoop house was purchased with the help of a $20,000 grant from Rhodes College to Grow Memphis, now Memphis Tilth.   A chicken house to the east is also on County land.   The hoop house and other improvements transferred to Adam Guerrero with the property title.

Failure to remove property from County land is an offense.

 

 

Andy Panda, Shasta Plantation Overseer

The occupant of the trailer is Andrew Burkett, who uses the pseudonym Andy Panda.   He regularly propagates anti Semitic and white supremacist propaganda.

These pictures show Andy Panda with child laborers at Shasta.    The water is taken unpaid from a city supply on the street. (Photo credit Facebook)

Panda_n_word
From Andy Panda’s Facebook page

Although Panda regularly oversees unpaid black children on the Shasta plantation, he uses racial slurs in his speech and social media postings.

These children are psychically and physically endangered at Plantation Shasta.

The Decatur Plantation and the St Jude Composting contract.

SmartMule signed a composting contract with St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in September 2016.  The project involved building compost bins at Guerrero’s 0 Decatur property.   Free and low wage labor from Black male youth was used for clearing the Decatur property and compost bin construction.

These photographs show young workers building compost bins with Adam Guerrero, and a tree-clearing crew at Decatur. (Photo credit: Facebook)

This purported North Memphis Farmers’ Collective Mailchimp post has some editorial about this project but also some authentic-looking contract documentation showing the amount SmartMule charges for this work, and the income deriving to Guerrero’s SmartMule LLC.    The child in the bin-building picture is not equipped with protective equipment or gloves in a hazardous work environment.    The tree clearing crew are not equipped with hi-vis vests or safety equipment.   We assume they are not covered by workman’s comp as required for even small construction firms.

At Decatur: Bin with broken end; bin with broken side and shredded paper; broken glass hazard; bin with exposed nails. (Photos: Fergus Nolan)

The St Jude contract, with a nominal value of $48K annually, was signed in September 2016 and compostingwork has recently started.   Although several thousand dollars were paid to Smartmule, the Decatur property only contains a small amount of shredded paper trash, and none of the food waste envisioned in the contract.    The two employees planned in the Smartmule projections have not been hired.

Smartmule’s Labor Payment Policies

Smartmule uses a large number of unpaid and underpaid, mostly Black children, and some adults on its plantations.   These are variously referred to as “apprentices”, “interns”, Guerrero’s Guerillas or the Mules.

assault_apprentice

In this post on SmartMule’s Facebook page, Guerrero refers to an “apprentice” he has had for “nearly ten years”.    He also refers to an incident in which some students, who had been lounging unsupervised at Guerrero’s home, had been involved in an alleged assault on SmartMule manager Stephanie Ford, who was his girlfriend at the time.

Smartmule’s Finances

Note:  the following Facebook quotes were made on a thread on Fergus Nolan’s home page.   Adam Guerrero’s Facebook presence is currently suspended but the screen snips were taken on the dates noted. AG_no_IRS

SmartMule LLC is a single owner LLC #000794077 at the Tennessee SOS.    Adam Guerrero said:

I_operate_llc_as_nonprofit
facebook, seen 12/7/2017

An LLC is a for profit entity.   It files no financial disclosures, such as Form 990, as required by non-profits.

AG_tried_consensus
Facebook, seen 12/7/2017

SmartMule is claimed to be a co-operative, but it is ruled by Adam Guerrero without any input from its workers.

Adam Guerrero runs his for-profit LLC as a regular business and “passed” on including his people in the decision-making process.

SmartMule LLC uses or has used the labor of numerous children and some adults.    Many of these children are students or former students.    When asked if he paid these children, Adam Guerrero is evasive and said he did not report their earnings to the IRS.    We assume no W2s were filed, social security or medicare, workman’s comp as required for all construction work, unemployment insurance or sales tax.

unpaid_labor
Facebook, seen 12/7/2017

Among SmartMule’s fundraising, this Kickstarter raised over $11K.  The fundraiser was nominally for North Memphis Farmer’s Collective, but used Smartmule’s email and bank accounts.   This SmartMule bank statement shows a $10,152.21 transfer to SmartMule from Kickstarter in August 2015.   The bulk of the money was used to buy a tractor and accessories, against the wishes of the other NMFC members.   This tractor is in the possession of Adam Guerrero, who stores it at 0 Decatur and uses it for City contract work mowing the Shelby Farms Greenline.

Adam Guerrero also received $3,500 from Memphis Tilth when they deeded the 2267 Shasta lot to him in  September 2017.

While still owned by Grow Memphis, a $20,000 grant from Rhodes College was used to develop the 2267 Shasta lot, which “improvements” were transferred to Adam Guerrero’s personal ownership when he was deeded the Shasta plantation.    As this hoop house, and a nearby chicken house, are mostly located on City property, this structure is subject to removal of personal property orders from the City.

release_forms
Facebook, seen December 7 2017

Adam Guerrero is evasive when asked if he had parental release forms or other paperwork on the kids who worked for him.

Stephanie Diane Ford, a former unpaid SmartMule manager, said:

Consistent with historical patterns of resource expropriation, Adam Guerrero has been using the images, knowledge and labor of black people to obtain resources (grants, sales income, employment income, income tax deductions and land transfers (via Memphis Tilth)) for more than 10 years with no measurable improvements to the socio-economic status of any black people he has ever worked with or claimed to be helping.  (Facebook, 11/29/2017).

Conclusion

Adam Guerrero and/or SmartMule uses young Black men and children for agricultural and construction work, and for eye candy in their publicity materials.

He maintains hazardous workplaces, does not provide appropriate safety equipment, and employs Andy Panda, an abusive racist as an overseer of young Black children.

He does not file required employment tax, sales tax, social security, medicare or workman’s comp for his enterprise.

He represents his for-profit enterprise as a charity or a co-operative, soliciting funds and managing public opinion via a heavy-handed social media presence.

His Shasta Ave. plantation is strewn with garbage and is an environmental risk factor for the nearby Cypress Creek.  This and other Guerrero properties have been reported to Code Enforcement many times.    All his properties, except for 2250 Hunter, are blighted, contain garbage and are improperly maintained and mowed.

The neighborhoods he operates in were already fragile, blighted and savaged by unemployment before he bought in.   Now they’re worse and many pockets are lighter.

snakeoil3
Photo http://beforeitsnews.com

Caissa Public Strategy and the Caissa Seven

Introduction

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.

caissa_group_shot
Paige Walkup, Gene Bryan, Mae Bennett (formerly Yearwood), Brian Stephens and Mary Joseph (formerly Tanner). Bennett has since left the company.  (Memphis Chamber of Commerce)

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.

Caissa_Spend_ranked
Fig 1: City Council Incumbents, their total contributions and their spending with Caissa during the 2015 election cycle.

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.

These photos: Kemp Conrad and Brian Stephens, Philip Spinosa and Stevens, and Stevens with Bill Morrison are on Brian Stephens’ Facebook page.  Conrad is wearing a “We need Reid” button, suggesting that the event was a Reid Hedgepeth function during the 2015 campaign cycle.   This confirms that, even though Hedgepeth did not retain Caissa Public Strategy for his campaign, that he is a fully-fledged member of 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.

Caissa_seven_graph
Overall contributions in blue with Caissa spend superimposed in red.

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.

Brian Stephens and Gene Bryan of Caissa, with Terry Roland at a deannexation meeting in 2016.

Caissa Client: Fellowship Memphis and the Rick Trotter case.

brysons_and_trotter
Beth Bryson, Rick Trotter and John Bryson taken November 2015. Beth is a likely victim of Rick Trotter’s alleged 2010 crime, and John Bryson was involved in Trotter’s firing and subsequent cover-up. (Facebook).

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.

Rick Trotter was the Grizzlies announcer and employee of Downtown Church, arrested in August 2016 and recently indicted for  up-skirt photography at Downtown Church.

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.

fellowship_memphis_staff_2010
Fellowship Memphis staff in 2010.

 

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. …

trotter_leading_service_CA_2005
Rick Trotter leads the Fellowship Memphis congregation in song during Sunday services in October 2006 when he was named the new voice of the Memphis Grizzlies. (Mike Brown/The Commercial Appeal)

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.

Notes:
* 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.

trotter_in_court_2016_ca
August 10, 2016 — Rick Trotter appears in general sessions court with his attorney Marty McAfee (left) for a hearing on charges that he photographed individuals without their consent. (Jim Weber/The Commercial Appeal)

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.

fellowship_mem_notice
Fellowship Memphis announcement, from Watch Keep blog.

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.

Current Developments

only_morons
Credit: Amazon.com

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 People

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.

 

Stephens Links

Rebuild Government from Memphis Business Journal
Rebuild Government from WMC TV5
Channel 3 on the MPA billboards issue with Stephens on the panel.
Daily News discusses Caissa.
Brian Stephens ran for City Council in 2007.  Election Commission has no records.
CEOs For Cities puff piece on Stephens
Stephens is involved in Leadership Memphis
Stephens wrote a book.
Stephens did a 180 from City County merger in 2010 to deannexation in 2017.
Memphis Business Journal article.
Photographer John Pittman quotes Brian Stephens “workout…so vigorous it had made him vomit”.
Memphis Chamber of Commerce features Caissa.

Caissa was registered on 12/28/2010 to take over the business of The Stephens Group Law FirmPaige Walkup is the co-owner and Managing Director

 

Paige Walkup.

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.

Paige Walkup Links

Rebuild Government from Memphis Business Journal
Memphis Business Journal profile.
Memphis Connect interview.
Board Member at BLDG Memphis
The Health, Educational and Housing Facility Board Memphis.

Caissa Biographies

Brian Stephens.*   Paige Walkup,*  Rick MassonGene Bryan.*  Mae (nee Yearwood) Bennett.**  Jessica MasseyJacob Ellerbee.   Mary (nee Tanner) Joseph.* Jasmine Pena. * Jessica Muntz.**  PhotosEric Saffold, Mykila Miller, Adrian Bond and Raquel Hinson are now included on the Caissa site, but all bios are now blocked or not included on the site.

*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.