Erik Schelzig

Editor, The Tennessee Journal

Feds launch probe of Memphis police methods and policies following Tyre Nichols’ death

The U.S. Justice Department is launching a review of the Memphis Police Department following the death of motorist Tyre Nichols after a traffic stop.

Here’s the release:

WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) announced today it will be undertaking two important reviews: one related to the Memphis Police Department (MPD) and one that will examine the use of specialized units within law enforcement. 

First, the COPS Office, through its Collaborative Reform Initiative Technical Assistance Center (CRI-TAC), will conduct a review of certain policies and practices of the Memphis Police Department. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn J. Davis requested this review, which will cover policies, practices, training, data and processes related to MPD’s use of force, de-escalation and specialized units. At the conclusion of the review, the COPS Office will issue a public report outlining its findings and recommendations.

The COPS Office’s CRI-TAC initiative is led and supported by nine leading law enforcement stakeholder associations. CRI-TAC provides a wide array of technical assistance services using a “by the field, for the field” approach. Since its inception in 2017, the program has provided technical assistance for over 800 law enforcement engagements.

Separate from the Memphis review, the COPS Office will produce a guide for police chiefs and mayors across the country to help them assess the appropriateness of the use of specialized units as well as how to ensure necessary management and oversight of such units, including review of policies, tactics, training, supervision, accountability, and transparency.

“In the wake of Tyre Nichols’s tragic death, the Justice Department has heard from police chiefs across the country who are assessing the use of specialized units and, where used, appropriate management, oversight and accountability for such units. The COPS Office guide on specialized units will be a critical resource for law enforcement, mayors and community members committed to effective community policing that respects the dignity of community members and keeps people safe,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “The department is also pleased to be able to fulfill Memphis’s request for technical assistance on the police department’s use of force and de-escalation policies, as well as the use of specialized units.”

“Providing technical assistance to law enforcement agencies so they can continue to improve their practices, while they also develop and maintain healthy relationships with the community, is at the heart of what we do at the COPS Office,” said Director Hugh T. Clements Jr. of the COPS Office. “I know that this opportunity to work with MPD, as well as our examination of specialized units in law enforcement agencies across the country, will be important resources for both law enforcement and the communities they serve.”

The COPS Office is the federal component of the Department of Justice responsible for advancing community policing nationwide. The only Department of Justice agency with policing in its name, the COPS Office was established in 1994 and has been the cornerstone of the nation’s crime fighting strategy with grants, a variety of knowledge resource products, and training and technical assistance. Through the years, the COPS Office has become the go-to organization for law enforcement agencies across the country and continues to listen to the field and provide the resources that are needed to reduce crime and build trust between law enforcement and communities served. The COPS Office has been appropriated more than $20 billion to advance community policing, including grants awarded to over 13,000 state, local and Tribal law enforcement agencies to fund the hiring and redeployment of more than 136,000 officers.

Full-page newspaper ad says Gov. Bill Lee ‘enjoyed drag’

The Human Rights Campaign is running a full-page ad in the The Tennessean featuring a photo of Gov. Bill Lee wearing women’s clothing while in high school.

“This kid enjoyed drag. Guess what happened to him?” the ad says. “He’s our governor.”

Lee last week signed bills banning transgender surgeries on minors targeting “adult cabaret” drag shows on public property or where children are present.

Here’s the ad:

Cothren attorney criticizes, confirms TNJ reporting on volatile meeting with GOP leaders

Cade Cothren, speaking on phone, attends a meeting with lawmakers and fellow staffers on the balcony outside the House chamber on April 29, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

An attorney for indicted former House staffer Cade Cothren has issued a statement criticizing The Tennessee Journal’s reporting about a heated chance encounter with current members of House Republican leadership. According to lawyer Cynthia Sherwood, the TNJ’s account is “riddled with inaccuracies that would take a total rewrite.” But she then goes on to confirm much of what appeared in the publication — and even expand on what occurred at the Nashville restaurant on President’s Day.

Here are the first three paragraphs of the story as it appeared in the print edition of this week’s Tennessee Journal:

House Republican leaders were caught in an uncomfortable situation when they ran into a controversial colleague and an indicted former top legislative staffer at Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse in Nashville recently, witnesses recounted to The Tennessee Journal this week.

House Republican Caucus Chair Jeremy Faison of Cosby heard Rep. Todd Warner (R-Chapel Hill) was at the restaurant, so he walked over to the booth to say hello. Warner, who had his legislative office searched by the FBI in 2021, turned out to be dining with Cade Cothren, the former House chief of staff, and his girlfriend, Ava Korby. The latter angrily denounced Faison for his role in pushing out former Speaker Glen Casada of Franklin and because her mother, onetime legislative assistant Nadine Korby, had been fired after her computer was searched during the federal raid.

Faison noticed current House Speaker Cameron Sexton of Crossville — Casada’s successor — wandering toward the table and quickly wheeled away to walk him out the door before he could become the target of Cothren and Korby’s wrath. Just as they stepped outside, House Majority Leader William Lamberth of Portland approached the table and was subjected to a dressing down by both Korby and Coth­ren, with the latter shouting a profanity at him.

And here is what Cothren’s legal team had to say about it:

As Cade has promised from day one, he will be taking full advantage of the opportunity to prove his innocence in court, no matter who may find it uncomfortable. Unnamed sources continuing to attack Cade in the media may not find ii so easy to spread their lies once they are under oath.

Recently, while enjoying dinner at a local restaurant, Cade was interrupted by Majority Leader William Lamberth and Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison, who barged their way up to Cade’s table and forced their way into his conversation uninvited.

Rather than harassing Cade, a private citizen at a restaurant, or going after a young lady in an anonymous article, I would hope Tennessee Republicans could focus on doing honest work for the citizens of our state.

Correcting the Tennessee Journal article riddled with inaccuracies would take a total rewrite, but for starters:

— Cade never left his seat, nor sought conversation. His own dinner conversation was interrupted when Republican Leadership forced their way in uninvited.

— Contrary to the events imagined in the article, Ava Korby simply reminded Chairman Faison that he knew her mother, and, in fact, trusted her mother enough to babysit his children. Ava criticized Chairman Faison for standing by while her mother was fired for no reason. Chairman Faison assured her “I love your mom· and blamed Speaker Cameron Sexton for the firing.

— Despite previous self-serving statements in the media attacking Cade’s integrity and innocence, Leader Lamberth stepped away from the table and privately told Ava, “I care about Cade, I would love to talk to him … he really hurt my feelings when he left [the legislature in 2019).”

These private comments are directly contrary to House Republican Leaders’ repeated public attacks through the media, which is why my client, Cade Cothren, did indeed tell Leader Lamberth to “go f**k himself.”

It’s unclear which parts of the missive are meant to highlight conflicts with the TNJ account. Cothren’s attorney even confirms he hurled a profanity at Lamberth. Though we hear the f-bomb also invoked the lawmaker’s mother.

New TNJ alert: An awkward coming together, toll lanes on cruise control, booze bill reversal

A liquor store in Gordonsville on Jan. 21, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— House Republican leaders, Cade Cothren, and Todd Warner run into each other in a Nashville steakhouse. What could go wrong?

— Lee’s toll lane proposal on cruise control after clearing key committees.

— How the package of bills targeting Nashville for GOP snub could play out.

— Legislative roundup: Outside counsel for the legislature, a delay on bill to add abortion exceptions, a reprieve for Tennessee State, and the tables get turned on the ready-to-drink cocktails bill.

Also: Andy Ogles says mistakes were made, the House tables a motion to honor a vocal critic, the revenue commissioner’s “big sexy” moment in court, and Bill Lee’s yearbook problem.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Lee signs bill to ban drag shows

The Senate on Thursday morning gave final approval to a bill to ban drag shows on public property or where children are present. By the afternoon of the same day, Gov. Bill Lee had signed the measure into law.

The governor’s office did not give a reason for the lightning turnaround, but the Republican’s advisers are likely hopeful to move on from the national attention he has received following the emergence of high school yearbook pictures showing Lee dressed in women’s clothing.

Lee replied angrily to a questions from a liberal activist about the photos during a press gaggle earlier this week.

“What a ridiculous, ridiculous question that is, conflating something like that,” Lee said. “Sexualized entertainment in front of children is a very serious subject.”

Two protesters were arrested at a Memphis ribbon-cutting Lee attended later in the week.  “Drag is not a crime,” one of them shouted before being hauled away by police.

13 chambers endorse Lee’s roads plan

Thirteen chambers of commerce from around the state are endorsing Gov. Bill Lee’s $3.3 billion roads plan, including its public-private partnerships and paid express lanes.

The chambers represent businesses in and around Nashville, Blount County, Bristol, Jackson, Kingsport, Knoxville, Memphis, Lawrence County, Clarksville, Williamson County, Rutherford County, Chattanooga and Maury County.

Here’s the release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. –Chambers of Commerce from across Tennessee announced Monday their support of Governor Bill Lee’s Transportation Modernization Act of 2023. The proposed statewide infrastructure plan would approve public-private partnerships to rapidly expand infrastructure development and relieve congestion in the state’s rapidly growing urban and rural communities.

“As prosperity continues to expand, infrastructure investment becomes crucial to livability,” said Ralph Schulz, President and CEO of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. “The Governor’s proposal creates investment without debt or new taxes while fostering faster project completion, faster travel times for all drivers, and modern transportation options for all citizens.”

“As Tennessee continues to attract record-breaking investment, we must ensure our infrastructure is modern and resilient enough to match our growth. Chambers of Commerce across the state support Governor Bill Lee’s Transportation Modernization Act to ensure we continue to build on our state’s record-breaking growth,” said Charles Wood, President and CEO of the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce. “Our state’s sound economic policies and high quality of life have made Tennessee the seventh-fastest growing state in the country, and the Governor’s innovative transportation modernization plan accommodates for our state’s rapid growth.”

“Tennessee has seen a population increase of nearly 9% in the past decade, with a net gain of 137,100 jobs year-over-year,” said Paul Latture, President of the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce. “The business community depends on reliable transportation systems to ensure that citizens, freight, and visitors aren’t sitting in avoidable congestion. The Transportation Modernization Act tackles the transportation issues of today while accounting for future growth across our state.”

“Under the proposed Transportation Modernization Act, public-private partnerships allow the business community to take a proactive role in tackling our community’s most pressing transportation needs,” said Kyle Spurgeon, CEO of the Greater Jackson Chamber of Commerce. “This legislation fixes roads and expands exits in rural communities, while also making it easier for our citizens to work and shop in urban metros without losing hours in preventable congestions.”

“Governor Lee’s proposed Transportation Modernization Act ensures that businesses and residents alike maintain adequate access to key markets,” said Ryan Egly, President & CEO of the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce. “These public-private partnerships are good for Tennesseans and especially essential for sustaining economic development in rural Tennessee.”

“Chambers of Commerce have a long-standing support of public-private partnerships, and we look forward to the positive effects that Governor Lee’s plan will have on the alleviation of road congestion and safety in our state’s rural and urban areas,” said Wil Evans, President of the Maury County Chamber and Economic Alliance. “This legislation connects communities previously separated by unnecessary congestion, expanding economic access and increasing quality of life for rural citizens.”

“The Transportation Modernization Act is providing historic investments in our region’s roadways to build more exits in rural communities, ease traffic congestion, and make our infrastructure safer and stronger for generations to come,” said Miles Burdine, President and CEO of the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce. “Thank you to Governor Lee and the state for ensuring that our region has the infrastructure it needs to continue to support business growth and creation.”

The Transportation Modernization Act of 2023 was announced by Governor Bill Lee on January 5, 2023.

Ogles likes to call self an economist, but transcripts tell a different story

“As an economist…,” is a preface freshman U.S. Rep. Andy Ogles (R-Columbia) has been fond of using before launching into his views about the country’s financial situation. But as WTVF-TV’s Phil Williams reports, Ogles as a student took only a single community college course in the subject. And he got a C.

Ogles also claimed to have earned a degree in International Relations. But official academic records kept by Middle Tennessee State University found he had not declared a major and was a awarded a bachelor of science degree in Liberal Studies in 2007.

Ogles has said he has placed a block on MTSU releasing his transcript for fear of becoming a victim of identity theft. WTVF obtained the copy from a job application Ogles made more than a decade ago. It showed he first enrolled at Western Kentucky University in 1990 but left after the fall 1993 semester. He also enrolled at Columbia State Community College in 1991 and 1992.

Ogles transferred to MTSU in 1995. It went well at first, but in his second semester, Ogles got a D in English Pop Culture and failed Intro to Earth Sciences. Things got even worse in fall, when he failed all seven of his courses, including Political Theory, the U.S. Presidency, U.S. National Security Policy, and Child Drama Speech. He tried again in the fall of 1998, and failed those four courses once more. Ogles went back to school in 2008 and managed to get As in classes on International Law and Political Parties, while getting Bs in American Foreign Policy and Non-Western Literature.

While refusing to comment to WTVF, Ogles told the Tennessee Star he had only realized is degree wasn’t in International Relations after requesting an official transcript.

“I realized I was mistaken,” he said. “I apologize for my misstatement.”

As for the failing grades, Ogles said an “an interfamilial matter” had forced him to drop out and return home “to financially support my family during a difficult time.”

Ogles was the owner of a Franklin donut shop and restaurant and an aspiring screenwriter in 2001, according to a story in The Tennessean. Ogles told the paper at the time he had been a student of German, Russian, and Japanese languages and that he had planned for a career in international business. The transcripts show the only foreign language course Ogles took was a single semester of Elementary Japanese in 1995. He got a B.

Cothren seeks to make secret legal filing in Phoenix Solutions case

Cade Cothren, speaking on phone, attends a meeting with lawmakers and fellow staffers on the balcony ouside the House chamber on April 29, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tenenssee Journal)

Cade Cothren, a former top legislative aide charged with participating in an alleged bribery and kickback scheme, is asking the judge to make a legal filing under seal and out of the view of other parties in the case.

Cothren’s codefendant is his onetime boss, former House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin). Former Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) pleaded guilty last year to participating in a scheme with Casada and Cothren to promote a political vendor called Phoenix Solutions to GOP lawmakers.

Here is Cothren’s filing:

New TNJ edition alert: Bid to close primary elections is first GOP bill killed this year

Campaign signs outside an early voting location in Nashville on Oct. 21, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— Latest effort to close primaries is first GOP bill killed this session.

— Bill to cut Nashville Metro Council on fast track.

— Senate mulls eliminating sales tax on diapers and baby formula.

— Shot down: Decriminalizing weed, requiring school nurses to be paid more, getting rid of the TWRA’s online drawing for duck blinds.

Also: Andy Ogles makes something out of nothing, Bill Lee raised $1.4 million for second inaugural, Ford hires new lobbyists in Nashville, and Bud Hulsey wants candidates for constable to get competency certification.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Memphis pitch: Former World Cup goalkeeper Tim Howard makes case for soccer stadium funding

A scarf displays the logos of Memphis 901 FC and Liberty Park on Feb. 22, 2023 (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Former U.S. national team and English Premier League goalkeeper Tim Howard met with Tennessee lawmakers this week to make the pitch for state funding to build a new soccer-specific stadium in Shelby County. Howard is a part-owner of Memphis 901 FC, which plays in the second-tier United Soccer League. The club currently plays its home games at AutoZone Park, the minor league baseball stadium of the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds. As part of a “big ask” to state lawmakers, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has proposed replacing the moribund Mid-South Coliseum with a new soccer stadium.

Here is what Howard had to say about what he was up at the Cordell Hull Building and the plans for a now field for the Memphis team:

TNJ: So what’s the sell to state lawmakers?

Howard: You know, the fact that we have private funds going into it is a big deal. And Memphis needs a soccer stadium, we can no longer coexist with the Redbirds. We’ve done that, but the team needs its own space. With all the business coming in and the workers that are coming into the city — Memphis and Shelby County — this is what soccer’s future is for them. It’s important.

TNJ: How big does the stadium need to be to fit the team’s needs now and moving forward?

Howard: It’s going to be about 7,500 seats with a total capacity of 10,000. But there’s room to grow. We would be remiss and silly to not create a building that has the opportunity for expansion. From a construction standpoint, we’ll make sure that we have that so that we can get to a level that MLS requires in the future, if that’s what we want to do.

TNJ: Is Major League Soccer a prospect, or is that just too far down the road to contemplate?

Howard: Right now, baby steps. We’ve got to get this thing moving back in the right direction. Pre-pandemic, we felt really good about what we’d done from a marketing and ticketing standpoint. Post-pandemic, what we’ve done on the pitch has been brilliant. And now we’re trying to marry those two together. So MLS is not even something we can really contemplate at this point. But it is something where we’ve seen that if you make enough noise and you create the product that gets enough attention, then there’s going to be that possibility.

TNJ: What’s the estimated price tag for the whole project?

Howard: It’s, give or take, $80 million to build. We’re asking for half of that from the state, and the rest will be the taxes and private funding.

TNJ; Compared with the $2.2 billion NFL stadium they’re talking about building down the street from the state Capitol, that’s almost a drop in the bucket. But do people just get skittish when the talk turns to soccer?

Howard: There’s a lot more to it. We see outdoor concerts that we could have going to Mississippi, unfortunately. Anything over 10,000 people is going to the FedExForum. But there’s an opportunity for concerts under that size in Memphis.

TNJ: People in Memphis have an emotional attachment to the Mid-South Coliseum, even if it’s been closed for more than 15 years. How do you get over that?

Howard: What we’re proposing is going to help revitalize that portion of the city. And currently there is no work that can be done on the Coliseum. It’s a difficult hurdle for people to get over, because when you talk about what it’s meant to the city, you know it’s a big deal. There’s a lot of history there. But we are trying to honor that history and pay homage to that with the new stadium.

TNJ: A new minor league baseball stadium under construction in Knoxville is also being billed as the home to a new professional soccer team. How rigid is the rule against baseball and soccer sharing a facility?

Howard: When we talk to USL – and we have a great relationship with them, as they do with most of the clubs — the idea is that it’s a nudge in the direction that most teams should have their own stadium. Soccer should be played in a soccer-specific stadium. That is obviously the best way to view the game. That’s where clubs have seen the biggest growth . . . AutoZone Park made sense for a few years. It just no longer does. A soccer-specific stadium is a completely different gameday experience. The game is meant to be experienced in tight confines. [A representative later added the Knoxville team is slated to play in the lower USL division, which has different stadium guidelines.]


Posts and Opinions about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.