City Reporter 

City Reporter

Off the Hook

Lack of evidence means dropped charges against police.

By Janel Davis

Memphis police officers involved in two cases of alleged misconduct earlier this year will not face criminal charges due to insufficient evidence for a grand jury trial.

Jennifer Zunk-Donnals with the Shelby County District Attorney's Office said the decisions not to prosecute were made last week after investigating charges that police officers used excessive force while subduing Denvey Buckley on April 19th and Denario Bush the following day.

The officers involved had been on non-enforcement status since the onset of the investigation. With the district attorney's decision, all of the officers are eligible to return to full duty, according to Major Ray Hopkins with the MPD Inspectional Services Bureau.

"Although the DA has made its ruling, the cases are still not closed," said Hopkins. "There are still administrative charges pending against the officers."

The following month, three officers in the Buckley case were issued administrative charges after an internal investigation revealed police misconduct. Buckley, 43, a paranoid schizophrenic who had supposedly been off his medication, drank bleach and was cutting his wrists with a butcher knife. A struggle with police ensued, and Buckley was pronounced dead that evening. His death was ruled a heart attack. Toxicology reports listed only small amounts of ethyl alcohol and Benadryl in his system, and he tested negative for several other drugs and substances, including cocaine, opiates, and barbiturates.

Four officers were issued administrative charges in the Bush case. The 18-year-old jumped from an alleged stolen vehicle and struggled with police in his driveway. Bush suffered severe head injuries after he and the officers fell against the brick wall of the house.

"I'm not surprised by the results," said Bush's mother, Gale. "It's just what happens, but I'm not giving up." She said her son still suffers from severe headaches and is in physical therapy. Because of this, his college plans at the University of Memphis have been delayed.

Wellford, who also represents the family of Denvey Buckley, said he plans to pursue legal action against the city and police department in the Buckley case. "In representing another similar case [which goes to court in January] I have learned a bit about investigations into alleged police misconduct," he said. "I think the Inspectional Services Bureau could be more of a separate entity. It's troublesome to me."

As for the Bush case, Wellford said misconduct will be harder to prove because there were no eyewitnesses to the incident, which took place in the predawn hours. The incident involving Buckley took place in front of his home during the afternoon.

"I have a problem with not knowing what officers were involved in the [Bush] investigation. That information should be public record," said Wellford. "I just found out that the administrative charges for officers in the [Buckley case] were for 'misuse of a baton.'

Time Is Running Out

Workman lawyers withdraw latest clemency request.

By Mary Cashiola

To continue the constant twists and turns that have characterized the Philip Workman case, the death-row inmate's lawyers withdrew their request for clemency last week.

"When we went before the board the first time, they were very abusive to our witnesses," said Donald Dawson of the state post-conviction defender's office. "They questioned the credibility of the attorneys."

A few weeks ago Workman applied for clemency from Governor Phil Bredesen. He is scheduled to be executed September 24th for the 1981 murder of Memphis police lieutenant Ronnie Oliver. After Bredesen referred the clemency request to a hearing before the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole -- the same group that denied Workman clemency in 2001 -- Workman's lawyers asked that an interim board be appointed. But Bredesen, through spokesperson Lydia Lenker, said he would hear the recommendation from the current board, as well as consider how they came to that recommendation.

"Given the environment, there didn't seem to be any reason to go before them again and let them go back and skew the record again," Dawson said late last week.

The attorneys held a press conference in Nashville to discuss Workman appearing before the same board that he is suing in federal court. They are looking at other legal recourses. Even though there is no request before him, the governor could legally grant clemency.

"We still have faith in the governor to do the right thing," said Dawson.

Feel Safe Now?

Police crack down on galleries.

By Mary Cashiola

The South main trolley tour got some unexpected visitors Friday night.

Officers with the Tennessee Alcohol and Beverage Commission (ABC) issued two citations to gallery and store owners serving alcohol to patrons.

"There's a fine line you walk with liquor laws," said Phil Woodard of the South Main Association. "We're in the liquor business and we thought we were abiding by the rules."

June West with Memphis Heritage said her organization was hosting a photography show when the officers showed up. A friend of the artist had brought bottles of wine with him and offered the officer a glass.

"It was just unfortunate," said West. "They took a picture of him, took a thumbprint. ... This says to me that every art gallery in town could be busted."

West wonders if the officers could have better things to do than issuing citations at art openings.

"It's not as if it was a loud crowd or bawdy behavior," she said. "It would be one thing if you had people who were causing problems, but we had none of that."

Officers said the tour constituted a public event and thus alcohol was not permitted.

"The ABC did their job, and if we broke the rules, we have to find out which rules we broke and what we need to do," Woodard said. "If we have to take out a $50 permit every month, like we do for the art festival, we will."

No Exposure

Supreme Court reverses decision for HIV claim.

By Janel Davis

Last Wednesday, the Tennessee Supreme Court issued an opinion reversing a decision to grant a Memphis woman workers' compensation payments for mental injury stemming from an alleged exposure to the HIV virus in 1998.

"We are unwilling to accept the appellee's subjective impressions concerning the co-worker's sexual orientation or frail medical condition as proof that his blood was in fact contaminated. To do so would be to further the prejudices and stereotypes surrounding AIDS," reads the high court's opinion.

The payments had first been granted in Shelby County Chancery Court after Mary Guess, an employee of Sharp Manufacturing Company, reported coming in contact with blood from an infected coworker. Guess, an assembly-line worker, said she had lost all ability to function normally after blood from a co-worker's hand landed on her hand. Guess testified that she received no penetrating injury, but she had open cuts on her hands and had recently received a manicure.

Although Guess was not certain that the worker was HIV-positive, she surmised that he was due to his frequent illnesses, work isolation, friends with AIDS, frail appearance, being on the mailing list of a gay-rights organization, and because he "looked and acted gay." As many as five HIV tests administered to Guess came back negative.

Guess was treated for panic attacks and agitated depression. When doctors determined her to be vocationally impaired, the court awarded Guess permanent partial disability due to a 38 percent loss of her mental faculties. Her employers had long rejected her claims, refusing to pay the damages because Guess had no proof of actual exposure to the virus.

Sprawling Out

TDOT makes plans to widen Austin Peay Highway.

By Bianca Phillips

Those who have complained about the dangers of trying to pass on the two-lane section of Austin Peay Highway that runs from Paul Barrett Parkway to the Tipton County line can breathe sighs of relief. The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) has plans to widen the highway to four lanes.

"I drive down Austin Peay every day and see several near-wrecks where people are trying to pass and are bogging people down," said Millington resident Jimmy Cleveland.

Traffic studies indicate 11,450 vehicles will traverse Austin Peay daily in 2005 and will increase to 18,300 daily in 2025.

One hundred and thirty tracts of privately owned land and four homes are being acquired as right-of-way. Kim Keelor, TDOT public-relations officer, said the homeowners will be given fair market value for their homes. The home of Charlene Strong, a Millington resident since 1990, is among the four.

"They're going to have to buy my house, but fortunately we'll have enough land left to rebuild it," she said. "It's going to be an inconvenience, but the sooner, the better. There's definitely a need to widen the highway."

The proposed right-of-way also runs through 10 wetland areas, totaling some 15 acres. TDOT is awaiting a response from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about the route to take through the wetlands and is developing a plan for wetland replacement.

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