by Sharon Rondeau

(Mar. 21, 2019) — On Wednesday evening, National Police Defense Foundation (NPDF) Founder and Executive Director Joseph Occhipinti informed this writer that he received a response from an aide to Rep. Steve Cohen to his request for an FBI investigation into the arrest and conviction of former Shelby County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Earley Story of Memphis two decades ago.

Cohen represents Tennessee’s ninth congressional district, encompassing the city of Memphis and greater Shelby County in the western part of the Volunteer State.

Established in 1995, the NPDF strives to assist law-enforcement officers “victimized by criminal elements that fabricate allegations of misconduct” with their legal defenses. The organization is congressionally-recognized, and Occhipinti has received numerous awards and accolades from local and state organizations and governments as well as from foreign governments and the United Nations.

On March 10, The Post & Email highlighted a press release the NPDF released detailing its efforts to catalyze an investigation into the circumstances of Story’s arrest and conviction nearly 20 years ago, including its dispatching of letters to Cohen, the Memphis office of the FBI, and Tennessee Governor Bill Lee.

The NPDF initially conducted its own investigation into Story’s allegations in May 1997.  Story believes the SCSO retaliated against him for having informed the local NAACP and FBI of human and civil rights violations within the Shelby County jail, where Story was working at the time.  His reports are supported by documentation he preserved from his time at the jail as well as by a U.S. Justice Department investigation which in 2000 found serious and numerous civil and constitutional violations leading to the appointment of a Special Master.

In a February 11, 2019 interview, Occhipinti told The Post & Email, “One of the factors we looked at was the fact that he actually reported to the FBI the allegations of official corruption. I have a recollection of talking to an FBI agent who told me that he believed in Story’s case and allegations, that he was railroaded, and it didn’t surprise him based upon the allegations. My recollection is that I asked him why the FBI couldn’t open up an investigation, and he later said something to the effect that ‘it didn’t fall under their jurisdiction.’”

Last fall, Story obtained documentation generated by the legal adviser for the SCSO showing that the activity log of the confidential informant to whom he allegedly sold marijuana in January 1997 contained no entry for the date on which Story was ultimately convicted of the crime, January 22, 1997.  That documentation was withheld from him, Story said, at trial, when he was represented by an attorney who also had represented the SCSO.

The charge was originally dismissed in April 1997 by Judge Ann Pugh for “lack of probable cause.” However, four months later, the SCSO recharged Story in possible violation of his Fifth Amendment Rights.  He was convicted on December 9, 1999, since which time he has been attempting to have the felony conviction overturned and his record expunged.

In its press release earlier this month, Occhipinti said, “As part of the NPDF investigation I spoke to an FBI Special Agent who shared similar concerns of Sgt. Story’s innocence and that he may have been railroaded into a conviction; however, the FBI declined jurisdiction at that time to investigate. Moreover, an FBI investigation is now warranted since it appears that the civil rights of Sgt. Story may have been violated.”

On Thursday morning, Occhipinti told us, “Last night I spoke to the congressional aide for Congressman Cohen, and he wanted to speak to Earley to get further information.  I told him the goal here is to get an independent FBI investigation, because if it confirms what the evidence shows now, all they have to do is report to the district attorney their evidence, and in the best interest of justice, any legitimate district attorney would go to the court and ask that the conviction be overturned.”

“I’m asking the FBI to look into the conviction of Earley Story,” Occhipinti summarized Thursday.  “I want them to do the right thing.”



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