City Reporter 

City Reporter

Breaking and Entering

MPD is tracking small-business burglar.

By Janel Davis

Small-business owners could be feeling the pinch this Christmas season and not just from a failing economy.

The Memphis Police Department has been tracking a series of burglaries since November 1st involving a similar pattern. Major Billy Garrett with the Burglary Bureau said a lone suspect has been targeting primarily small restaurant-type businesses in the Hickory Hill/East Precinct area.

Surveillance videos show a dark-complexioned man wearing a hooded jacket or cap approach the businesses during early-morning hours and kick in glass doors or windows. The suspect then takes either the cash register or drawer and leaves in a mid-size vehicle. No other individuals are thought to be involved. The suspect has not come into contact with any business employees and does not display a weapon in any of the videos.

Of the 25 burglary cases, only five have taken place outside the Hickory Hill area. The others have been scattered throughout the city. The thief has also burglarized dry-cleaning operations and pager retail outlets, with many being on major streets, said Garrett.

"The suspect is causing more of an inconvenience than anything else," he said. "For the most part, he has gotten very little from these burglaries."

Police statistics show that 249 business burglaries were committed citywide last month, up 3.3 percent from this time last year. Although this is a slight increase, Garrett said overall the numbers have decreased in residential and nonresidential burglaries.

To deter criminals, Garrett advised small businesses to make sure their locations are well- lighted, have a working alarm system, keep little money in registers, and if budgets permit, invest in shatterproof doors and windows or even security bars.

"We hope to use our video technology to catch this guy, but he isn't going to be the kind of person that just stops," said Garrett. "He will probably continue until he's caught."

Union Help

Employees are still hoping for recognized organization.

By Janel Davis

In a battle that included boycotts, petitions, ministers, congressmen, and even Jesse Jackson, employees at a Memphis discount center finally scored a victory when the Nation Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a decision last week certifying their union election.

The three-page decision also obligated Fred's Discount Store administrators to begin negotiating a collective bargaining agreement and allows the NLRB to proceed with processing several unfair labor-practice charges made by workers at the company since May 2002.

"Our first need will be to negotiate a union contract," said Harris Raynor, regional director of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees (UNITE). "[Fred's CEO Michael] Hayes has responded to a letter I sent asking for a meeting date but said he would get back with me on a date after an upcoming board meeting."

The NLRB decision stems from actions taken by the company after more than 270 Fred's warehouse employees voted for union representation by UNITE. The workers cited poor working conditions, low wages, and limited benefits as issues to be addressed by the company through UNITE. Since the vote, some of the employees have been terminated -- allegedly due to union participation.

Although previous attempts by UNITE representatives to meet with Hayes have been futile, Raynor remains "cautiously optimistic." "We expect Fred's to begin bargaining shortly," he said. "But in case Fred's is not prepared to begin, we will bring our case before the court of public opinion as well as any other forum necessary to bring justice for these employees."

Fred's CFO Jerry Shore declined to comment on the decision, referring the matter to Hayes, who was out of town.

Fred's warehouse employees are not the only employees with unionization troubles. Registered nurses at the Regional Medical Center at Memphis (The Med) have been protesting unsuccessfully since last year for hospital administrators to recognize its Service Employees International Union. In efforts to advance their cause, members of the Families for Quality Health Care petitioned hospital board chairman Lewis Donelson this week for that recognition. Until this point, Donelson has been steadfast in his denial of their requests. n


The Blotter

Absurd crimes from the local police files.

The devil is in the details (Part One): In late October, the owner of a Millington gas station cashed a $300 payroll check for a longtime acquaintance. Unfortunately, the check turned out to be fraudulent, written by a man who couldn't possibly have done so. The police report says: "We have a copy of the death certificate" for the man "showing a date of death as 10/24/03 which is before this check was written and does have a signature of [the man] in the endorsement block."

The devil is in the details (Part Two): Police responded to an arson call November 26th at Jillian's. According to the report, a supervisor was doing a routine bathroom check when he noticed a fire in one of the stalls. As he began to extinguish the fire, a man in the bathroom aroused the supervisor's suspicion by asking him about the fire. He told police that the man was standing by a urinal as if using it, "however the suspect did not have his pants undone." The suspect then immediately left with two other guys "laughing and slapping 'high five'" on the way out.

Why wait for charity to come to you? On November 28th, a woman was volunteering for the Salvation Army's Angel Tree booth at Oak Court Mall. A man and woman -- both in their 20s -- came up and started asking a lot of questions about the program. After they had gone, the volunteer found that her key pouch had been taken from her purse. Later the pouch was found, but the woman's money, driver's license, and credit card were missing.

Downtown Doc

Veterinary clinic will open downtown in January.

By Bianca Phillips

With the revitalization of downtown in full-swing, new residents are not all of the two-legged variety. With an increase of people comes an increase of their four-legged friends, and by January, there should be an animal hospital in the area to meet their medical needs.

At the corner of Third and Jackson, an old doctor's office is being revamped to house Atlanta-based veterinarian Dr. Susanne Heartsill's Downtown Animal Hospital. Originally from Dyersburg, Tennessee, Heartsill says her parents, who live in Harbor Town, begged her to come back to Memphis and open a clinic near their area.

After three years of searching "every single empty building in the downtown area," Heartsill finally settled on 347 North Third Street. Since it once housed a medical practice, the exam rooms only need a little reconfiguring to be compatible for animal services.

"I couldn't believe how perfect it was," said Heartsill. "There's an empty lot next to it so if we ever want to grow or tear it down and start over again, we'll be able to do that."

Heartsill, who attended vet school at Mississippi State, specializes in chemotherapy and orthopedic surgery. She says the hospital will provide those services, as well as laser surgery and a variety of upper-level diagnostics. It will also provide basic services such as dental, bathing, and grooming. The clinic will treat mostly cats and dogs. n

Blue Citrus Ribbon

Local indie film garners award at Chicago film fest.

By Bianca Phillips

Doors are opening for local filmmaker and Media Co-op co-founder Morgan Jon Fox after his film Blue Citrus Hearts took home the award for Best Narrative at the Reeling Film Festival in Chicago in late November.

The Reeling Film Fest is one of the oldest gay and lesbian film festivals in the world. The high school coming-out story is now being considered for festivals in Miami, Toronto, Australia, and New Zealand. Fox says he's also been talking to distributors about possibly getting the film released on DVD, and he says there's been some discussion about a cable viewing.

"This is a pretty amazing accomplishment for me because this is a major award," says the 23-year-old Fox, who taught himself filmmaking. "There's a really nice following after you win a big festival like that. Festivals from all over are e-mailing us every other day now asking us to show the film."

The Chicago Free Press said of the film: "I am adding Fox to my list of filmmakers to watch and I am wondering just what is going on in Memphis to foster work so solid and accomplished."

Blue Citrus Hearts, which follows the blossoming romance of two boys from very different family backgrounds, picked up the award for Best Hometown Feature at the Indie Memphis Film Fest in October.


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