Memphis City and the ACLU have, in the last week, released a huge trove of documents relating to the A-list lawsuit.
The UK-based The Guardian today covered the story, as has Esquire magazine and Citylab. Our local crowdsourcers have only begun to dig in the paperwork, and we are certain that the material will fuel our researches for years to come, but a few vital facts have emerged.
Geofeedia replacement social media “collator” NC4.
Probably one of the most significant finding to date is the identification of the Geofeedia replacement. The ACLU had been after this product as the social media spy tool of choice until the social media powerhouses cut off its data feed in October 2016. The new replacement is NC4, which was revealed in the new a-list documents, we think for the first time. All we can find is this PRnewswire piece which was probably paid for by NC4.com as part of its PR aimed at local LE departments.
This alone means that we are already seeing dividends from the ACLU case, before it is even heard.
Activist counter-intel successes.
Almost as interesting, which squares with what we already knew from our previous blog about CCC’s counter-intel operations, is the fact that LE responses have been repeatedly been triggered by fake news planted by people close to CCC. Our blog uses Open Record information to document how fake news about an attempt on the Bridge escalated all the way to the top of State LE and to FBI. That incident appears to have escalated police response to protests, including the arrest of protesters on April 3rd by a snatch squad from the MPD Multi-Agency Gang Unit’s OCU (Organized Crime Unit). It was a pre-emption intended to abort a 6:30 bogus Bridge occupation. The OCU is all over the ACLU documents. The take-away from this is that information gleaned by MPD and TBI’s CIU from social media is even less reliable than the average social media fake news.
LE bites on fake intel, misses the real information.
Also revealed, something we also suspected from our blog: Not only is State LE liable to fly off the handle and escalate fake news to the top levels of local, State and Federal LE, but they have been doing a very poor job of eliciting the real intel they seek.
Our CCC story reveals that the unknown operational security measures CCC used to safely transmit the real April 3rd itinerary are working. The unadvertised first stop of the Rolling Block Party arrived at FedEx to find no police presence, and the police made the scene in a time span appropriate to a 911 dispatch. So, not only is the police intel gathering catching all the fake news, it is missing the real intel they are after.
Here’s the Daily Kos‘ Gary Moore on the April 3 arrests.
MPD gets vindictive from intel defeat.
Frustration at being totally confounded by this poorly financed, rag-tag group of activists may have led to Keedran Frankin‘s July 6th arrest, and the planting of evidence in his car. This arrest was allegedly in a traffic stop done by OCU, which is not exactly their beat.
Limitations of MPD’s social media spying.
The strange story of “Bob Smith’s” bogus social media account is also revealed. We had feared that MPD’s Real Time Crime Center had the ability to penetrate the end-to-end encryption used by Facebook. However, it appears that MPD was only able to view private data on Facebook to which their fake account, Bob Smith, had ‘friended’ itself. All the information in the earliest document released by the city suggests that only activists friended by Bob Smith could be accessed by MPD. In particular, Facebook Private Messages and secret groups which did not include Bob Smith were safe from spying.
We say this with a caveat: private Facebook stuff could be revealed via NSA decryption or by the issuance of a FICA court order, which does not require much in the way of probable cause. As far as I know, CCC used different means to organize the Rolling Block Party, and I don’t want to know what it was. CCC keeps ahead of LE spying by eternal vigilance and strict operational security.
I was personally targeted by Bob Smith and the information used to smear me, as searches for “Fergus” and “Nolan” separately will reveal. In particular, my arrest on Memorial Day 2016 was presented to be because I advocated lawbreaking due to entrapment by Bob Smith as a deliberate act by MPD, which I know to be untrue. In addition, the story of my uncovering the A-list which I documented in this first party eye witness account is smeared by a bogus allegation of a fanciful meeting I was supposed to have with a County employee, who is standing for election this week. I promised I would not out this person until after the election, but this MPD cover story did not surface until after my A-list story needed to be discredited, and is at variance with my contemporary eye witness account. My story did not change. Theirs did.
In other news: Office of Homeland Security identified.
At MemphisTruth.org, we have been looking for the MPD’s Office of Homeland Security. It turns out to be two officers, Sergeant Tim Reynolds, promoted this April but identified in the documents as Detective, Sergeant and Lieutenant, and as Police Officer II in the current City salaries list. Also Sgt. Edwin Cornwell.
The Office of Homeland Security is part of MPD Special Operations, housed in the Special Operations division, which also houses the Real Time Crime Center which does most of MPD’s electronic spookery.
UPDATED: see last section for updates from 7/9 and 7/11/2018.
On the evening of Friday 6th July, 2018, Keedran Franklin was arrested by Organized Crime Unit detectives. OCU is part of the Multi-agency Gang Unit (MGU) which is a joint operation of MPD and the Sheriff’s Dept.
En route from Midtown to his south-east Memphis home, Keedran stopped at a friend’s house near Sharpe Ave. and Robin Hood Lane, and pulled in to a nearby driveway to turn around. Two police vehicles blocked him in the driveway with their dome-lights on, and two detectives, probably OCU (Organized Crime Unit) emerged.
Franklin got out of his car and one of the police who had blocked the driveway lunged at him with handcuffs, injuring his left elbow and right wrist and arm.
One of the OCU police told him “You’re lucky, bitch, we was going to do you.”
Franklin was afterwards taken to the ER, where a dressing was applied to his left elbow and he was treated for cuts and bruising on his right wrist and arm.
While Franklin was being taken down, up to 20 additional OCU police arrived on the scene.
The police claimed they smelled marijuana and used this as a probable-cause excuse to search his vehicle. This is a classic MPD move for turning a profiled traffic stop into a 4th amendment evasion and an arrest. It’s a large part of the reason why black men are arrested at three and a half times the rate of white men.
Franklin was cuffed and detained at the scene while officers searched his car. They found nothing. Later a canine unit arrived on the scene and a dog sniffed the car. At that point, 114.7 grams of marijuana and 19 grams of psilocybin mushrooms were found “somewhere around the back seat”.
The substances were planted in his vehicle by MPD.
Franklin was transported to 201 Poplar, with a detour to the ER for treatment of his injuries.
Incidentally, MGU and OGU officers don’t wear body cams and TNT did not get his phone out before being cuffed, so we don’t expect video of the arrest.
In the System
The case number is 18016596. Keedran was booked on Friday and an arrest affidavit sworn, although it is not yet on file in the County system. Bail was set at $3000 via a video arraignment Saturday morning, and Franklin was released a few minutes before midnight on Saturday. His arraignment happened at 08:30 Monday morning in front of Judge Tim Dwyer.
Franklin is a founder member of Memphis Coalition of Concerned Citizens, an activist group which arise after the 2016 Bridge protest. CCC has at least thirty affiliated groups and has created C3 Community Cooperative, an urban gardening project. CCC runs regular Books and Breakfast events and has done things like distribute food and free movie tickets among the poor.
Our April blog, about C3’s hoaxes played on Law Enforcement, details the events that led up to Franklin’s previous misdemeanor arrest, also at the hands of OCU. Franklin’s 4/3/2018 arrest is thought to be a snatch squad action designed to remove Franklin and other CCC leaders and prevent a faux-scheduled occupation of the bridge at 6:30 that evening.
Fake information had been released about the Bridge occupation which we tracked all the way up to the Tennessee Homeland Security commissioner. This was the most recent of a long list of CCC feints and surprises for law enforcement. Tenn. Highway Patrol had stationed 50 troopers at the Memphis Welcome Center on 7/9/2017 while CCC was holding a one year anniversary of the 2016 Bridge occupation. The Hernando de Soto bridge is the achilles heel of Tennessee law enforcement.
The Bridge, once more.
This weekend, word had again gotten out that CCC was planning another Bridge occupation on Saturday July 8th at noon. We’ll put in new ORRs on Monday to see what MPD and the Fusion Centers have been saying. The rising frustration among LE at CCC’s ability to ring the changes on protest locations has become very apparent.
The real event planned for Saturday was a potluck at First Congregational Church on Cooper.
Was the OCU action in arresting Franklin another pre-emptive strike designed to remove the leadership and “prevent” another Bridge occupation? Did the call to “rid me of this turbulent priest” come from the highest levels of MPD and the State?
Cover-up at the CA?
This is perhaps the strangest event of the weekend. The CA had published Franklin’s arrest story on-line at about 2 PM Saturday, and this headline appeared on the front page in Sunday’s edition. But the print edition’s page 4 did not carry the story, no anywhere else in the paper.
Is the fix in. Did the CA pull the print version of the story as a favor for someone in the City or MPD. The story was finally published on Monday 9th.
UPDATE 7/9/2018: Mark Russell, Executive Editor of the CA, emailed me to day that the Sunday omission was inadvertent “It appears that the wrong page A-4 was picked up the press room and that story did not run as planned.” Human error.
We plan to update this story as the facts come in.
Update 7/11/2018: TNT’s case is scheduled for preliminary hearing on 7/23/2018. Veteran duo of civil rights attorneys Scott and Bruce Kramer are working on his case.
Caissa Public Strategy operates behind the scenes. Their stable of client politicians dominates City Council, they’ve worked for Mayor Strickland’s administration and they have a host of business clients, for whom they perform a range of services, from reputation management to marketing to “crisis management”. They are one of the best-connected entities in town.
The first section here “The Caissa Seven” is an analysis of the contributions received by each Councilor and their expenditures with Caissa. It clearly shows how the Caissa Seven dominates Council. This is motivation for a closer look at some of Caissa’s other activities.
The second section, “Caissa Client: Fellowship Memphis and the Rick Trotter case” shows how Caissa orchestrated the “crisis management” of a previous Rick Trotter sex offense at Fellowship Memphis. Trotter was fired in 2010 from his job at Fellowship Memphis when the church elders found he had been secretly videoing women in a bathroom at the church. He then went to Downtown Church, who had been told of his Fellowship history. In 2016 he was arrested for upskirt photography at his new church, and indicted in October 2017. Caissa Public Strategy were called in by Fellowship Memphis and engaged in “crisis management”. The ongoing police investigation of the Fellowship case has apparently stalled. The insight into how Caissa manages client reputations behind the scenes is revealing. A further post is planned, a deeper dive into the shenanigans at Fellowship Memphis. David Bonner termed Fellowship a “cult or cult-like” entity.
Our third section includes basic biographical details on Caissa’s owners, Brian Jefferson Stevens and Paige Walkup.
Caissa, with their massive and mostly secret network, pops up in odd places, generally when an official document has to be filed. Everyone in the media sees their hand in occasional flashes, and knows they are there, but we see few attempts to document their scope and influence. This series of articles is an attempt to gain some insight into what they do, and how.
Note to viewers: I expect some of the links in this article to go away. Not to worry, I have copies of everything. Please inform me of broken links and I’ll annotate them with an alternative source. In this story, broken links are a part of the narrative.
The Caissa Seven.
Above: Frank Colvett, Berlin Boyd, Reid Hedgepeth, Kemp Conrad, Worth Morgan, Bill Morrison, Philip Spinosa. (City of Memphis)
Fig. 1 was created by totaling all contributions, and all expenditures to Caissa Public Strategy, filed at the Election Commission for the period January 1st 2015 to June 30th 2016, for all Council incumbents.
Reid Hedgepeth did not use Caissa in this election cycle. He was first elected in 2007, before Caissa was founded, and had his own campaign habits set. We include Hedgepeth in the Caissa Seven on the basis of this Daily News article featuring a Brian Stephens interview, which identifies Hedgepeth as part of the Caissa contingent. He also donated $5000 to the Republican Party on his Pre-General 2015 campaign disclosure, and Republican affiliation is another marker for the Caissa Seven.
Kemp Conrad’s expenditures for the Pre-General 2015 disclosure are not on file. We estimated $30,000, based on other candidate’s patterns. All the other numbers were taken straight from the campaign disclosures.
We can see a clear breakdown of City Council. The Republican-oriented mostly white Caissa Seven had average contributions of $146K while the African American opposition group had average contributions of only $34K. The Caissa Seven netted five times the money of the opposition, and spent even more, because some Caissa candidates also loaned large amounts to their campaigns, including Worth Morgan’s $50,000 loan.
Although the opposition group is a recognizable subset of Council, they don’t vote as a group and Edmund Ford has a lot of similar, big money contributions to the Caissa Seven. They are an individualistic group.
On the other hand, the Caissa Seven share a common agenda, and tend to vote as a bloc on issues critical to the big money politics of the Memphis white power elite. This can be clearly seen in policing-, zoning, budget and property related issues. Some latitude is allowed on non-critical agenda items, including Berlin Boyd’s and Kemp Conrad’s divergent votes on Berlin Boyd’s Marijuana measure in August 2016. The Commercial Appeal called it a “rare split vote”.
Violations of the Open Meetings Law have been alleged. We don’t know what mechanisms might have been used to apply an apparent whip to the Caissa Seven, and, in many cases, the other Councilors. The only apparent linkages are some shared staffers at City Hall, Allan Wade, the Council Attorney, and their handlers at Caissa, all of whom would have had legitimate reasons to talk to multiple Council members. We don’t want to speculate on whether there was a Whip or how it might have been applied, but we also don’t understand how complex resolutions suddenly formed from whole cloth.
As Caissa operates behind the scenes, the existence of their own “party” in City Council is reason for concern. Caissa also worked in the Jim Strickland Mayoral transition in 2015. Their influence, which they exert on behalf of their private clients, is pervasive in City Government.
Bill Morrison worked for Caissa as George Flinn’s campaign manager. Those campaign disclosure documents are missing from the Election Commission site, but two knowledgeable sources confirm.
Caissa also worked for County Commissioners Heidi Shafer and Willie Brooks. The 2014 County election cycle candidate disclosures are so incomplete that we don’t want to infer anything , except that Caissa’ influence in the County is also strong.
Caissa Client: Fellowship Memphis and the Rick Trotter case.
Caissa is a company of secrets, and their client list is one of the biggest of those secrets . We defer discussion of their clients for a future article in this series and focus on a single case here, Fellowship Memphis.
Wondering Eagle blog has done numerous pieces about Trotter’s career over the years. In this August 2016 post, David Bonner talks about Caissa Public Strategy’s involvement in the Trotter case.
According to a joint statement by Downtown Church and Fellowship Memphis, Trotter’s previous employer, “Trotter was employed as a Worship Director by Fellowship from August 2005 to February of 2010. In February 2010, it was reported that Trotter was engaged in inappropriate conduct”. Trotter had made video of people using a bathroom at the Church.
From David Bonner’s August 2016 blog post: Asterisks are inserted by us and refer to the notes at the end of the extract.
“.…In the case of Fellowship Memphis the hiring of a PR firm to supposedly “investigate” the situation creates a number of questions that deserve asking. … Fellowship Memphis recently hired a PR firm called Caissa Public Strategy. … Caissa is led by Brian J. Stephens * and I am hearing from my sources that the investigator is Jessica Muntz**. Jessica is a graduate of Mississippi State University, and you can see her background in LinkedIn right here. While Caissa is referred to as a public relations firm in this Christian Post article it says that Fellowship Memphis hired a PI firm. The reality is that it can be both. In this interview you *** can hear Brian J Stephens talk about how Caissa works. They help clients win and do what it takes to win and allegedly teach organizations and companies that crisis can also be an opportunity. …
For a church to go and hire a PR firm signals a couple of things for me. First is that this place is very cult like or cultish. Second is that its (sic) very much and (sic) indicator that it still is committed to maintaining the alleged cover up. I wonder if the reason why Caissa is hired is because of their knowledge of the news media and if that is a response to the articles about Fellowship Memphis in the Commercial Appeal. …
If you live in the Memphis area and you are contacted by Caissa this is my advice to you. First of all remember that this firm is not neutral. They are not there to get the truth out. They have been compromised in this one way. Money has exchanged hands and this firm is dedicated to defending the client, which in this case is John Bryson and Fellowship Memphis. It should be stated that you have your rights and you do not have to cooperate with them if you are approached. Their goal in the end is to plug leaks and to do damage control for Fellowship Memphis. When it comes to allegations of criminal activity there is one organization you should go to first and that is the Memphis Police. It’s my understanding that the Memphis Police are investigating the situation with Rick Trotter. They have three years of recordings to go through and they have a lot of victims to identify. But remember if you are approached you are free to walk away and not cooperate. You have done nothing wrong, this behavior is more indicative of what you would see in the dark underworld of the mafia. I also would suggest that you not get angry at Jessica Muntz as she is just doing her job. Be polite, cordial and treat her with respect but remember you do not have to talk with her and anyone from Caissa. If you have knowledge of an alleged crime I again would implore you to go to the Memphis Police. They exist for that purpose and are trained to handle these kinds of issues. If any of you guys have any experiences with Caissa you are free to post them here on this blog.
* Brian Stephens’ bio on the Caissa website. At the time the blog was posted, the “Leadership” page clicked through to individual biographical pages. These individual pages have since been removed and Bonner’s link is showing a “HTTP 404” error, indicating that the page was not found. As of 10/28/2017, none of the Leadership individual entries click through to an underlying bio page. This is how Brian Stephens bio looked on July 14, 2016, courtesy of Archive.Org.
** Jennifer Muntz’s bio on the Caissa website has been removed since this blog was posted. Muntz has left Caissa’s employ. Here’s Jessica Muntz’s Caissa bio, as it appeared on 9/2/1026, at Archive.org.
*** This link pointed to a post in LPBC.com. The Lipscomb Pitts Breakfast Club is a volunteer outfit run by Jeremy Parks. The post in question is a radio show broadcast from 1/14/2014 entitled “Gestalt Community Schools: Copeland Coaching and Caissa Public Strategy featuring an interview with Brian Stephens. We retrieved the Stephens interview segment from Archive.Org. Streaming audio here.
Although the removed links are fairly trivial, the fact presumably Caissa chose to change their site and also that Parks redacted his own site is interesting. This is the sort of thing an expert in “reputation management” does all the time.
Caissa was called in to perform “crisis management” when the Fellowship story blew up again at the time of Rick Trotter’s August 2016 arrest.
The screen snip above right is from Watch Keep blog post dated 8/22/2016. The phone number is Jessica Muntz‘s cell number.
JB Martinez, one of the alleged victims of the Fellowship Memphis alleged voyeur, writes about her experience. She describes steps taken by Fellowship Memphis to hide evidence and to browbeat victims to not report the alleged crimes.
Because the Trotter video has been hidden, and was seen only by two Fellowship elders, the alleged victim list is hard to compile, but we do have a list of people who used the bathroom at a time when Trotter was known to be videoing, which we will share with media.
The proof of Caissa’s effectiveness is that, until now, Rick Trotter, despite being fired for sexual impropriety at Fellowship Memphis, was able to go to Downtown Church and continue photographing women up-skirt for another six years, despite Downtown being notified of the reason why he was fired at Fellowship. The sorry episode resulted in no prosecutions and only a few media mentions.
We have recently seen signs that Caissa is actively pursuing “reputation management” in the late-October – early November timeframe. Caissa operatives have been contacting Fellowship Memphis alleged victims.
On November 2nd, a mention of Caissa in a post apparently resulted in a Caissa employee joining the group, less than two hours later.
We are seeing heightened activity.
We invited Brian Stephens to comment on this article, but he did not return two calls to his office and cellphone. His book title is “Only Morons say No Comment”.
Caissa Public Strategy is headed up by Brian Jefferson Stephens and Paige Walkup. Caissa have removed their personal bios, which were clickable from their Our Team page. Here’s an archived version of the team page from 2016, where the potted bios are still visible, courtesy of Archive.org
Brian Jefferson Stephens attended Marion Military Institute from 1988 to 1992, was awarded a BS by Appalachian State University 1992-1995, and has a law degree from University of Tulsa College of Law, 1995-1998.
He worked as an attorney at Allen, Scruggs, Sossaman, and Thompson from 1998 to 2003, Tennessee Law license 1999, operated a lawn care business as Ecosystems Inc (SOS Control # 000460890) from 2004 to 2010, was Executive Director of Rebuild Government in 2009 to 2010 and started Caissa Public Strategy with Paige Walkup in December 2010.
Stephens was awarded the Army Achievement Medal, according to his Linkedin page. This is only awarded to lower ranks in the military, so we conjecture that he had an Army Reserve deployment somewhere in his career. 60,000 of these were awarded since 2001.
Caissa was registered on 12/28/2010 to take over the business of The Stephens Group Law Firm. Paige Walkup is the co-owner and Managing Director
Paige Beverly Walkup attended North Carolina State University from 1990 to 1992, has a BA from Elon Univ (1993 to 1996) and an MA in Applied Anthropology from University of Memphis (1997-1999).
She taught at Univ. of Memphis from 2000 to 2009, was Resource Development and Marketing Director at United Housing from 1998 to 2009, Project Administrator at Rebuild Government from 2009 to 2011, and was a founder of Caissa Public Strategy in December 2010.
*confirmed still at Caissa. **Confirmed to have left Caissa
Conclusions and Summary
Caissa’s political clients and allies, the Caissa Seven, dominate City Council by a one-vote majority, and also dominate in raising political contributions. Caissa also has hooks in Jim Strickland’s administration and in various City programs and functions.
Caissa has played a role in helping the elders of Fellowship Church hide from the consequences of their alleged involvement in covering up a sex crime, and enabling the alleged perpetrator, Rick Trotter to work at another church, Downtown Church. Fellowship Memphis failed in their duty to report the alleged crimes to the authorities, and Downturn Church, despite being informed of Trotter’s firing for sexual misbehavior, failed to protect their own members from similar abuse.
At least three links in the original David Bonner blog, all relating to Caissa, have been removed since the blog was posted. Caissa conducted interviews with victims and some of those victims have not cooperated with official inquiries. Evidence in the case may have gone missing. MPD were never noted for efficient handling of sex and domestic abuse cases . The seven year delay in handling the Fellowship Memphis cases, despite some victims filing complaints, for a case not involving rape kits, is excessive. We have questions.
We like to characterize this Fellowship mess as an onion. There’s an outer layer consisting of Caissa’s “crisis management” of the troubles of the church elders. The second layer is the role of the Fellowship management in dealing with the Trotter case, which seems to include activities around the disposition of physical evidence and possible interference with victims and witnesses. This started when the Trotter activities were first reported in 2010 and involved Caissa more recently. The inner layer of the onion is the alleged crimes of Trotter himself. It’s three different sets of behaviors, occurring in different time frames and involving three different sets of protagonists. If there were crimes involved, some of them may have statutes of limitation issues.
We think another layer of “crisis management” is in the process of formation at the time of writing, November 2017.
Next post: Caissa’s clients and contracts. Coming soon.