by Sharon Rondeau

(Oct. 19, 2022) — The 1997 prosecution of Shelby County, TN Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Earley Story on a felony drug charge continues to yield documents Story has never seen, defying the prosecution’s contention that the case file was “destroyed” in 2005.

Last month, Story was unexpectedly handed a document dated April 28, 2014 titled, “DISMISSED WARRANT/CHARGE CORRECTION FORM” indicating that the charge on which Story was convicted “will not be submitted to the Grand Jury, but will be taken into consideration in the disposition of the indicted offenses(s).”

In 2014, Story’s case was 17 years old and the conviction nearly 15 years old; it is unclear why any action was taken on the case at that time and why the document was withheld from him.

Story was initially charged in January 1997 with selling marijuana on three dates that month to an undercover sheriff’s office informant. At a preliminary hearing on April 3, 1997, Judge Ann Pugh threw out the case for “lack of probable cause.” However, on August 8, 1997, the SCSO again had Story arrested, and in December 1999 the prosecution achieved a conviction on one count of the three.

The outcome was sufficient to destroy Story’s 17-year law-enforcement career, future job prospects, and reputation in the community as he saw it. For the last quarter-century, Story has maintained his innocence, demonstrating that he “was nowhere around” the alleged place of sale on any of the dates cited and unceasingly attempting to clear his name through the courts, elected officials, the FBI and U.S. Justice Department, the National Police Defense Foundation (NPDF) and the media.

Prior to his arrest, Story had been employed at the Shelby County jail, where he witnessed horrific conditions which he reported to the FBI and NAACP as well as providing testimony in a federal court case. After a number of external complaints reached the U.S. Justice Department, the Department launched an investigation which found the jail lacking in meeting the basic needs of inmates as well as engaging in constitutional and civil-rights violations. Signed by William R. Yeomans, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division in 2000, the findings included a remediation plan conveyed to then-Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout.

Story never knew of the existence of the 2014 document, he told The Post & Email, until September 16, 2022, when he visited the Shelby County Criminal Court office and spoke with a new clerk who unwittingly provided it as part of the electronic file she accessed.

For as long as the case has existed, Story has been unable to obtain the full case record, or “jacket,” from the court as a result of its shifting explanations that it was either “destroyed” or is kept in the chambers of the trial judge, Chris Craft. Most notably, Story told us, he has never seen an affidavit of complaint for the second arrest, which customarily generates a judge’s signature and an arrest warrant. “Without an affidavit of complaint, there is no case,” Story told us.

“They have not responded to one request under the Tennessee Open Records Act,” Story told The Post & Email last week. “They sent me something, but they said the documents ‘don’t exist’ or that “somebody’s looking for it.'”

Emails from December 2021 from Tennessee’s 30th Judicial District prosecutor’s office support Story’s statements. While claiming the District Attorney General’s office does not retain “court documents,” on December 14, 2021, Timothy A. Beacham, Assistant District Attorney General, Public Records Counsel and Request Coordinator, responded to an email from Story seeking the affidavit of complaint with, “The Criminal Court Clerk does not maintain affidavits of complaint in its files” and “a close reading of TCA 18-1-202(a) does not provide that the affidavits that you seek are ‘permanent’.  The statute, instead, authorizes the clerk to dispose of such records after 10 years from the disposition of the matter.” 

Judge Craft has presided over all of Story’s court-based efforts to obtain justice.

In late 2018, again unexpectedly, Story received evidence withheld by the SCSO revealing that the confidential informant who allegedly “purchased” the marijuana from him, referred to in the January 31, 1997 affidavit of complaint as “Agent 302,” reported no activity on the date the trial jury convicted Story of making the sale.

Story subsequently filed a Writ of Coram Nobis with the court, which once again assigned the case to Craft. After several hearings in 2019, Craft dismissed Story’s case.

An attorney Craft appointed for Story after he appealed the dismissal was ineffective in obtaining any documents from his case file, Story related. “I had to give him the benefit of the doubt, but he was doing the same thing. He couldn’t get any records of any sort. I finally got some transcripts, and the one for March 4, 2019 said that my records were ‘destroyed in 2005.’ I told the attorney, but he never pursued it.”

As we reported on October 3, there was an affidavit of complaint for Story’s first arrest on January 31, 1997 signed by a “Det. C. Harrison.”

The 2014 document refers to a charge of “M/D/S CS,” which likely signifies, “Marijuana, deliver, sell” and “Controlled Substance” based on the statute allegedly violated:

(a) It is an offense for a defendant to knowingly:

(1) Manufacture a controlled substance;

(2) Deliver a controlled substance;

(3) Sell a controlled substance; or

(4) Possess a controlled substance with intent to manufacture, deliver or sell the controlled substance.

Story said the name of the assistant district attorney general who signed the form is unknown to him.

The mysterious document contradicts one released on September 27, 2022 to Story by the FBI in response to his FOIA request for documentation of his interaction with the Bureau following the two arrests.

Page 12 of the document package consists of a “True Bill,” or bill of indictment issued by a grand jury, dated August 7, 1997 against Story and another defendant. A warrant for Story’s arrest was issued, and on August 8, 1997, Story turned himself in.

Regarding the September 16, 2022 discovery, Story told us, “I got the new document on my own. I happened to go down to the Shelby County clerk’s office, and there was a new clerk there. Obviously she didn’t know me, and she had looked up something on the computer. So I said, ‘Can I have a printout of that?’ and she gave it to me. So I received that just on a whim.”

Story said he “never” saw the 2014 document before. The booking number reflects his second arrest on August 8, 1997, Story said. He recalled that his first thought after seeing it was, “How could they hold this information when I’ve been all the way to the Tennessee Supreme Court? I should have had it before trial.”

Story recently sent the newly-discovered document, along with a brief in which he argued his conviction should be overturned, to the new district attorney general, Steve Mulroy, who during his campaign against then-District Attorney General Amy Weirich pledged to establish a case review unit.

In a new development Wednesday morning, Story received a responsive email to an October 9, 2022 public records request for the affidavit of complaint for the second case:

On Wed, Oct 19, 2022 at 9:09 AM Gaines, Yvonne <Yvonne.Gaines@shelbycountytn.gov> wrote:

Good Morning Sir,

Case 970004866 was Expunged on 4/3/1997 by Judge Ann Pugh.  Once a case has been expunged we do not have access to the information any more.   Case 97 08557 with booking number 97040006 was indicted not in custody and no affidavit is done on indicted not in custody cases. 

Yvonne Gaines
Jail Release Coordinator
Shelby County Government
Office of the Criminal Court Clerk
201 Poplar 3rd floor Suite 3-01
Memphis, TN. 38103
P 901.222.3200
F 901.222.3225

Later on Wednesday Story told us, “There is no record of and there’s no such thing as ‘not in custody.’ They just confirmed there is no affidavit of complaint. How about them going to court all these years, all the way to the Tennessee Supreme Court? I was in custody and made a $10,000 bond. That doesn’t explain why I have not received an affidavit of arrest in 25 years. They have  sent information proving that no affidavit exists.”

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  1. If you’ll forgive my assuming the perspective on this story of an audience member, there appears to me to be a good movie script in the time-line of events.
    A tragedy, to be sure: A solid three act play I can only pray has a happy ending for the protagonist who appears to be one more victim of the insidiously corrupt good-old-boy network of the notorious State of Tennessee.
    Perhaps Sharon Rondeau would try her hand at framing a novel that might easily be translated to a movie script not dissimilar to the way that little pervert, Truman Capote, did with a horrendous murder, only the antagonist would of course be the corrupt judicial system in Tennessee.