Les Passees Merges with Le Bonheur
On Friday, Governor Don Sund-quist and a host of other notables, including former Congressman Harold Ford Sr., University of Memphis basketball coach Tic Price, and state Senator John Ford, celebrated the grand opening of the Le Bonheur Early Intervention and Development program, formerly the financially troubled Les Passees Childrens Services Inc.
It was an event some child advocates didnt think would ever happen. Before the ribbon was cut, former Les Passees president Nancye Starnes reminded everyone that if it were not for a determined group of supporters, Les Passees would have become a casualty of the states TennCare program.
For 47 years, Les Passees provided intensive, long-term therapies for children up to 3 years old who are developmentally delayed or have cerebral palsy, fetal alcohol syndrome, or other serious problems. In November 1996, the agency announced that it would discontinue 95 percent of its programs because TennCare managed-care companies continually failed to reimburse Les Passees adequately for services rendered.
Thats when Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare stepped in. Former Les Passees director Janet Whaley says the large health system was able to better negotiate with the privately held TennCare companies. Methodist Le Bonheur merged with Les Passees, changed its name, and moved it down the street to 50 N. Dunlap.
Director Rita Ross says the transition has been seamless. None of the employees lost their jobs. And no significant program changes were made.
Problems with TennCare companies, however, persist.
TennCare continues to have a hard time understanding special-needs children, says Ross, who stresses that children with developmental delays respond best to early, intensive therapies. Therapy doesnt end after a few weeks.
The governor says he knows the TennCare system still needs improvements in this area.
TennCare is not a static system, Sundquist says. It changes every day. Were going to continue to make better improvements. Jacqueline Marino
Firefighters Break Law for Charity
It sounds like a bad idea: Pedestrians weaving through heavy traffic as they approach drivers and ask for money. But apparently, just about everybody in Memphis thinks this is a good thing.
The pedestrians in this case are firefighters. Last week, they conducted their annual Fill the Boot campaign to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Aside from the Jerry Lewis telethon, its MDAs biggest fund-raiser, netting $69,000 here in 1997. Firefighters volunteer their time to spend a week working Memphis busiest intersections.
Trouble is, what theyre doing is illegal.
A city ordinance prohibits selling or soliciting in traffic. The law was designed mainly to thwart beggars and to prevent kids from endangering themselves by selling newspapers in the street, but theoretically it applies to everyone; there is no exemption for charitable organizations. So why are these well-meaning firefighters above the law?
Robert Downey, the fire departments acting chief of emergency operations and coordinator of the Fill the Boot campaign, says he was not aware being in traffic was illegal.
Police department deputy director William Oldman declined comment, saying through a spokesperson that the issue was not worthy of discussion and that he had no intention of enforcing the law against firefighters. Both the police department and MDA claim to have received no complaints about the firefighters actions. They do not block traffic in any way, says MDA spokesperson Jean Bethge. They only go up to cars when the lights turn red.
This years Fill the Boot campaign, which ended last Saturday, is estimated to be the most successful ever, surpassing its goal of $70,000. Debbie Gilbert
City Releases Confidentiality Order
When The Memphis Flyer sued the city of Memphis late last year over the disclosure of public documents, the city argued that it was prohibited from releasing information because of a confidentiality order in a federal court.
Last week that confidentiality order was disclosed. It turns out that the order never bound the city from obeying state open-records laws.
The Flyer sued the city because the city had made a confidential settlement agreement with a family in what appeared to be a police brutality case. Adam Pollow died at The Regional Medical Center at Memphis in 1993, an apparent victim of a hog-tie, a potentially fatal police restraint that has now been banned by the Memphis Police Department.
Pollows parents sued over the death of their son. Before the trial could get fully under way, David Pollow says, he felt pressured to settle the case for $475,000. At the time, the city forced David and his wife Pearl to enter into a confidentiality agreement, which was sealed by U.S. District Judge Julia Gibbons.
The two-page agreement specifically gagged the Pollows, making them liable for $100,000 if they told anyone about it, but did not limit anyone else. When the Flyer requested details of the settlement agreement, attorneys with the city refused, citing the confidentiality agreement as binding them, too.
Chancellor Floyd Peete ruled against the city and has ordered it to pay the Flyer legal fees. The chancellor has not entered a full facts and findings, which might declare the citys actions illegal, prohibiting city attorneys from entering into confidentiality agreements in the future. Phil Campbell
Peace and Justice Center Struggling
At one time, the group had three staff members in an office close to the University of Memphis run by Hubert Van Tol, who took over as executive director in 1985. In the past two years, however, the group has been reduced to an all-volunteer organization. Van Tol moved to Chicago. Larry Smith, who once tackled the citys worst polluters with research and press releases, left the center to take over the Wolf River Conservancy. Rita Harris, who replaced Van Tol as the centers director, had to be let go because of the groups worsening financial situation. Staff member Bill Aiken is now working on a contractual basis only.
Randolph Meade Walker, the president of the centers board of directors, hopes the non-profit will be able to pay off its debts and rebuild in a few years.
Our policy is that we do not solicit government funds, Walker says, explaining such a move would handicap the groups independence. That kind of handicaps what youre all about when you do that. This is one of those things that has us over a barrel. Phil Campbell
by Jacqueline Marino
Felony drug charges against Kevin Hunter, former owner of the Memphis Pharaohs arena football team, were reduced Tuesday from possession with intent to manufacture, sell, or distribute cocaine and heroin to simple possession.
Hunters attorney Walter Bailey says he will appear in court next week to try and obtain a diversion for his client. A diversion allows criminal charges to be suspended for a certain length of time. If Hunter gets one, Bailey says, he will probably have to comply with several conditions, including probation and drug rehabilitation. The original charges against Hunter carried a sentence of between eight and 30 years in jail.
Bailey says any citizen with a clean record like Hunters would be eligible for diversion.
Hes got an impeccable history and hes a model candidate for the diversion program, he says.
Hunter, now of Tupelo, Mississippi, was arrested May 14th with 2.6 grams of cocaine and heroin. After receiving an emergency call, police officers found Hunter lying on the pavement near the intersection of Main and Union, looking as if he had suffered a seizure.
Inside an ambulance, Hunter started coughing. Then with the hand used to cover his mouth, he threw a plastic bag filled with cocaine out of the vehicle. He said he had swallowed another bag, which was filled with cocaine mixed with heroin or PCP.
Hunter, who appeared in General Sessions court dressed in a suit, politely declined to comment on the charges pending against him.
When asked what these past few weeks have been like for Hunter, Bailey responded, A nightmare. No, not a nightmare. Hes been concerned.
Bailey did not say if Hunter has a drug problem.
Hes addressing his predicament, he says. Hes in the process of complying with the conditions of diversion.
Before Hunters arrest that same week, he had announced plans to buy a Tunica casino. Mayor Willie Herenton has not commented on the speculation that he and Hunter were to be business partners.
by Jacqueline Marino
When Memphis police officers arrived at Vernice Jordans home last week, they found the mentally ill man armed with a butcher knife. A member of the police departments crisis-intervention team first tried to talk him into putting the knife down. Then the officer tried to subdue him with pepper gas, which was also ineffective. When Jordan lunged forward with the knife, another officer fatally shot him in the chest.
Shortly afterward, Jordans niece the person who called the police to the residence launched an emotional public condemnation of the polices action. Her sentiments rekindled a longtime criticism of the Memphis Police Department, suggesting that local law-enforcement officers do not understand how to deal effectively with the mentally ill and often respond to them with unnecessary force.
This criticism, which has been fueled by last weeks tragedy, is unwarranted, according to Deborah Farrell, executive director of the Alliance for the Mentally Ill.
If a police officer was killed by a mentally ill person, it would be terrible for the mentally ill community, she says. I think they [the officers who responded] did what they were trained to do and it didnt work. It doesnt always work.
In the last 10 years, Lt. Sam Cochran remembers only one other time when it didnt work. In 1996, a mental patient started shooting at police from his front porch. Officers returned fire, killing him.
Cochran, who coordinates the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), a special unit trained to handle distress calls from mentally ill individuals, says he feels confident the officer who responded to Jordan followed CIT protocol. CIT officers learn verbal techniques to calm or de-escalate potentially dangerous mentally ill people. When the CIT officers efforts failed and Jordan became violent, another officer responded with deadly force.
There are no such things as guarantees in crisis situations, says Cochran. When officers find themselves in life-threatening situations, they must respond in accordance with Tennessee law regulating deadly force.
The MPDs deadly force policy states: Officers shall use only the minimum amount of force which is consistent with the accomplishment of their duties and must exhaust every other reasonable means of prevention, apprehension, or defense before resorting to deadly force.
Police spokesperson Debby Hall says the security squad is still investigating the incident.
Its standard procedure to withhold information from the public during an investigation. But in this case the lack of information has caused some to blame the police without knowing all the facts, suggesting, for instance, that the incident could have been prevented if all the officers had received crisis-intervention training.
Cochran disagrees that all officers should be CIT officers. He insists the MPD has one of the most well-trained crisis teams in the country. It has served as a model for police departments nationwide, including Portland and Albuquerque. He says CIT training is voluntary for two reasons. First, only one CIT officer needs to respond to a mental-disturbance call. Second, CIT training is a specialty, like training received by members of the organized-crime unit or the domestic-violence unit. Not all officers want to be CIT officers, nor do they have the interpersonal skills required of CIT officers.
CIT officers receive 40 hours of initial training, as well as in-service training. The CITs 165 officers are spread across all the precincts.
Since the CITs inception 10 years ago, it has handled 62,682 mental-disturbance calls, 6,940 in the last year alone. The department started the program in 1988 after a mentally ill man high on drugs was killed by police in an incident many feel could have been prevented if the officers were better trained.
Melissa Goldsmith, program director for the Crisis Center, a 24-hour hotline operated by Family Services of the Mid-South, is among those who think all officers should have some mental-health training. This training has become more important in the last few years, ever since a breakdown in the mental-health system has resulted in too many mentally ill people on the street receiving too little care.
No amount of training, however, will defuse some violent situations involving mentally ill people, Goldsmith says.
Because such situations are unpredictable and mentally ill peoples behavior is unpredictable, maybe taking a heavy-handed approach is the right thing to do, she says. You never know unless youre there.
Last Saturday in downtown La Grange, Tennessee, the Wolf River Conservancy dedicated this sculpture honoring those who donated $500 or more to help save the Ghost River, the headwaters of the Wolf. Memphis sculptor Roy Tamboli hand-struck each letter of about 400 names engraved on the $14,000 bronze-and-limestone monument, which is shaped like WRCs logo. Nearly 500 people turned out for the dedication festivities in La Grange, which is close to the recently designated Ghost River State Natural Area.
This Week's Issue | Home