Last Word: The Law & Darrius Stewart, MEMShop's Return and The Pot Debate

By Bill Dries

The Memphis Bar Association’s Law School for Journalists is where reporters and attorneys and a few judges meet annually to talk over the issues they have with each other. And it is usually about a specific topic. This year that topic was the July 2015 police shooting of Darrius Stewart.

More specific than that, the topic was how the media covered the event and its aftermath and what the media as well as the public should have access to in covering the case.

The timing was the kind that no one could have foreseen in planning this. It came the day after U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton announced that there would be no federal charges against the former Memphis Police officer who shot and killed StewartConnor Schilling.

So the discussion in the panel moderated by our publisher, Eric Barnes, tended to stray a bit from the media’s role in this although that was on the front burner for most of a fascinating panel discussion that included District Attorney General Amy Weirich; Arthur Quinn, the attorney for Schilling; Art Horne, one of the attorneys representing the Stewart family and former Chancellor James Newsom.

We’ll go into this in greater detail in the Friday edition. But Quinn’s point was that there was far too much in the way of press conferences and comments from various players in the legal part of this and that includes Weirich.

Weirich’s position was that the case was so unusual and at such a time of change and questioning in our country that it would have been wrong not to talk about it. And there were two unusual parts of the strictly legal part of a controversy that led to the unusual action – the TBI report on the shooting was made public for the first time ever and it was made public after the Shelby County grand jury decided Schilling would face no state charges even though Weirich had recommended he be charged with voluntary manslaughter.

Quinn’s job is to be a zealous advocate for his client – to do all he can do to protect and defend his client. That is a decidedly different job than prosecutors and, of course, the media.

A lot of times I approach stories that unfold in court rooms and/or legal documents in search of events that brought this to a courtroom. They tend to be events that nobody involved or at least none of the key players want to talk about at all. What happens by way of the law and its practice is of some interest in what I’m doing. But it’s usually not the dominant story I’m after.

The best example of that for me is our coverage several years ago of drug kingpin Craig Petties. No one, including Petties, was willing to talk about the case for various reasons including that it involved what at the time was the most violent drug cartel on the face of the Earth with whom Petties worked directly. So we were left with what was said in court and a very detailed set of seven indictments that offered a level of detail unusual even in federal court indictments, which tend to offer more detail than state criminal indictments. By the trial, Petties and all but two of his codefendants had pleaded guilty. But the testimony in the trial offered more detail about how the organization operated. And it was a fascinating and compelling story.

Before the panel discussion Wednesday at the U of M Law School, attorney Steve Parker – a former federal prosecutor who headed the civil rights division of the U.S. Attorney’s office here – reviewed the events and the findings of the Stewart case in a way that only a prosecutor who has prosecuted police officers and sent them to jail in numerous cases could.

It’s important to point out that Parker has no role in the Stewart investigation.

Like Stanton, Parker focused on the struggle between Schilling and Stewart including crime scene photos of Schilling’s night stick and the magazine of his gun – photographed laying in the field where the struggle and then the shooting happened. That was seen as corroboration of Schilling’s version of events that in the struggle Stewart was grabbing for Schilling’s belt including his gun and had Schilling’s handcuffs.

Parker, also like Stanton, said the second of the two shots fired by Schilling and likely the one that killed Stewart, was what the cased hinged on. He said the autopsy diagram showing a side entrance misrepresented the angle somewhat showing a more downward angle than there was. Like the first shot, it was fired at close range, which would tend to cast doubt on the idea that Stewart was getting up to run away and that the danger to Schilling was over.

More on a busy MATA board meeting including an update on the new routes and changes the board approved which was a shorter list than the list originally proposed and a set of contracts. All point to an expansion of MATA’s resources as the bus system seeks to keep what it’s got in the way of a fleet and infrastructure and maintain it on a path to building its ridership.

The latest MEMShop class of three new businesses making a go of it and how the development concept works.

In advance of our Friday sports section: Don Wade on Les Miles' sudden exit from LSU after his team’s loss to Auburn.

The Tigers’ women’s basketball team has a dozen TV games in the upcoming season.

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell reacts in the aftermath of Jeremy Durham’s expulsion from the House.

The state Representative from Cottontown who proposed to cut off road funds to Memphis should the city council give final approval next week to an ordinance that would decriminalize possession of less than a half ounce of pot talks to Sam Stockard in our View From The Hill column, which also tracks state Rep. William Lamberth’s political donors and includes comments from Metro Nashville Council members who approved a similar ordinance last week.

Also in the Capitol, the difference between overturning a conviction and exoneration.

Mississippi campaign finance reports go online.

The Memphis Real Estate Recap: More details on the Belz part of the ServiceMaster relocation to Peabody Place, Crosstown’s theater, Regency buys the vacant lots in Fleming Ridge planned development and the Orpheum pulls s permit for restroom renovations.


AP weighs in on the Android Nougat update by Google.