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

chris_scruggs
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 Thompson 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 —

 

 

More on snitch retraction and Earley Story

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

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Alfredo Shaw

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

tony_carruthers_tennessee
Tony Carruthers

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.

—-

 

 

April Malone and Celitria Watson in court

Today, January 30th 2019, April Malone and Celitria Watson made an appearance in Federal court in Magistrate Judge Tu M Pham.

As we saw in our previous post,  Ms Malone and Ms Watson are the falsely-arrested women who faced manufactured wiretap data, where MPD Organized Crime Unit detectives used a Stingray device to alter texts between Ms Watson and her incarcerated brother, Kendrick Watson.   She had an automated cloud backup of all her phone activity and was able to produce the original backup of her texts to prove the police alteration of the evidence.   Their cases were dismissed and expunged, but Kendrick Watson was convicted on evidence from those same cops.

Today’s hearing was a scheduling conference where the due dates for the various activities leading up to a December 2019 jury trial.  From the docket (PDF) “Pro-Se Plaintiffs April Malone and Celitria Watson present.  John M. Jones and Emmett L. Whitwell  appearing for defendant Shelby County.  Darius Walker, Jr. appearing for the City of Memphis. Betsy McKinney making a limited appearance on behalf of defendants Thurmond Richardson, Jonathan Overly and William Acred.  The parties submitted a proposed scheduling order.  The court discussed the dates and deadlines with the parties.  Plaintiffs made an oral motion to waive the mediator fees pursuant to the Mediation Plan for pro se civil cases with parties granted IFP status.  The court granted plaintiffs oral motion and waived the fees.  Mediator will be selected by the court.

A motion or several motions for dismissal are expected from the defendants.

Here is the scheduling order that Judge Pham made today.    Disclosures will be done in the next two weeks, where the plaintiffs have to provide copies of the documentation they have and a list of damages and time off work.   The defendants also have to produce their documents and details of any expert witnesses.    The next step will be the appointment of a mediator.

Any attorney who would like to jump in here would be most welcome.   Ms Watson and Ms Malone need to know what will happen in the mediation.

Also in court today, Mr Earley Story, who also has a pro-se Federal civil rights case coming up in February.   We will be following Mr Story’s very interesting case here on MemphisTruth.com.

See the short video here. (2:30).
More information here.

(2/3/2019) April Malone and Celitria Watson have started a gofundme to fund their legal representation.

To be continued.

 

 

Me

Authorization of Agency: Initial analysis

In our most recent post, we revealed the extent of MPD’s Authorization of Agency (AoA) program, inspired by Memphis Shelby County Crime Commission (MSCCC).

We did some preliminary analysis of the data and there are updated spreadsheets (CSV, ODS, XLSX).  The update includes some address corrections and the addition of a business category field.

AOA_bar_chart
Analysis of AoAs by race

We saw the racial disparity in the initial AoA post.  The profiling nature of the scheme, with seven times (84.9% vs 12.3%) the number of Black versus white victims of AoA is confirmed.

 

 

AoA_by_year
Analysis of AoAs by year

We broke down AoAs by the year the initial AoA was signed.   2018 is low because only half a year of data was collected.   Years 211 through 2016 are incomplete because we asked in our FOIA for all AoAs between December 1st 216 and July 9th 2018.  All precincts but one simply sent all their AoA data rather than selecting the data range we asked for.   In addition, we noted many AoAs which were signed on a given date and had additional lines added over the same signature and date later.  We have not quantified this factor as of yet but we think it will skew a couple of percent of the dates earlier.

Adj_AoA_year
AoAs by year adjusted for undercount in 2016 and earlier, and for the 2018 half year

We adjusted the yearly graph by doubling up the 2018 number to estimate a full year, and we added 15% to 2016 and earlier to account for the number of AoAs missing in our sample.

The graphs look similar.  From small beginnings in 2011, the scheme grew to about 240 in 2014, then took a big jump to 665 in 2016 and plateaued out to around 600 each in 2017-2018.

We need to look for the impetus behind the 2014 and 2016 bumps.   Most likely, some form of marketing or promotional assets were assigned to the program to cause these bumps.  We’ll also submit another ORR to obtain the missing data.

AoA_by_cat

We created a new field in the spreadsheet for business category and ran this report.  The biggest category is apartment, which also includes mobile home parks, condos, retirement communities and townhouses.

The dominance of this sector may be the result of “Operation Safeway” which had a focus on apartment managers.   The majority of these had a just a few AoAs, but complexes like Greenbrier with 48 AoAs and a dozen or so with double digits stand out.    Clearly a number of apartment managements embraced the scheme enthusiastically.

The retail sector is largely a handful of AoAs in each store.   All branches of chain stores are included.   Three chains of dollar stores (Family Dollar, Dollar General, and Dollar Tree) had a total of 38 AoAs, which probably reflects the dollar stores’ well known skimping on security staff.   Other chains with large numbers includes Walgreens with 24 and Kroger with 17.   Otherwise, few retailers had more than three or four per location.

We think that, like with the apartment sector, that the heavy retail users had an internal policy to use AoA while the light users were probably recruited by police.

The food sector includes all vendors of prepared food and alcohol by the drink.   The chains with most branches are the biggest offenders, and CiCi’s Pizza in Poplar Plaza’s 17 AoAs were associated with a well-publicized disturbance at the venue.    We know that Operation Safeway targeted food establishments in certain areas, but we think that most of the rest may have been instigated by MPD, including the CiCi’s incident.

The hotel/motel sector includes hotels, motels and boarding houses, has a few stand-outs, probably related to prostitution.  The manufacturing sector, though small, is dominated by Smith and Nephew who initiated 85 of the 100 AoAs.  This is an anomaly which probably reflects a decision in management to use MPD as part of its security apparatus.

The gas sector looks very much like retail, and when you eliminate the effect of supplier chains like Shell or Exxon, not much stands out.

Public facilities include the downtown MATA terminus, with 24 AoAs and three at the Zoo.   We talked about the Zoo political blacklist in the original AoA post.  We dispute the legality of public entities barring members of the public.

Churches banned 37 people.  It sounds unchristian to us to put people in the system.   Even worse, schools had 35 AoAs, and we cannot envision a world where young people can be legally barred from education, or even where a school would involve the police in its disciplinary process.

Summary

We see some high-frequency users of AoA.  These AoAs are probably due to business policy and may have been influenced by Operation Safeway in some way.   The vast majority of AoAs have the potential of being instigated by police, including a handful where we know the case history.

We will follow up with additional analysis, including enriching the data and sampling some case histories to determine the marketing initiatives that shape the AoA usage curves.

–concluded–