Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Memphis not Ferguson? Darrius is not Eric Garner, Michael Brown, LaQuan McDonald, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott.....

Attorney for Stewart's father reveals officer Connor Schilling
was charged with 'leaving the scene' prior to MPD hiring

UPDATE FEB. 7, 2019
Civil trial brought by mother and father of Darrius Stewart will be heard Feb. 25, 2019, in U.S. District Court in Memphis. City of Memphis recently was dismissed as a defendant.

The DOJ investigated in 2015 but stated Stewart's civil rights had not been violated. However, this investigation led to the DOJ's Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) collaborative review of MPD, which was announced in October, 2016, as a hedge by Memphis officials to dodge a more serious possible "patterns and practices" review by the DOJ Civil Rights Division. In April 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions terminated the DOJ's review of policing in Memphis and such ongoing reviews in 13 other cities.

Below is our story from December, 2015, including these witness videos, which are disturbing and contain profanity. These are links published by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and then posted by local media on their YouTube sites. We show clips from these and other largely unseen, disturbing footage from the night Darrius was murdered as part of our documentary on citizen police oversight, Who Will Watch the Watchers?


 Witness #1 video (same as link to the right)

Witness #2 video 

The Department of Justice will independently investigate the killing of 19-year-old Darrius Stewart July 17, 2015, by Memphis police officer Connor Schilling.

This news came before attorneys for Darrius Stewart's family held a press conference today to announce they had read a just-released, 918-page Tennessee Bureau of Investigation report and found that witnesses said Schilling's deadly second shot came as Darrius was trying to get away from him.

Memphis city officials, from the mayor to the police, have insisted this year -- mainly as they were talking against citizen oversight of police -- that "We're not Ferguson." Darrius Stewart's case differs from the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, and from other infamous police killings in one key way:

Darrius Stewart was not the target of police attention; he was a bystander, a passenger in the back seat
Darrius Stewart
of a car at a traffic stop.

In the context of systemic problems which have led to police killings of men who appeared to pose no threat to officers, Memphis, Tennessee, is Ferguson, Baltimore, Cincinnati, North Charleston -- everywhere and Anywhere, USA.  Granted, the public outcry in Memphis after the killing of Darrius Stewart was muted compared to protesters in Ferguson, and in Memphis there was no police rollout of tear gas and tank-like vehicles.

It's a cruel twist that Stewart was a passenger in a car at a traffic stop and was not being accosted by police for anything he was doing.  The other infamous deaths at the hands of police that have made news the past two years involved men who were drivers, in the case of traffic stops, or who were being stopped by police for something they were doing or were believed to be doing.  Not saying here that selling cigarettes on the street in New York (Eric Garner) or running when you see cops in Baltimore (Freddie Gray) are grounds for being choked, shot or beaten to death.


Carlos Moore, attorney representing Stewart's father, Henry Williams, noted that Schilling had been charged with leaving the scene of an accident in DeSoto County, Mississippi, in 2009, before he was hired to be a Memphis police officer, as well as having a DUI charge for which he was disciplined by MPD in 2014 with an 18-day suspension. In DeSoto County, however, Schilling's 2014 charge was dismissed after the arresting officer failed to appear.

UPDATE Nov. 29, 2017:
Schilling also caught a DUI charge when a Southaven officer found him intoxicated in a Taco Bell parking lot on July 6, 2017. Schilling got a "slap on the wrist," according to attorney Moore and with a fairly easy path toward getting his charge dismissed.   
Was this the third time that the DeSoto County justice system had let Schilling off the hook for drinking and driving?
From The Commercial Appeal: https://www.commercialappeal.com/story/news/crime/2017/11/29/connor-schillings-dui-charge-southaven-could-dismissed/902886001/

"Schilling never should have been hired by the Memphis police department," Moore told us last month after learning of the Citizens Media Resource report about the leaving the scene charge.

No other media has reported this story, so far as we know, although Schilling and the case have gotten intense scrutiny, generally.  Can anyone explain why?  Anyone?  However, the information is a matter of public record and was at one time accessible on the DeSoto County Justice Court website.

Since we confirmed the information about Schilling's Jan. 3, 2009, arrest with a DeSoto County Justice Court deputy clerk, the status of Schilling's case has been changed from "open/pending" to "not guilty."

Conner Schilling was charged with leaving the scene of an accident on Jan. 3, 2009

We spoke with two DeSoto County court clerks on Nov. 12 and Nov. 13, and they confirmed that the six-year-old case status was "open/pending," with "no disposition" and with no indication of whether the case had been heard in court or whether Schilling had appeared.  However, one clerk, who said she had looked up the hard file on the case, said that a fine of $190.50 had been turned over to a collection agency in an attempt to recover the amount from Schilling.  The clerk knew Schilling was a police officer.

Somehow, between Nov. 13 and Dec. 3, the status of the case was changed online to "not guilty."  The URL which had gone to the case record showing "open/pending" suddenly went to another person's case.  The "not guilty" version of Case 9201454 appeared on the website -- and the URL was the same as that which contained the former record, except the last number was changed from "5" to "6."
Suddenly, after we talked to DeSoto County deputy clerk, Schiiling's 6-year-old charge was changed to "not guilty"

While a Shelby County grand jury failed to indict Schilling for voluntary manslaughter, there will be a civil lawsuit filed on behalf of surviving family members.  That Schilling had a "leaving the scene" charge on his record before the city of Memphis hired him to be a police officer will bolster's the plaintiff's case, attorneys believe.

Dropbox file showing DeSoto County Justice Court record Connor Schilling Case 9201454 as it existed Nov. 11, 2015 (the date is in upper right corner of the page):

UPDATE FEB. 7, 2019
The following URLs have been changed since our story of Dec. 15, 2015. But, here they are, and you can see they no longer pertain to Schilling.

Resuming from Dec. 15, 2015, story:

Link to DeSoto County Justice Court record Connor Schilling Case 9201454 as it existed Dec. 3, 2015:http://records.desotocountyms.gov/WEBPGMS/JCRINQDEF1.pgm?TASK=disp&rrn=000067286

When we tried to use the link to look at the record online just now, we got an error message: "Safari Can't Open the Page."  We got it to open once -- but it went to a different person's record.

We have not asked the DeSoto County court for an explanation.

Here is a link to Schilling Case 9201454 as we revisited this matter on May 18, 2017, showing the disposition changed to "not guilty:" http://desotoms.info/WEBPGMS/JCRINQDEF1.pgm?TASK=disp&rrn=000067314

Moore said that Schilling's hassling of Stewart represented racial profiling as he would not have asked a white passenger for his ID after a broken headlight traffic stop.

Anecdotes abound among African-Americans about police stopping cars with several black passengers and having everyone get out and show IDs, on the premise that somebody would owe back child support or would have an outstanding warrant on his record.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

'Runaway Inequality is ripping us apart'

Les Leopold, author of Runaway Inequality, lays out the damage from the extreme inequality which
favors Wall Street, privatizers and militarization at the expense of the rest of us.  Eighty-five individuals in the U.S. have more wealth than the bottom 50 per cent of Americans.

Truth-out interview with Leopold hits the high spots in this linked story.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

'The Suburban Itch' Comedy Short Released for Public Consumption

'The Suburban Itch,' a short film which takes on profiling with humor and Memphis hip-hop music to help the message go down, is released for public viewing free of charge on Vimeo.com and Youtube.com.  Links to the 10-minute film:

'The Suburban Itch' made its Tennessee premiere Nov. 8 at the Indie Memphis Film Festival, and the posted version of the film includes some audio of audience reaction during that screening.  The film previously had been shown at LA- and NYC-area and other film festivals.  

The film is prospectively a feature film, or the basis of an episodic series.  Producer Moore Media & Entertainment also is developing other stories, including an episodic comedy series and a comedy feature.  

"If you like 'Weeds' and 'House of Cards,' you will like what we have cooking," said producer Gary Moore.  "In 'Second Coming,' a pissed-off Jesus returns to Earth to expose a televangelist who claims the Son of God has personally endorsed the preacher's fund-raising campaign.  First episode is 'What Would Jesus Really Do?'  

"In 'The Pregnant Prick,' House Majority Leader Hiram A. Bullwright , a womanizer and friend of Big Pharma, becomes pregnant as suddenly do men around the world.  Scientists blame climate change for the phenomenon, and Bullwright's politics are turned upside down," said Moore, who is seeking production partners.  

Friday, November 13, 2015

CLERB, Schilling and Darrius

Officer Connor Schilling called in sick today, but it wasn't the first time Schilling has failed to make the scene. Schilling was cited for "leaving the scene" of an accident in 2009, and according to DeSoto County Justice Court, he apparently did not appear for his court date as the record shows the case "open/pending."

On the same day (Nov. 3) when Memphis City Council finally passed the updated CLERB ordinance, 9-2, District Attorney Amy Weirich announced that the grand jury had failed to indict Officer Schilling.  Weirich said she had requested an indictment of voluntary manslaughter in Schilling's shooting to death of 19-year-old Darrius Stewart on July 17.

The DOJ is monitoring the case, and Stewart's family is determined to keep his death and the secret Tennessee Bureau of Investigation report from slipping out of the public consciousness as his mother and others spoke out at a rally Tuesday Nov. 10 at the criminal justice center.

Schilling was scheduled for a Memphis police administrative hearing Friday Nov. 13, but he called in sick, according to local news reports.  Police internal affairs seeks to review Schilling's actions on the night of Stewart's death in the context of police policy and procedures.  The hearing, which is not open to the public and at which Schilling will be represented by counsel, will be rescheduled.

After Stewart's death, local media reviewed Schilling's personnel file.  It showed he had been internally disciplined for a DUI, which was dismissed in Mississippi when the arresting officer failed to show up for court, and an excessive force complaint against him by a local citizen, Cyneitha Campbell, had been found without merit by internal affairs.

Memphis United activists, who have worked more than two years to bring the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board out of an exile illegally imposed by the city administration, point to   Campbell's complaint as something that could have been brought before CLERB -- had it not been disbanded -- and could potentially have helped curb future uses of force by this officer.  CLERB last reviewed a citizen complaint in August, 2011, before being reconvened early this year.  However, the reconstituted CLERB board has yet to hear a case.
Case 9201454 Shows Connor Schilling fined for leaving the scene; screenshot from November 2015

The "leaving the scene" citation was issued Jan. 3, 2009, more than three years before Schilling became a Memphis police officer.  The charge, "710 Leaving the Scene" on case number 9201454, shows an "open/pending" status in DeSoto County Justice Court.  The file shows a fine of $190.50, and the clerk's office says a collection agency has been assigned to attempt to collect.

A Justice Court deputy clerk, however, says the case had "no disposition."  Another clerk in the Justice Court office said there is "no time limit" on an open case.  They could not say whether the defendant Schilling ever appeared in court.  Since there was "no disposition," it seems unlikely there was a hearing -- although that seems to contradict the collection attempt and fails to explain why there has been no disposition or follow up.  The deputy clerk explained they have many cases, so is this just one that fell through the cracks?

Leaving the scene is a misdemeanor, per Mississippi Code Annotated 63-3-403.

DeSoto County records also show Schilling received a ticket for running a red light Nov. 9, 2008, and paid a fine of $150.

Although running a red light is a common violation which many drivers have committed at one time or another, whether cited or not, "leaving the scene" sounds more serious and is the kind of thing a police officer would be expected to deal with in his line of duty.  Why does one "leave the scene?"  This occurred before Schilling was hired to be a Memphis officer, and we are not privy to any particulars other than the dry record.

The "leaving the scene" citation apparently has escaped local media's radar, and perhaps it was not revealed to MPD prior to their hiring of Schilling.  Private companies nowadays scrutinize public records, including arrests, and credit reports, and get mouth swabs or urine specimens, before hiring employees. Fairly or not, in some cases even a traffic ticket may disqualify someone from a job.  Not pre-judging this case without more details, but could "leaving the scene" generally be the basis for disqualifying or further scrutinizing an application to become a police officer?

UPDATE on Nov. 29, 2017: These URLs are now connected to other cases. AND, just days after we spoke with DeSoto County Justice Court in mid-November, 2015, Schilling's "leaving the scene" case was changed to "not guilty." How does that happen?

See screenshot:

Weeks later, this same case almost six years old, suddenly showed "not guilty"

DeSoto County Justice Court website showing Case 9201454:  http://records.desotocountyms.gov/WEBPGMS/JCRINQDEF1.pgm?TASK=disp&rrn=000065333

new link as of dec. 3 2015:  http://records.desotocountyms.gov/WEBPGMS/JCRINQDEF1.pgm?TASK=disp&rrn=000067286

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Who Matters Most: Kindergarten Teachers, or Hedge Fund Operators?

Is America turned upside-down, or what?   From Jim Hightower's recent post:

Get ready to swallow your "Statistic of the Day!"

But first, to help you absorb the big one, here's a preliminary statistic for you: 158,000. That's the number of kindergarten teachers in America, and their combined income in 2013 was $8 billion. Now, here's your Big Stat of the Day (even though it seems smaller): Four. That's the number of America's highest-paid hedge fund operators whose combined income in 2013 was $10 billion. Yes, just four Wall Street greedmeisters hauled off $2 billion more in pay than was received by all of our Kindergarten teachers.

Monday, September 14, 2015

This is What Dysfunctional Looks Like Down at Memphis City Hall

Memphis City Council obstructs the people's business with politics, fear-mongering and slander

         It’s midnight.  Do you know where your city council rep is? 

Better yet, do you know if he or she is making you proud out in the community or is up to childish mischief?

Too scared to look?  You should be.

But, if you can work up enough guilt about needing to be a better informed voter, watch this video, “This is What Dysfunctional Looks Like:  Memphis City Council Aug. 4 2015.”

Was this politics over progress?

Council members Kemp Conrad and Berlin Boyd and others running for re-election said they were making a bow to police by putting off a much-delayed vote on improved police oversight until November, after the Oct. 8 city elections. 

Police Director Toney Armstrong made a dramatic appearance and
Officer Sean Bolton
leveraged the tragedy of a police officer’s death into spiking an ordinance which already had been put off twice at the request of police administration.  He and Boyd pleaded for respect for the officer’s family. 

Can anyone honestly imagine that officer Bolton’s family was sitting there worried about minor amendments to a 1994 ordinance?  Or that the concept of citizens reviewing internal affairs complaints was connected with Mr. Bolton’s death?

You’ve heard of shoot the messenger?

Complete with a slide show of Facebook pages, Conrad launched a personal attack against one Memphis resident who had worked hard to upgrade oversight.  Conrad demonized an entire class of citizens, whom council members unanimously had voted to do a bunch of research and work –- for free.

You want to set up the City of Memphis for libel and slander lawsuits?

Conrad called concerned citizens and members of local community organizations “law breakers at heart” among other things.

Do you believe citizen oversight of police would increase crime?

That’s preposterous, or it’s Opposite Day, right?  Conrad said it would increase crime and the murder rate.  But then, Conrad also said civilian oversight was a good thing, see next.

You’ve heard the political adage, Watch what I do, not what I say?

Conrad, Boyd and crew shot down the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board while they all said they thought it was a good thing and wanted to vote for it – except, they didn’t. 

That made it super easy for editorial writers and commentators to analyze this stunt, since council members admitted it had nothing to do with substance, and everything to do with trying to impress police while spiting citizens in the community -- you know, those irritating people council promised to represent.  Also, there’s an amateur political notion that if they put things off until after election day, they won’t have a voting record to catch flak over.  Wrong – now they have a not-voting record!

Maybe the city should just dock the obstructionists' pay for not doing their jobs, huh?

It seems as though many, or most or maybe all of those council members who voted against internal affairs accountability had not actually read the ordinance in front of them – which was prepared by the city administration, Chief Administrative Officer Jack Sammons and his staff.  They claimed it was written by Memphis United, whose earlier draft of proposed ordinance changes had been shot down in July.

How can they get away with it, you say?  You could vote them out, which would be not-getting-away-with-it.

Since most people tune government out because of these kinds of antics, or because we are too satiated with celebrity news to pay attention to anything else, or because we are working two or three jobs to make ends meet and are too tired to watch -- that enables the dysfunction to continue.

As the charge of “anti-police” goes, Conrad voted against the compensation and benefits that police had asked for earlier in the year.  On the contrary, Memphis United members had supported the police union then.  Funny how nobody slandered them at that time.

Shouldn't police officers and teachers be paid more like doctors and lawyers?  Those are important roles in society, in position to do a lot of good and a lot of harm.  Many police-related problems that show up on the news result from policy makers rather than the men and woman in the field.  Hiring standards, policy, training and culture -- which starts at the top -- most impact citizen complaints.  Did you know that the number one trait which predetermines an effective police officer is outgoing personality?  De-escalation usually works better than amping up the tension.  

The better narrative and action for the city, the police and the police union to follow would be to build a bridge with the community, rather than a wall of belligerence and suspicion.  Sure, they have community policing and outreach programs now, but citizen oversight of complaints hits more at the essence of the job.  Criticism does not have to be taken as a personal attack, and police don't have to play the persecution card.  No doubt, it's hard out here for a cop.  But, unless we critically self-examine, we will never improve.  Better police and better Memphis seem like worthy goals.

Most of this video came from the City of Memphis media archive, and you may notice an audio lag when people are speaking.  Website:  http://www.memphistn.gov/Government/CityCouncil/ArchivesofMeetings.aspx

Watch the video, then if you really want to geek out and be informed, below are links to the following documents:

1---Resolution passed unanimously by city council May 6, 2014, which tasked Memphis United, a coalition of concerned citizens and local community organizations, with holding nine town hall meetings across the city; researching civilian oversight of police, and reporting back to council with their findings – at no charge to the city.

2---Amended ordinance proposed to city council by Memphis United on April 7, 2015:

3---Edited ordinance as ready to be voted on July 7; this version of the ordnance made two key concessions to police – taking away subpoena power from the oversight board and taking away the board’s power to conduct an independent investigation:

4---Version of the ordinance prepared by the city administration and up for vote Aug. 4, 2015:

5---The original CLERB ordinance which was enacted in 1994:

6---Memphis United’s findings and report as commissioned by and presented to Memphis City Council:

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Police Union Concerns about Citizen Oversight May Be Overblown, Based on Atlanta and Knoxville Results

Memphis Police Association concerns in opposition to a stronger citizen review  board may be overblown, based on experiences of police departments and citizen oversight boards in Atlanta and Knoxville.

Major Byron K. Martin
The Atlanta Citizen Review Board and the Knoxville Police Advisory and Review Committee both have the authority to issue subpoenas, and both those boards allow citizens to bring complaints directly to the citizen boards – without first making a complaint about the police to the police Internal Affairs office.

The Memphis Police Association does not want a citizen board to be able to independently investigate a complaint of police misconduct, MPA attorney Deborah Godwin told a meeting of stakeholders Monday July 27 at City Hall.   The MPA wants the oversight board to function merely as an appeals body, using MPD’s Internal Affairs report to review the complaint of a citizen who is not satisfied with the way MPD’s investigation turned out.

A proposed amended ordinance before Memphis City Council would strengthen the effectiveness of the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board and would make filing a complaint more user-friendly to the public. 

Ordinance sponsor Councilwoman Wanda Halbert has scheduled a meeting for 2 p.m. today at City Hall to include police and union representatives, the people’s coalition Memphis United and members of the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board.  Although Halbert’s ordinance is on the brink of approval by the full Council, she has thrown open a discussion which may lead to changes in the ordinance. 

Atlanta Police Chief George Turner was asked about citizen oversight earlier this year, and he told radio station WABE:

Chief George Turner --photo by Mike Eloy WABE
“I think it is absolutely encouraging that we have a citizen review, that citizens have another opportunity to look at the work of the police department, that some outside entity is looking at the officers' actions as well." --Atlanta Police Chief George Turn

The Memphis police union’s primary, stated complaint for months has been that it does not want the citizen board to have subpoena-issuing authority.  However, a provision in the ordinance that the board would have subpoena powers was recently negotiated out of the proposal, thus eliminating the police union’s complaint about subpoena usage leading to privacy issues.

“We always get responses from officers,” said Charles Curry, outreach specialist at the Atlanta Citizen Review Board.  “Subpoena power is not extensively used.  The police chief is cooperative, but we have subpoena power in the law, because the next chief may not be cooperative.”


The ACRB did not initially have subpoena authority, but the city ordinance was amended in 2010 to give the board the power to compel testimony and documents. 

“ACRB investigators do not have to subpoena officers,” said Major Byron K. Martin, commander of the Atlanta Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards.  “If officers are contacted, they come and talk to the investigators. 

“The investigators present their findings to the board.  As for requiring officers to testify before the board, I don’t believe that has been occurring.  

“Officers are compelled to cooperate with the ACRB, and if not they can be sanctioned.  To date, I’m not aware of any that don’t cooperate,” Martin said. 

MPA representatives raise concerns about officers’ privacy, but in the case of Knoxville’s oversight board, no officers or citizens are named in summaries of complaints, which appear statistically on its website. 

The Atlanta board posts meeting minutes on its website, and cases are succinctly summarized.  The complainant and the officer are named, but no one’s address is posted, and there is no personal type information about the officer -- other than his or her history of misconduct. 


On the Knoxville Police Advisory Review Committee website, statistics for cases are broken down by categories and demographics, such as ethnicity and sex.  The Knoxville board also reports on such things as police adherence to video recording policies and racial profiling cases. 

Although citizens may make complaints directly to PARC, the committee also exercises oversight of cases which originated with Knoxville Police Department Internal Affairs. 

Discussions in Memphis about the citizen board have played out in a context of local and national instances of police shootings of unarmed citizens, including the July 17 fatal police shooting of 19-year-old, University of Memphis-bound Darrius Stewart.  Memphis United presented its report and amended ordinance to City Council committees on the morning of April 7.  That night, millions of Americans watched as network news led with images of Walter Scott being fatally shot in the back by a policeman in South Carolina.

The outcome of Memphis’ citizen board further has become clouded by politics as city elections loom, but in Atlanta, Martin says, “We have to work together and make sure we are on the same page.  Having a citizen board is a great thing, and we keep working to make it better.

“The vision and purpose of the ACRB is the same as ours.  Our purpose is to get the truth, not to convict or exonerate anyone, but to find out what the facts are and do it as impartially as possible, then to administer discipline, and put forth the training, or whatever needs to be done,” he said. 

“Sometimes incidents expose a gap in policy that needs to be changed.  Our purpose is to make sure we are the most professional police department in the country.  Their purpose is to make sure we are able to do what we need to do properly. “

Asked about some police departments’ inclinations to be defensive and self-protective, Martin said, “Is your goal to get better or feel good about where you are?  We should always aim to be better, not just to be comfortable where we are and survive another year.”

“We have access to the video from in-car cameras, access to the officers, and we have subpoena power,” Knoxville PARC executive director Avice Evans Reid said in an interview with WATE-TV. “We want to make sure citizens understand why officers do the things that they do, and by the same token we want the officers to understand we want them to do their job, but we want them to do it and respect citizens at the same time.”

In one case, PARC’s review led to KPD adding more training for officers on the use of knives, particularly when it comes to cutting car crash victims out of seat belts and when medical attention is needed.

KPD Chief David Rausch told WATE that although he was skeptical of PARC as a young officer when it was first created, he now believes the group has benefited both the department and the community.

“Since the creation of PARC, clearly there has been more engagement with our community, and we have seen an increase in trust,” Rausch said.