“SOMEBODY WAS DOING A RUSH JOB TO GET US INDICTED”
by Sharon Rondeau
Shelby County comprises Tennessee’s 30th Judicial District, with the DAG’s office headed by Amy Weirich since her election in 2014 to an eight-year term. In late March, Weirich received a private reprimand from the Tennessee Supreme Court for her reported misconduct in the courtroom during the 2009 trial of Noura Jackson for the murder of her mother.
Malone’s story was quite similar to Watson’s in that she said that she had no involvement in a drug conspiracy, nor did she know any of the other 15 co-defendants other than her mother; Celitria Watson by sight; and Watson’s brother, Kendrick Watson, who was already in the Shelby County jail for other reasons.
April Malone identified herself to The Post & Email as Kendrick’s girlfriend. She said that Kendrick had been active in his community before the charges arose and been employed as a manager of two local restaurants.
Both women claimed that Kendrick Watson was falsely accused and convicted. He is now housed at the Morgan County Correctional Complex (MCCX) serving a 23-year sentence on combined charges and convictions.
In advance of the interview, Malone supplied documentation obtained from Kendrick Watson’s attorney showing that Kendrick disputed the discovery documentation arising from previous accusations and alleging that a Suspicious Activity Report purportedly generated by his federally-chartered credit union was falsified by someone.
On page 11 of the documentation, Memphis Police Department detective Jonathan Overly’s request of Verizon for a wiretap on Kendrick Watson’s phone states that Weirich approved the application. On page 28, Overly justifies his request for a wiretap because “all normal avenues of investigation have been carefully evaluated for use or have been attempted with inadequate results.”
On the following page, Overly states:
On page 38 of the discovery, Kendrick Watson’s attorney at the time, Terrell Tooten, wrote in an Amended Motion to Suppress Evidence:
On page 39, he told the court:
In coverage of various Tennessee judicial districts, The Post & Email has reported that each county grand jury is headed by a foreman who is illegally hand-picked by the criminal court judge. In Shelby County, there are both a grand jury foreman and grand jury foreman pro tempore hand-selected by the judge.
Moreover, laws passed by the Tennessee General Assembly in 1984 and updated in 2012 ordered the county criminal courts to cease functioning and combine into multiple-county “districts,” with exceptions made for large counties.
Although never repealed, the state’s judicial branch ignored, and continues to ignore, those laws.
A map of Tennessee’s judicial landscape shows that the counties combined administratively to form the designated districts. However, each county continues, in violation of the 1984 laws, to empanel grand jurors and trial jurors from within its own borders only. Shelby County was designated as the sole county within the 30th Judicial District and thus is exempt from the aforementioned requirements.
In 2015, LCDR Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III (Ret) reported a “prisoners-for-profit” scheme in operation from the Northwest Correctional Complex (NWCX) which placed ineligible inmates into certain educational classes in order to bill the federal government for thousands of dollars.
Since that time, other inmates have reported the same phenomenon as having involved them personally.
Celitria Watson provided documentation to The Post & Email demonstrating that her text messages between July and September of last year, captured by a wiretap authorization, were altered by an as-yet unidentified party or parties to make her look complicit in the alleged conspiracy to supply drugs and other contraband to the Shelby County Penal Farm.
In July, Celitria Watson, April Malone, and Patricia Malone were removed as co-defendants in the case by motion of Assistant District Attorney General Austin Scofield after Watson showed her actual text messages from the critical time to her attorney. Watson uses a Google app on her phone which saves all of her text messages to her email account, and, as The Post & Email reported on Saturday, the messages provided by the prosecution differed in some cases.
April Malone described messages which were duplicated, combined a name with an incorrect phone number, and which contained text messages which she said she never sent.
On Saturday, she described the events leading up to her arrest and ultimate release from the case:
We were helping Kendrick with every court case and giving him support. I think Judge Lee Coffee was collecting phone records, according to Kendrick’s lawyer, to see who he was communicating with. When they got our numbers, they started listening in on our phones with a Stingray device and tied us into the case by falsifying our text messages, stating that we went to meet this lady and introduced contraband into a facility. So they ended up indicting us in the case.
I have known Kendrick since we were 13 or 14; he’s my boyfriend. We never texted about anything illegal, and we never met any of the people they said we actually met. They just kind-of took some of the statements out and placed them to make it seem as if it would fit.
When we went to court, we didn’t even know who the other people were. We had never seen these people in our lives. They actually took another person who was incarcerated who the other people knew and put Kendrick into his place to make it look as if Kendrick was the organizer, but he was not.
The Post & Email then said, “On page 6 of the documentation, the Orion Federal Credit Union told Kendrick Watson’s attorney that it never releases Suspicious Activity Reports to anyone, but the Memphis Police Department claimed to have obtained it. Where do you think it came from?” to which Ms. Malone responded, “They actually made up the letter. The banks stopped doing paper SARs. If you look at the paper they presented in court, it contains errors, calling Kendrick “Kevin” in some places (p. 5).”
“What was Kendrick accused of before Celitria, your mother and you were brought in to the new case?”
They actually accused him of drugs. We went through four lawyers. His first lawyer asked if they had evidence, and they said, “No, we don’t have any evidence.” Everybody was working together, so we had to get rid of him. We found out that Judge Coffee had a part in this as well.
“What part did he play?”
He is the one, with the new case, who was asking for ten-day reports on Kendrick. Kendrick had an old case with him, so Coffee shouldn’t have been involved in the new case, but he’s the one who was signing off on all the documents on the new case.
“Where were you when you were arrested?”
I was at home getting ready to go to work, and the officers came — I don’t know who they were — and said, “You’re under arrest in an ongoing investigation.” I then found out that Kendrick had been under investigation since 2011. The officers told me that I was accused of taking contraband to a penal facility. And I said, “I’ve never taken anything to a penal facility.”
They took me to a precinct, and my mom was there, and I exclaimed, “What’s my mom doing here?” They took us down, and Kendrick’s sister was there. I thought, “What are we doing here? We haven’t done anything. This has to be really rigged, because I haven’t done anything.”
I got a lawyer, and she gave me all the paperwork, and we were looking at everything, and the paperwork was, in fact, rigged. They went in and changed messages and everything, so we knew there was something wrong with it. There was one young lady in there whose husband was trying to make her bond, and she was asked, “Do you know Kendrick (Watson)?” and she said, “No, I don’t know him.” Her husband told her that they were trying to tie her in with Kendrick but she said she’d never seen him before.
“Celitria said there were 16 of you, plus two of the names on the indictment are redacted.”
Yes, they had them blacked out. I think those two hadn’t been indicted yet, so they had to black them out so we wouldn’t know who they were.
Ms. Malone continued of her arrest and processing:
The only people I knew were my mother, Celitria, Kendrick and Terricka, who is an old friend.
They gave us some bonds; mine was $45,000; my mother’s was $100,000; Kendrick’s sister’s was $35,000, and I’m not sure what Terricka’s was, because she’s still incarcerated. She was actually named on the first case with Kendrick with Judge Lee Coffee, but the second case went to Judge Carter’s courtroom.
When we were getting ready to go to trial and I brought all the evidence to my lawyer, they said they were going to dismiss our case, saying that they knew that we were “on” to them changing the evidence.
“They gave a different reason on the “severance” motion,” The Post & Email noted.
They said it would have confused the jury. When we initially went to court, the judge appeared to be mad. The prosecutor wasn’t there, and the judge ended up saying that they weren’t going to sever anyone; everybody’s gong to go in and get this thing over with. But I think once they found out what we had discovered, he went ahead and severed us because it would have shown a lot of the things they were doing.
“How did you find out that some of the text messages were altered?”
With some of them, I knew I had never met this particular lady who they said we had met. The text messages were doubled-up, and there were a lot of misspelled text messages. A lot of them had Kendrick’s number, then it had my name, and then it had someone else’s name by it. It was supposed to have come from me, but I didn’t send it. There are a lot of times when they changed my phone number. They didn’t do a good job on what they were doing.
“Who conducted this dragnet?”
It was the OCU, Thermon Richardson and Detective Overly.
“Did they alter text messages of your mother’s as well?”
Yes. I don’t know about all the other people, but I know they altered my mom’s, Kendrick’s sister’s, and mine.
“Were you held at the precinct long?”
No, I got out on bond. I think they were trying to make it so that we wouldn’t be able help Kendrick again. They did a lot of things to get him in there from the beginning. Once he figured out that they had rigged up a lot of things to get him in there, you could see that Judge Coffee’s actions had changed toward him. It was a lot.
His lawyer was in jeopardy; they started threatening him with incarceration. Kendrick’s third lawyer had to get off the case because he was “on” to them and said there was a lot of stuff they were doing. They ended up scaring him so bad that he had to get off the case.
“Did they threaten his life?”
They must have threatened him really bad.
“Is the corruption something you knew about while you were growing up in the Memphis area, or was this your first exposure to it?” The Post & Email asked.
This was my first exposure to it when everything started happening with Kendrick. We would never have known that the city was full of corruption until it happened to us. Everybody’s working together, the judges and the prosecutors, because Amy Weirich is on a lot of things. I think one of the judges is getting ready to retire, so they’re trying to appoint one of the prosecutors to the judge’s seat. It seems as if everybody is working together.
After we looked at Celitria’s phone records, we saw duplicates and knew that they changed things. My attorney got my phone records and told the prosecutors, “I have my client’s records, and the phone records match as far as the times, but when it comes to the text messages, the times change; they jump.”
Some had Kendrick’s number, my name, and somebody else’s number. One conversation was from Ms. Griffin; another conversation was from Celitria. Somebody was doing a rush job to get us indicted.
Kendrick’s lawyer said they tried to take it to the grand jury a couple times, but the grand jury kept throwing it out. They finally got us indicted after throwing all of those charges at us.
“So the grand jury rejected it the first time?”
They rejected it three or four times. So I guess when they kept rejecting it, they had to add more things to it so they would accept it. They finally got an indictment after they put 16 charges on it.