PLAINTIFFS CLAIM JUDGE PURSUED “PERSONAL VENDETTA”
by Sharon Rondeau
The lawsuit was filed at the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee by pro se plaintiffs Celitria Watson and April Malone.
In January 2017, Malone was arrested by the Memphis Police Department while preparing for work, while Watson was arrested at her job and her car impounded. They were named in a criminal complaint as two of 16 defendants accused of operating a drug ring with the intent to deliver the contraband to a nearby prison.
Last July, the prosecution abruptly removed Watson, Malone and Malone’s mother, Patricia Malone, from the case with little explanation or fanfare.
In a joint telephone interview on Wednesday, the plaintiffs told The Post & Email that all of the attorneys they approached about representing them in their federal case claimed to have a “conflict” and demurred.
Shelby County comprises Tennessee’s 30th Judicial District with a population of nearly one million. In Tennessee, each district’s chief prosecutor, known as the “District Attorney General” (DAG), wields enormous power and, according to former Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper, Jr., “is answerable to no superior and has virtually unbridled discretion in determining whether to prosecute and for what offense.”
The 30th Judicial District DAG, Amy Weirich, has been reported to have earned the “highest number of misconduct findings” in a study made public last summer among the states of Tennessee, California, Louisiana and Missouri. Weirich supervises a number of assistant district attorneys general, three of whom are defendants in Watson and Malone’s lawsuit.
In March 2017, Weirich received a “private” reprimand from the Tennessee Supreme Court for her conduct in the well-publicized Noura Jackson case wherein Weirich attempted to intimidate Jackson into speaking during the trial in violation of her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.
A separate ethics complaint found that Assistant DAG Stephen Jones had withheld exculpatory evidence from Jackson’s defense team. Jackson spent nine years in prison before her conviction was overturned by an appellate court.
The Post & Email has reported on the Shelby County case of Jason Lamar White, who was charged, tried and convicted, under highly questionable circumstances, of arranging to have drugs shipped to a private home. White was serving a lengthy prison sentence for burglary which was nearly satisfied when he was accused of the new crime based on hearsay from a correction officer.
Despite an exculpatory confession from a third defendant, Montez Mullins, White and an acquaintance, Kristina Cole, were tried, found guilty and given lengthy prison sentences. White was sentenced to 60 more years in prison, while Cole received 12.5 years.
As detailed by White’s mother and shown in discovery documents, Cole could not have made certain phone calls to White at the time the prosecution claimed she did, as she was in police custody and her phone temporarily held by the authorities. According to Kimberly White, Det. Mark Gaia of the Bartlett Police Department confessed to making the calls while on the witness stand.
As was reported last November, Watson had downloaded a Google app to her phone which automatically saves every text message she sends to her email account. It was that technology which served to prove that the text messages presented as “evidence” implicating both her and Malone were altered by parties who remain unidentified.
The removal of the three defendants came after Celitria provided to her attorney, and her attorney to the prosecution and to Malone’s attorney, documentary evidence that Celitria’s text messages to Kendrick, harvested by means of a wiretap warrant signed by Weirich, had been altered.
In a letter sent to this writer last week, Kendrick Watson maintained that evidence was fabricated against him and that Shelby County Judge Lee V. Coffee exhibited gross misconduct by involving himself in his prosecution. In the letter, Kendrick identified April Malone as his girlfriend.
Coffee has been reported to be corrupt by Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III, who was asked in August 2016 by NWCX inmate Jerome L. Johnson to testify as to his knowledge of the operation of Tennessee grand juries. Fitzpatrick related to this writer following his testimony in Coffee’s courtroom that the judge dismissed him from the witness stand after only “five minutes.”
Celitria Watson and April Malone believe they were targeted by the Memphis PD solely because of their relationship to Kendrick. Both women are supporting families and detailed specific losses they said they have suffered since they were falsely accused of participating in the alleged scheme.
In November, Celitria told us:
I was arrested on January 31, 2017 while at work. There were 15 co-defendants for a total of 16. We were all charged with conspiracy to take controlled substances into a penal institution, money laundering, and conspiracy to money-launder. I knew that I didn’t do anything, so I knew that anything I was going to get was going to be fabricated. I knew only one person in the case, and that was my brother, Kendrick Watson. I never met anyone; I never talked to Kendrick about drugs; I never took any drugs to Kendrick; we never had a discussion about it.
My brother already had a case in Shelby County, and he was locked up on a conspiracy charge with another 16 co-defendants. He found fabricated evidence in that case, so he was fighting that case really hard, and it was about to be dismissed because the judge had said a bunch of things in court that he shouldn’t have said. Right before they were about to dismiss it, they indicted us on a lie.
I asked my attorney for discovery and any other evidence to prove why I was on the case, and I never got anything.
Several days later, April Malone related:
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.
In regard to the lawsuit having been filed in federal court rather than state court, Celitria told us that she and April anticipate a better result at the federal level than in Tennessee. “Even if they don’t do what needs to be done, we can go higher to an appellate court,” she said.
Both plaintiffs said that the false accusations levied against them and their filing of the suit have cost them considerable expense, time away from work, and psychological anguish. “For me,” Celitria said, “it’s been more of a physical and emotional thing. I had to stop working for three months and go to therapy. Just going to my doctor became hard for me. I just couldn’t go back to my old job, because I felt that they were all thinking, ‘She did it.'”
“Just recently I happened to run into an acquaintance and find another job. This is my third day,” Celitria said on Wednesday, adding that her four elder children are all employed and were able to contribute to the household expenses while she was unemployed.
April said that about a month ago, she decided to put her home on the market because she “hadn’t been comfortable since all of this happened.” She is expecting a sale in the near future. “It was perfect for me and my family before this happened, but not anymore,” she said. Fortunately, she said, they have secured new housing.
Both plaintiffs said that neither the Memphis PD nor the prosecutor’s office has been in touch with them since they were removed from the case against Kendrick and more recently, filed suit.
When we asked why they chose to sue, April responded, “We just want justice to be served, because they did take us through a lot of life-changing experiences when they had a personal vendetta against someone. They were using any extreme measures to get that person,” meaning Kendrick Watson.
“Even though our lawsuit asks for compensation, it also seeks evidence that we were not able to obtain and to clear things up in Kendrick’s case,” Celitria said. “His case is from the same poisonous fruit. They can’t say that they just did it to us; they did it to him, too.”
“Our cases really are like one and the same,” April said. “To help Kendrick is our first priority.”
Both women said that Kendrick’s former attorney advised him to take a plea deal, with April of the opinion that the attorney’s “hands were tied at one point.”
“The attorney didn’t have any fight in him,” Celitria recalled. “The judge that heard Kendrick’s first case — Judge Lee Coffee — was the judge who got us indicted. It’s not just a prosecution thing; it’s not a police thing; it’s a judge thing. Kendrick’s attorney told him, ‘Kendrick, this judge is basically corrupt, and he’s going to give you 100 years. Don’t let the number scare you, because I’m going to fight. But at least with this deal, you’ll have an ‘out’ date and you can go back and do a post-conviction (petition), because Lee Coffee’s not going to be fair to you.”
She then added of Kendrick’s experience in Coffee’s court:
If someone actually took a look at Kendrick’s evidence — what they actually used to get the wiretaps, the bogus SAR form — it would probably be dismissed. His case was headed for dismissal and then they indicted us right before his case was to be dismissed. I don’t think it even would have made it to a jury; I think the judge would have had to dismiss it.
April then recounted that “When Kendrick went up for parole in February, I drove up there to go to his parole hearing, and the judge had already called up there to throw his parole off.”
“The prosecutors control everything when it comes to Tennessee, and if you don’t get the federal courts involved, you’re finished,” Celitria observed, adding that after she filed a complaint against her attorney with the Board of Professional Responsibility (BOPR), a representative from the agency contacted her in writing to ask if she planned to sue the state. “I told them ‘yes,’ and I haven’t heard from them since,” she said.
In conclusion, April said that had she and Kendrick not been falsely accused by Shelby County, she would not have known of the corruption within the 30th Judicial District prosecutor’s office. “The people should know who they’re voting in. We thought they were ethical people before this happened to us. This has been a really bumpy road, because we can’t get back on track. We’re trying to rebuild everything financially; we had to pay out the lawyers and the bonds. My mom and Celitria had to pay to get their cars back, and they really kind-of messed with us mentally.”
The lawsuit is below. The Post & Email has redacted both plaintiffs’ personal information from the last page.