City Reporter 

City Reporter

Case Closed?

Shooting suspect's lawyer raises questions.

By Janel Davis

Attorney Jeffrey Jones is not ready to concede that his client, Harold Noel, is a murderer. Noel is the suspect charged in the June 21st murder of Memphis lawyer Robert Friedman.

According to Jones, several inconsistencies surrounding the homicide lend reasonable doubt to his client's guilt, including eyewitness descriptions that Jones says are not consistent with Noel's description. "One witness supposedly described the shooter as having corn rows," says Jones. "My client is in the 50-year-old age range and told me that he has never had corn rows or anything resembling corn rows on his head." Jones says he has also interviewed several alibi witnesses placing Noel somewhere other than the location of the shooting, the parking garage at 100 North Main.

Jones also cites a surveillance video of the parking garage that shows the suspect walking to a car and fleeing the scene. The person in the video is taller and does not fit Noel's description, according to Jones.

"There is considerable belief in the legal community that Mr. Noel didn't kill Mr. Friedman. It was reiterated to me time and time again that in virtually every case [Friedman] handled, he left behind lawyers, clients, and witnesses who had ill will or ill motive toward him," says Jones. "I'm by no means saying that Friedman deserved murder. No one deserves that. But if dozens of lawyers, ex-clients, and ordinary folks had a motive, then who knows?" He says that Noel's reported confession to the murder may have been coerced by the police.

Jones is known for representing difficult cases. His current caseload includes one of the four men charged in the recent Tennessee driver's license fraud, a suspect charged in the "Candyman" child-pornography case, and several large-quantity drug cases. "A lawyer goes where the cases go, and in the last three or four months, I've had my share of hard cases," says Jones. He says Noel's family retained his services for this case.

Although Jones has his suspicions, homicide supervisor Lt. Walter Norris says the police are 99 percent certain that Noel is the correct and only suspect..

Assistant District Attorney Paul Goodman was unable to be reached for comment.

Noel is currently being held without bond and is scheduled for a July 17th preliminary hearing.

"We just want to remind everyone, including the press, that there is a presumption of innocence until proven guilty," says Jones.


Food Fight

Parking causes rift between businesses in Cooper-Young.

By Chris Davis

Things are heating up between restaurants in Cooper-Young, and we're not talking about tasty vittles either.

On Saturday, June 29th, Dr. Michael Counce and his partner Paul Mitchell, owners of Cafe OlÇ, placed flyers in their windows and inserted them into their menus. The flyers explain that Cafe OlÇ has an exclusive lease for the parking lot behind their building. They further explain that because patrons of other Cooper-Young businesses use their parking lot freely, they will begin to charge a $5 parking fee redeemable for $5 worth of product at Cafe OlÇ.

Though all Cooper-Young businesses are implicated, Tiger Bryant, owner of the Young Avenue Deli next to Cafe OlÇ, and Karen Blockman Carrier, owner of the as-yet-unopened Beauty Shop restaurant across Cooper, were singled out as chiefly responsible for this decision.

Signs designating it as private have since been erected at the entrance to Cafe OlÇ's parking lot and vehicles have already been towed away. On Saturday night, Bryant paid $175 to the towing company to release one patron's vehicle. Claims concerning damage to towed vehicles remain unverified. Towing continued even after Cafe OlÇ closed for the evening.

Neither Carrier nor Bryant knew that they had been named on Cafe OlÇ's flyers until they were contacted for this story. Both have contacted their attorneys, claiming the flyers might constitute libel.

Carrier, who will not open her newest restaurant for at least another week, had a well-attended "soft opening" on Saturday night. She and Bryant have small parking lots adjacent to their businesses and both rent additional parking space from First Congregational Church just south of their businesses.

"I can't control the world," Carrier says. "I can't be responsible for where my customers park. [Cooper-Young] is a destination. People will have drinks at [one restaurant], dinner [at another], and dessert [at another]. That's how it should work. This kind of thing just hurts all of us."

According to Bryant, his own parking lot is regularly half-full of Cafe OlÇ's patrons. "But we don't tow," he says. "And we're not going to start towing. The way we look at it, the more businesses that open here, the better everyone does."

Parking has been an ongoing issue between Cafe OlÇ and Young Avenue Deli, and in recent weeks, harsh words have been exchanged between representatives of Cafe OlÇ and the Beauty Shop.

"We want to welcome Karen to the neighborhood," Counce says. "And we hope she does well. We just can't be responsible for parking for all of Cooper-Young."

No one from the Cooper-Young Business Association was available for comment about the parking feud. The district is zoned as light-commercial, which means that all restaurant owners must meet certain parking requirements prior to opening. Both Carrier and Bryant have met these standards.


Asking For Advice

More time for transition plan for ADA.

By Bianca Phillips

Disabled citizens will now have a little more time to look for flaws in the city's Americans With Disabilities Act Transition Plan. A new 15-day comment period was granted Friday by city attorney Robert Spence after receiving a petition with over 200 signatures collected by the Memphis Center for Independent Living (MCIL). The dates for the new period, July 1st through the 15th, were released Monday.

The Transition Plan, which MCIL executive director Deborah Cunningham described as "10 years overdue," will guide the city for the next 25 years in making facilities accessible to disabled citizens.

MCIL felt the initial comment period of two weeks, which ended Friday, was not long enough to allow affected citizens to look over the plan and propose corrections. The group gathered outside City Hall on Friday to petition for Spence, the city's ADA coordinator, to extend the period for public comment by 60 days, making the cut-off date August 27th.

Spence said he could not extend the period due to legal reasons, but he could start a new one. He said a 60-day comment period was more than he could agree to, but stated that he would think over the decision. On Monday, he released the dates for the a 15-day comment period.

"We are pleased with the extension of time for public comment, and we fully intend to encourage our constituents to take advantage of this opportunity," says Cunningham. "We had hoped for 60 days, but were told that was impossible."

The transition plan involves 55 surveys of the city's public facilities to determine physical obstacles that limit accessibility at each facility. These surveys were to be made available for public inspection, but MCIL claims only half were available.

Other flaws MCIL discovered included no appeal or review process in the grievance procedure, no details of compliance methods, no mention of the city's schools, and no signature or date on the document.

The plan also leaves out several obvious public venues, such as AutoZone Park, the new NBA arena, and recipients of the Center City Commission's "facelift project."

"They talk about what they intend to do but give no time lines as to when. It's a bit too strange and ambiguous," says Cunningham.

The transition plan can be viewed on the city's Web site, www.cityofmemphis.org. Copies are also available at City Hall and at various branches of the public library.


Storm Brewing

School board squabbles about students and buses.

By Mary Cashiola

Thunder and lightning kept setting off car alarms Monday night outside the Memphis City Schools board meeting. But with Commissioner Sara Lewis screaming at Superintendent Johnnie Watson, Reverend James Robinson yelling at the entire board (and then threatening security, transportation, and risk-management director John Britt), and a melee of people carrying on in the hall, the real storm was inside.

At issue was an allegation that an East High School student had been locked in a closet every day last year during one of his class periods.

"I suggest you keep your day jobs," East High guidance counselor Marilyn Williams told the board Monday night. "The staff who looked into the situation at East were not very good private investigators." Williams said she had gone into the class one day to give out some information and the boy was in a separate room by himself. "We've been told by the administration that it never happened. ... To this day, I have not been questioned."

The mother of the child as well as East High parent and frequent crusader Robinson and a classmate of the boy's also spoke.

After the allegations surfaced in May, Superintendent Watson, optional schools and special-projects executive director Linda Sklar, and Zone 2 schools director Rick Potts all visited the school to investigate.

"It was not a closet," says Potts, reached by phone Tuesday. "It was a separate room. It has windows, desks, chairs." There is a closet off the room, but Potts says it was full of books. After interviewing students, Potts learned that students sometimes ask to go into the 10-by-12-foot room to do their work.

"We have no vested interest in protecting anyone," says Potts. "We found that nothing was done inappropriately. If anything comes up that was, people will be reprimanded."

After the East High student spoke at the meeting, Sara Lewis waved her hands in disgust and walked out of the room. When she returned, she was visibly more agitated.

"It's wrong, Johnnie! It's wrong," she yelled. "And you know it's wrong!" When Commissioner Wanda Halbert tried to calm her, Lewis violently brushed her off. In the audience, Robinson stood and began yelling at the board. Britt quickly approached him and asked him to be seated. "Britt, if you lay a hand on me, you'll hit these four walls," Robinson said.

Watson told the board that there was an ongoing investigation into the matter. "Investigations usually take some time. ... When I feel comfortable with the situation, then I will deal with it. For example, a recent investigation started in February and was not ended until June 28."

That investigation, conducted by internal auditor Waldon Gooch, concerned the 1997 transportation contract with Laidlaw Inc. At heart were a number of complaints, including a "shared-savings" clause that seemed to favor the contractor. As written into the contract, the base number of routes was set in October 1997 when the district was running 410 buses. Savings for eliminated bus routes would be shared 60/40 with the district. However, as reported in the Flyer in May, the base number of routes established for the clause was set at 434 routes. "It appears," wrote Gooch in the report, "that we should not have been billed or paid Laidlaw the shared-savings cost of $1,184,840."

As a result of that investigation, Watson plans to ask board attorneys if any of those moneys can be recovered.

After asking for quiet, board president Michael Hooks Jr. said that the superintendent had given him his personal word that he would continue investigating the East High situation and the meeting was adjourned.

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