City Reporter 

City Reporter

Mothers Against Domestic Violence

Pamela Davis looks for changes in laws.

By Mary Cashiola

When Pamela Davis was going through her late daughter's belongings, she found some paperwork that Jennifer Braddock needed to sell the house where she ultimately died.

"We were finally talking about moving her down to Mississippi," said Davis. "She said, 'Why should I have to move?' It was her first home. She loved her yard ... but sometimes you just have to flee."

But Braddock didn't get out soon enough. In August, she and two of her friends were shot in her East Memphis home by her ex-boyfriend and the father of her son. Christopher James Hudson then turned the gun on himself.

Davis and a few friends are trying to start a grassroots organization to strengthen Tennessee's laws on domestic violence. They're looking to Mothers Against Drunk Driving for inspiration.

"To make something good come from this situation, we decided we had to do something," said Davis. "It can't help Jennifer, but I'm sure there are other women out there going through this same thing."

Davis, a grandmother now caring for Braddock and Hudson's 6-year-old son, calls the three murders preventable. She now has two manila folders full of police reports, complaints Braddock filed, and orders of protection against Hudson. "Basically, all [Hudson] ever got was a slap on the hand," said Davis. "If they had been paying attention, something should have been done."

In 1999, Braddock filed an order of protection against Hudson. That didn't stop him from cutting her car's brake line or continually making death threats against her and her family. He would always disappear before police showed up, and Braddock would file a report with Citizens Dispute, the city's civil-complaint office at 201 Poplar.

"When you go down to the Citizens Dispute area, it's ridiculous. You've had years of documented behavior, years of violated protective orders ... and still they did nothing." Finally, Davis and her husband went to the domestic-violence bureau's office themselves and met with the head of the bureau, Lt. Robert Gill.

"[Hudson] was in the computer under three different names. None of this was compiled," Davis said. "When you go before the court or a judge, all this history just evaporates. No one knows anything about it."

Gill said the department can easily cross-check names; the problem is how many names will pop up. "If we look up James Patterson, we'll find all the offenses under that one name, but we have to locate the one James Patterson we're talking about."

"We handle only felonies. Citizens Dispute handles all the misdemeanors, but we have a standing policy that if someone walks in our door, we'll handle it up here," said Gill.

But for Davis that standing policy is not good enough. It bothers her that Hudson was let out of jail last spring with a smaller bond than a criminal charge would have demanded. And because she feels that the way Braddock's complaints were handled -- as domestic violence -- contributed to her death, Davis has written to the governor and Harold Ford's office asking for legislative changes.

"When does domestic violence become criminalized? I asked the police: 'Why isn't this a home-invasion murder?' The police report said it was a lovers' quarrel. That just infuriates me," said Davis. "There's a stigma associated with domestic violence. If people just understood that it's not the victim's fault ... You can't deal with a crazy person on your own."

Scammed

Court date delayed as more real estate files are investigated.

By Janel Davis

An October federal court date has been postponed until next summer in three ongoing real estate fraud cases while prosecutors investigate additional predatory-lending incidents committed by the defendants.

Plaintiffs' attorneys in the cases were successful in a court bid to obtain records from Equity Title & Escrow Company of Memphis regarding their lending practices and customer base. The company is one of several lenders, real estate firms and agents, appraisers, and law firms charged with racketeering. The companies are accused of using predatory lending practices in home sales to nine plaintiff families.

The racketeering scheme involved real estate agents who promised low-income and first-time home buyers houses that they could not afford. The agents then worked in conjunction with appraisers who inflated the home values, loan agents who misrepresented income and savings amounts on contracts, and mortgage companies that held buyers' loans with substantial interest rates. In several cases, a second mortgage was taken out on the property without the buyers' knowledge. In one case, a buyer wound up with more than $320,000 in fees on a $77,000 home.

The civil suits, currently being heard by U.S. District Judge Bernice Donald, cover actions occurring from 1997 to 1999. Lawyers are seeking compensatory and punitive damages from the accused companies and individuals.

"We've already settled with eight defendants and are proceeding [with the cases] against 12 to 13 more," said Webb Brewer, one of five prosecuting attorneys. "We would like to send a message to the community that predatory lending practices will not be tolerated."

Previous settlements have resulted in $220,000 in cash settlements. More importantly, mortgages for the families have been reduced and set at a 6 percent fixed-interest rate, based on corrected appraisal values minus $10,000. Brewer estimates that the savings would equal $1.5 million based on amounts for 30-year mortgages.

Brewer, Margaret Barr-Myers, Sapna Raj, Susie Latner, who are attorneys with Memphis Area Legal Services, are handling the prosecution, along with private attorney Richard Fields. Several of the attorneys, who also operate the Memphis Fair Housing Center, noticed a pattern with the companies and people involved in cases like these. As more came to light, they decided to file the suits.

"In the state of Tennessee, Memphis is the city where predatory lending is most prevalent," said Brewer. "Most people don't understand home financing, and predatory lenders know this. The solution is educational programs. I hope that new [predatory lending] legislation requires some sort of counseling before buying a home."

The prosecutors filed an additional suit six weeks ago regarding predatory lending with home-improvement loans.

Helping Out

Energy assistance plan reviewed.

By Janel Davis

Tennessee's Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is up for review next Monday before state officials submit it to the federal government.

The LIHEAP is composed of funds from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services administered statewide by the Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS). Once money is awarded to the state, 20 contract agencies act as brokers for the funds, making payments to utility companies for their assistance programs. The Shelby County Community Services Agency serves as the contract agency for Shelby County.

Last year, Tennessee received $21 million for the program, according to Regina Surber with the DHS Community Services Grant Programs. "We expect to get about the same amount this year," she said. "The amount doesn't usually vary that much unless there is some major disaster that warrants more assistance." Surber said most of the funds are used for heating assistance.

Changes in the plan for fiscal year 2004 include a mandatory summer cooling assistance benefit with 10 to 20 percent of contract agencies' budgets set aside for this assistance, but the agencies have the discretion to establish their own benefit levels. Also included in the changes are poverty income guidelines revised by the federal government.

Contract agencies are slated to remain the same throughout the state. Tennesseans with concerns about the program should contact the DHS office in Nashville.

Cleaning Up

Scientists look at ways to turn dump into park.

By Bianca Phillips

The Memphis Depot Redevelopment Corporation plans to someday transform the Defense Depot's Dunn Field, a 64-acre former waste-disposal and mineral-storage site, into a light industrial area that would house the MATA light-rail repair facility as well as a recreational park.

But the site must first undergo a thorough clean-up to remove any toxins from the soil. From September through November, a group of scientists from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be on-site conducting a pre-design clean-up investigation of the 14-acre waste disposal area.

"We have to go out and see what's there before we can clean it up," said Jackie Noble, public relations officer for the Defense Logistics Agency. "We're expecting to find trash, since burying trash used to be a big thing there. We've found plates, metals, wires, and cans, and there might be a solvent or degreaser that's buried in a can out there."

Noble says solvents could be a cause for concern for the scientists, but she doesn't expect them to have any impact on the community surrounding the depot. She said chemical-warfare material buried at the depot was removed in early 2001, and a lead clean-up was completed in August 2003.

The Defense Depot was declared a Superfund site in 1992 due to the high concentrations of cancer-causing chemicals in the soil. Clean-up efforts have been ongoing since the early 1990s.

"I would never say it's totally safe until it's all done," she said. "We're taking each project one step at a time to make sure we do everything thoroughly."

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