Lessons from 201 Poplar: Crime Reduction in Memphis
There are many lessons that I took away from my January 2003 shooting and the subsequent fours years spent in trial in the Shelby County Criminal Court system. I attended every court hearing for both defendants and took notes. These are some of my thoughts:
Proactive law enforcement was virtually non-existent in my case. The responsible party had made their intentions known to me for quite some time. I had repeatedly contacted both the Memphis Police Department and Shelby County Sheriff’s Department along with the Shelby County Attorney General’s office with my safety concerns. They took no action until I was shot eight times. If any of the agencies had actually performed their job, I wouldn’t have a bullet lodged in my head along with two impacted in my neck.
From statements made to detectives, it seemed as if Jason Jerden had the “Scarface” Syndrome” where any perceived act of disrespect must be met with violence. The youth of today need to move away from this mantra. Life is not a movie.
Both defendants, charged with Class A Felony “First Degree Murder – Criminal Attempt,” were repeat offenders and convicted felons. Both should have been incarcerated due to a recent conviction (Billy Jackson) and parole violation (Jason Jerden). Law enforcement and the criminal justice system failed miserably in both instances. Jackson had multiple felonies that had not been adjudicated due to overcrowded court dockets. He was basically a one-man crime spree at age 19. In the majority of my days in court, most judges seemed to be on the bench about 40% of the time. In all court rooms, proceeding actions stopped when Leslie or Marvin Balin entered the court. Government employees seemed much more beholding to these two and their associates than the victims of the cases.
Within ten minutes of my shooting, deputies went into the residence of Jason Jerden without a court-issued warrant. They should have known better. Judge Mark Ward would later eliminate evidence that resulted from their search, basically gutting my trial. I’m not sure if their unwarranted entrance resulted from lack of training or poor decision making. For whatever reason, multiple felon Jason Jerden is walking the streets of Cordova because of it.
During the first appearance in General Sessions court, both Jackson and Jerden were given the chance to plea to Class C Felony “Aggravated Assault” rather than as charged. This was during the time period when the county had spent countless thousands of dollars extolling the message “No Deals for Gun Crime.” The prosecutors in General Sessions told me that there was a legal difference in a “plea” versus a “deal.” To me, it appeared that the court system processed cases much like FedEx processes packages. There was absolutely no priority given by crime classification ranking. All cases were handled the same while in General Sessions.
The prosecutors informed me that a neighbor had video taped both Jackson and Jerden firing a weapon on Vivia Street, the day before my shooting. This video tape was never passed to the Federal AG’s office in order to prosecute the two with “Felon in Possession of a Firearm” charges. The Federal charges for this crime were seven years in incarceration without parole. I was never given an answer as to why this information was not passed to the Feds.
My Class A Felony case stayed parked in General Sessions court behind a myriad of assorted “Driving on Suspended or Revoked License” and “Misdemeanor – Marijuana Possession” charges. Those cases should have been handled somewhere other than General Sessions Criminal Court. The sentences were all suspended and the fines will never be paid. The whole process with these cases was pointless.
During 2006, Billy Glenn Jackson was allowed to pled guilty and due to the state’s mandated sentencing ranges, his 99 years was compressed to 13 ½ years in prison. Through the total incompetence of the Shelby County Attorney General’s office, Jackson was not made to give a statement implicating Jerden for his upcoming trial. During the Jerden trial, Jackson stated that he had received threats while incarcerated and would not testify. There is no excuse for that kind of failure on the taxpayer’s dime.
Jason Jerden was represented by a state-appointed attorney that didn’t put up much of a court room battle. Unfortunately, he managed to do a much better job that the two state prosecutors assigned to my case. One of my prosecutors didn’t send out subpoenas for a crucial witness and I spent a few hours in the National Cemetery area with the AG Detective and deputies looking for a witness. Fortunately, I found his grandmother and she notified him of his requested court appearance.
Before the trial one morning, Jerden threatened one of the witnesses in my case and the prosecutor did nothing about it. The prosecutor also didn’t bring up the threat during the trial. Even without the unwarranted-search evidence, we still had a slim chance in trial. The trial ended in a hung jury with one juror stating “I’ve been in prison and I don’t want to send anyone there” while another stated “I don’t care nothing about some rich white man getting shot” to the state prosecutors. The state did a poor job at trial and had no intentions of retrying it. I had my one time at bat and I struck out. Jerden pointed at me and laughed as he walked out the courtroom door a free man.
I actually believed I could have done a better job in prosecuting the case. Again, the taxpayers of Shelby County deserve better. To add insult to injury, the state offered Jason Jerden “Aggravated Assault” and time served in lieu of his original charge. I was never informed of the offer until after it had been made. While both defendants initially faced 99 years in jail, both are free today. There is a major problem with that scenario. The citizens of Shelby County deserve better.
Civic leaders can provide all the slogans and implement programs till their blue in the face but until the folks at 201 Poplar get their act together, crime will flourish in Memphis. I’m sure the majority of criminals and potential criminals are aware of how impotent the criminal justice system is in Shelby County. This has to change for the sake of our community.
By Jackson Baker
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