by Sharon Rondeau
(Jun. 11, 2022) — On Thursday, The Post & Email received a phone call from TDOC inmate Jason Lamar White, who has been housed in New Mexico for the last three years but was recently returned to Tennessee, presumably for a long-awaited court hearing scheduled for July 5.
Through a source last week, The Post & Email was told White was transported from New Mexico to Tennessee on June 2 in a non-stop, 15-hour trip during which he was not allowed to exit the vehicle, even to use the bathroom.
In October 2017 White was convicted in Shelby County, which encompasses the city of Memphis, of two “Class ‘A'” felonies in connection with a drug-filled package dropped in early February 2016 on the porch of Shelby County resident Kristina Cole in a “controlled delivery” by the Bartlett Police Department.
White’s prosecution two months later came as he was close to completing a 20-year sentence for participating in a burglary when he was 18. In addition to the legal and constitutional issues raised in his post-conviction petition, White maintains his innocence in the 2016 incident in which last month, Cole’s post-conviction petition’s adjudication was reversed and remanded by an appellate court.
Carter had presided over Cole and White’s trials in the drug case and more recently, signed a transfer order for White on May 20, 2022 for transport from New Mexico to Tennessee. He remains the presiding jurist in White’s post-conviction matter despite White’s having filed two Motions to Recuse, citing what he claims was ex parte communication between Carter and the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney General Christopher Scruggs, in a May 2016 hearing supported by the court transcript.
At White’s sentencing, Carter meted out the maximum statutory punishment of 60 years in prison without the possibility of parole.
Previous to his 2010 election as a judge, Carter was a prosecutor for more than two decades. He has also worked as a public defender and in private law practice, according to the Shelby County criminal courts website.
In July of last year, The Post & Email observed that White’s two original “Class ‘E'” charges had disappeared from his online criminal record and were replaced with two higher charges without an explanation, one of the issues White raised in his post-conviction petition and which he hopes to air in court on July 5.
Last fall, TDOC Commissioner Tony Parker retired, after which Lisa Helton was named interim commissioner. Helton had served as Acting Assistant Commissioner of the Interstate Commission for Adult Offender Supervision (ICAOS), which “provides states the authority, accountability, and resources to track the supervision of offenders who move across state lines, thereby enhancing public safety and offender accountability.”
The commission in turn operates the Interstate Compact for Adult Offender Supervision, “a formal agreement between member states that seeks to promote public safety by systematically controlling the interstate movement of certain adult offenders.”
When White was transferred out of state, he was in the process of preparing an appeal. He has long said that his out-of-state placement has resulted in a lack of access to Tennessee law in order to prepare his appeals. More recently, in New Mexico he has encountered delays in sending and receiving legal mail from his “elbow” counsel, J. Shae Atkinson, over which he has filed a grievance, appeal and federal habeas corpus.
On Wednesday, The Post & Email contacted TDOC Communications Director Dorinda Carter and TDOC Advisory Counsel Bryce Coatney. We did not receive a return call or email from Carter, but minutes later we reached Coatney by phone. After stating the purpose of our call and providing White’s TDOC number, Coatney confirmed White had been returned to Tennessee. When we described the treatment we were told White had received during transport, to include his prohibition of using a bathroom, the revocation of normal telephone privileges once in Tennessee and the imposition of solitary confinement without apparent justification or documentation, Coatney responded that what we outlined was “completely out-of-line with our policies and practices” and that he therefore doubted the accuracy of the report.
According to a letter written to the commissioner by District Attorney General Amy Weirich shortly after White’s conviction, White had posed an imminent threat to his former attorney, Claiborne Ferguson, and Scruggs. However, White was never charged with the alleged crime of issuing “death threats,” nor was he charged as a result of Ferguson’s claim that White assaulted him in the courthouse, which was refuted by an eyewitness deputy on duty.
A Republican, Weirich is seeking re-election in August following her 2014 election to an eight-year term, the standard term for lead prosecutors in Tennessee. In 2017, Weirich received a private reprimand from the Tennessee Supreme Court for failing to turn over evidence in the case of Noura Jackson, who served 11 years in prison until her conviction was overturned by the same court.
Coatney stated to us that “the commissioner” makes the decision to either accept an inmate from another state or to send an inmate out-of-state. Reasons would include, Coatney said, situations in which an inmate had “made a lot of enemies” within a prison population or “presented a security concern.”
When we inquired as to whether a hearing is held during which an inmate could appeal a decision to send him out of state, Coatney replied, “I don’t think there is.”
We asked Coatney if he could research White’s current situation and the reasons behind it. Coatney said he recalled that “Memphis” took steps to return White to Tennessee for a court proceeding, to which we responded by providing an overview of the scheduled dates for the post-conviction petition hearing and subsequent delays.
We asked Coatney if White’s return to Tennessee is intended to be permanent or temporary. In general, he said, absent documentation of altered circumstances, prisoners housed outside of Tennessee are returned there after legal proceedings.
As had been reported to us last week, during Thursday’s phone call White confirmed he has not been enabled to make telephone calls to anyone other than an attorney and that his surroundings are unjustifiably harsh. “They’re not allowing me no phone…” he said. “They put me in what they call an iron-bar cell; it’s all iron in here, and there’s nowhere to sit down; it’s just a bed, a toilet; there’s nothing else provided to me…This is what they call a ‘behavior cell’; when an inmate acts out in their own cell, this is the cell where they put you. There’s no table, no window; it’s kind-of dark in the cell. It’s totally different from any other cell. They’re trying to treat me like I’m a dangerous inmate. They told other inmates not to be on my door; they took me outside by myself with no one else being out there; they do not want me to communicate with no other inmate.”
The warning to other inmates in the pod, White said, indicated that if “anybody comes on my door or to my cell, that they would be locked down.”
“All these staff have known me for 20 years,” he continued, “and mostly the staff theirself don’t have problems with me. Just Nashville, the administration…I have never done anything in my whole entire life other than defend myself. When Amy Weirich said as far as my ‘violence,’ I’ve never been a violent person other than 22 years ago when I was accountable to the situation when I was 18 years old. I’ve never done anything else as far as any type of violence against anyone else.”
“I just don’t understand how I’m being treated the way I’m being treated in this whole situation, how a government can turn such a blind eye to such corruption,” White additionally told us. His relocation to New Mexico, he said, has “deprived me if my rights and the necessary tools in order for me to defend myself.”
During the interview, White thanked us for covering his story through its myriad twists and turns.
Updated with screenshot showing July 5 hearing in White’s online record, 9:54 a.m. EDT, June 12, 2022