IF THE PRESS CANNOT REPORT ACCURATELY, HOW ARE THE PEOPLE TO KNOW?
by Sharon Rondeau
(Nov. 6, 2017) — An article in The Commercial Appeal dated October 29, 2017 contains a number of misstatements, according to the mother of the inmate named in the first paragraph.
Kimberly White, mother of Tennessee state inmate Jason Lamar White, told The Post & Email on Sunday that the photograph said to depict her son reportedly obtained from the Memphis “Metro Police” is actually someone else.
As The Post & Email reported last month, Jason White, Kristina Cole and Montez Mullins were convicted in July of allegedly arranging to have methamphetamine shipped to Cole’s home early last year. All were given lengthy prison sentences, with White and Mullins sentenced to decades of additional time behind bars.
The Commercial Appeal’s article erroneously states that Mullins and White are brothers. It also relies on statements made by District Attorney General Amy Weirich’s office that White carried out the scheme by using a contraband cell phone from inside the prison.
Kimberly White reported that no cell phone was produced as evidence during the trial and that text messages allegedly sent from Cole’s phone on the evening of February 3, 2016 to White about the shipment were actually sent by Det. Mark Gaia, revealed during his confession on the witness stand.
As we performed our due diligence last month in researching the story, we contacted Gaia for comment. He referred us to the public relations section of the Bartlett Police Department (BPD), whose representative told us that it possesses no documents on the case since it was “bound over” to the Shelby County grand jury.
The correction officer who testified to the existence of the cell phone referred The Post & Email’s inquiry about his testimony to Neysa Taylor, Communications Director for the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC). Within minutes, Taylor sent us an email stating that all media inquiries are to be directed to her and that the results of internal investigations are kept private by Tennessee statute.
While the CA article reported that cell phones, which are considered “contraband” in prisons and jails, are sometimes brought in by prison employees, it did not mention that drugs, drug paraphernalia, and other types of forbidden items also make their way into Tennessee’s prisons on what has been reported to be a large scale as verified by Nashville’s Channel 4.
Also absent from the article is that Mullins’ recorded confession of having arranged for the drugs to be shipped from California to Bartlett, TN early last year was played during the trial but that Mullins was not called to testify and therefore could not be cross-examined by attorneys for Cole and White.
Kimberly White supplied documentation showing that the package was originally addressed to “2552 Linwood Road, Bartlett, TN 38134,” but that Cole’s address was “2552 Jenwood Street, Memphis, TN 38134,” where the Bartlett Police Department delivered it on February 3, 2016.
A detective who allegedly repackaged the methamphetamine and sent it from Visalia, CA to the BPD, suggesting that a “controlled delivery” be made to Cole’s home, did not return a request for comment from this publication.
An article about the case published on October 13 by Fox 13 included the fact that Mullins had confessed to the crime but bears great similarity to a press release published at the DAG’s website announcing the three convictions.
On Monday morning, The Post & Email was unable to access the Shelby County DAG website.
White was serving his last year of a 21-year sentence for having participated in a burglary as a youth. According to Kimberly White, Cole had no criminal record prior to her conviction, for which she was sentenced to 13.5 years in prison.
Chris Scruggs, the Shelby County assistant district attorney who handles narcotics cases, refused to communicate with us other than to send us an oblique email stating that he would provide no comment. The Post & Email was offered Scruggs’ email address by a staffer.
Weirich and other DAGs in Tennessee reportedly want the legislature to pass a law making possession of a cell phone by an inmate a crime. Of the current law against cell phones in prisons, the CA quoted Weirich as having said, “…if prison guards catch someone trying to bring a phone into the prison they can be charged with introduction of contraband into a penal facility” but that inmates themselves cannot be charged.
The Fair Punishment Project reported in July that out of four states over a five-year period, Weirich was found to have demonstrated the highest number of “ethical violations” and instances of misconduct. In March, Weirich received a private reprimand from the Tennessee Supreme Court for demanding in court that defendant Noura Jackson break her silence in exercising her Fifth Amendment right not to testify in the 2005 case charging her with her mother’s murder.
ADA Steven Jones’s withholding of evidence from the defense in that case was found by the state’s highest court to be “an isolated, inadvertent violation” for which he received no censure.
Kimberly White told The Post & Email that her son’s and Cole’s convictions are a “huge miscarriage of justice.” White is appealing the conviction, which yielded a sentence of 60 more years in prison without the possibility of parole.