NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Gideon's Army, a popular social-justice group with growing political clout in the city of Nashville, has exaggerated its success in reducing violent crime in one of the city's most troubled neighborhoods, a NewsChannel 5 investigation has discovered.
As part of its push for an additional $1 million in funding from Metro Nashville taxpayers, the group has claimed an "unheard-of" record of eliminating all violent crime for 10 months in the Cumberland View housing projects of North Nashville.
But NewsChannel 5's six-month investigation discovered that, not only is that claim not true, it ignores real violence in that community, including potentially illegal activities allegedly involving some of Gideon's Army's own people.
Over the coming days, our investigation will also reveal questions about the role of the group's employees in an unsolved shooting in that neighborhood, along with controversial beliefs expressed by some leaders of the taxpayer-funded group.
In the Cumberland View housing projects of North Nashville -- an area whose violent history long ago earned it the nickname “Dodge City” -- NewsChannel 5 Investigates had witnessed how Gideon’s Army has tried to upend the notion that it’s up to police to impose law and order, arguing that it’s up to the community itself to find peace and harmony.
In summer 2020, Gideon's Army leader Larry Turnley told NewsChannel 5, “It's about creating safe zones and safe spaces where our children can be out and be children and our elderly can walk around.”
Another group leader, Hambino Godbody, agreed.
“We put that love energy out here - you know what I'm saying? We make sure there ain't no violence going on," Godbody said.
But a scene from the neighborhood back in August reveals another side of Gideon's Army's efforts.
Residents decided to make it difficult for police who came there to arrest a convicted killer, wanted for violation of his federal probation.
That man, Charles Brooks, was a paid employee of Gideon's Army.
Court and police records reveal he was also one of the people involved in a shoot-out in the neighborhood back in April.
Gideon's Army founder and CEO Rasheedat Fetuga downplayed NewsChannel 5's questions about that incident.
"The focus is on what people see as being the 'failures' of Gideon's Army," Fetuga said, gesturing to put quote marks around the word "failures."
"We lose people in war. And I'm sure generals and everybody try to save everybody that they can. It just doesn't happen that way."
Watch April 6, 2021, shoot-out below:
Gideon's Army's efforts have brought them national attention, along with taxpayer money and public donations.
The group's tax returns show that, in 2019-2020, the group took in almost $1.5 million – some of that taxpayer money from the Tennessee Department of Human Services.
Other organizations, like the gun-control group Moms Demand Action, have also contributed.
This summer, Fetuga and her group convinced Metro Council to approve another million dollars for violence interruption programs like theirs.
Part of their pitch: their record in Cumberland View.
"We had no shootings, no homicides, no robberies, no carjackings, nothing for almost a year, 10 months -- and that’s been unheard of," Fetuga told NewsChannel 5 back in June.
Fetuga later explained that the 10-month period ended on April 12, 2021, when three-year-old Jamayla Marlowe was shot to death in the neighborhood.
But NewsChannel 5 Investigates checked and, during the 10 months when Gideon's Army says there was no violence there, Metro Nashville police received 38 calls about shootings, shots being fired or people with weapons.
"We don't deny that those, we've never said that those didn't happen," Fetuga said.
NewsChannel 5 followed up, "What time period are you measuring?"
The Gideon's Army CEO struggled to find a time period that would show success.
"So, I guess that would be four months."
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "So you're saying maybe it wasn't 10 months without violence?"
"No, that's not what I'm saying," Fetuga answered. "I'm saying that what I understand is that it had been 10 months."
Among those shootings was that gun battle back in April allegedly involving the Gideon's Army employee.
Police reports indicated that Charles Brooks and another man were likely shooting in self-defense, but Brooks is a convicted felon who is legally prohibited from carrying a firearm.
But Fetuga said that shoot-out doesn't count.
"There's a difference between shootings and contact shootings,"
We followed up, "Between what?"
"Shootings and contact shootings. What we measure is who has been shot."
Because no one was hit by the gunfire, Gideon's Army doesn't count it as an act of violence.
Nor did it count a gun battle in July 2020 between two rival gangs -- again, apparently, because no one was actually hit.
Watch July, 21, 2020, gun battle below:
There was also an incident a month earlier when a chase that began in Cumberland View ended with one car running another off the road a few miles away. Calls to 911 described an exchange of gunfire between the vehicles.
Multiple witnesses identified Gideon's Army volunteer Cleveland Shaw, a local gang figure, as the suspect in the case.
Two weeks later, when a man was actually shot in the neighborhood, the Gideon's Army volunteer was again identified as the suspect.
The group didn't count that one either.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Fetuga about the alleged involvement of two of her own people in three separate shooting incidents.
"Neither was charged nor convicted," Fetuga said.
"And this is supposed to be a democracy. And what we do is we hand out convictions before anyone has had their due process -- and that's not fair."
And after Shaw went on the group’s payroll in the neighborhood, there was another shooting in the neighborhood this past March that left two 17-year-olds wounded.
Surveillance cameras captured the Gideon’s Army employee holding what investigators described as an AK-47 type weapon.
Because of a domestic violence conviction, Shaw was legally prohibited from carrying a firearm.
The Gideon's Army employee would end up being killed in another shoot-out not far from the neighborhood this past April.
Police say they believe the man who shot Shaw was acting in self defense.
Still, Fetuga makes no apologies.
"I will say, Phil, that this work isn't pretty," the Gideon's Army founder said.
"I will say, Phil, that it might be a kid in North Nashville who we lose tomorrow. It might be a young adult that we're working with -- paid, unpaid -- that we're trying to do everything that we can to change their lives. But, at least, we are doing something.
After our interview, NewsChannel 5 followed up with Fetuga multiple times to give her a chance to document her claims about Gideon's Army efforts to reduce violence in Cumberland View, but we never heard back.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates also checked Metro Nashville police calls for service, and that data does not show any major changes in that community.
After the story posted, Fetuga texted: "Gideon’s Army is the little engine that could. It thought it could and it did. This won’t stop us, Phil. My heart is in the right place. We won’t stop. We won’t quit."
Summary of significant police events in Cumberland View
The following descriptions are based on Metro Nashville Police Department reports:
June 19, 2020, 12:14 a.m. -- Multiple people stabbed when a domestic dispute turned into a large-scale brawl.
June 19, 2020, 1:33 p.m. -- A chase that began in Cumberland View ends with one car running another off the road on nearby Buena Vista Pike. Two males reportedly jumped out of the pursuing vehicle with short rifles, then took something from the trunk of the other car. Gunshots are exchanged. Among the victims: Caurice Crawford Sr. Multiple witnesses identified one suspect as Cleveland Shaw Jr., then a volunteer with Gideon’s Army.
July 5, 2020, 10:45 p.m. -- A man was shot in the leg. “The victim said about 10 guys walked up to him and started shooting.” The victim’s wife and mother identified the suspect as Cleveland Shaw Jr., but the victim “would not identify anyone.”
July 10, 2020, 11:52 a.m. -- MNPD call for service: shots fired.
July 12, 2020, 3:41 p.m. -- MNPD call for service: shots fired.
July 13, 2020, 9:09 a.m. -- MNPD call for service: shots fired.
July 14, 2020, 7:06 p.m. -- MNPD call for service: shots fired.
July 21, 2020, 3:08 p.m. -- A gun battle erupts in the neighborhood. Police say it was the result of a dispute between two rival gangs.
July 22, 2020, 10:41 a.m. -- MNPD call for service: shots fired.
July 29, 2020, 9:05 p.m. -- MNPD call for service: shots fired.
Aug. 11, 2020, 9:45 p.m. -- MNPD call for service: shots fired.
Sept. 4, 2020, 1:12 p.m. -- MNPD call for service: shots fired.
Sept. 8, 2020, 9:20 p.m. -- MNPD call for service: shots fired.
Oct. 11, 2020, 12:16 a.m. -- MNPD call for service: shots fired.
Nov. 24, 2020, 1:01 a.m. -- MNPD call for service: shots fired.
Dec. 30, 2020, 4:25 a.m. -- MNPD call for service: shooting.
March 24, 2021, 5:31 p.m. -- A gun battle erupts in the neighborhood, and two 17-year-olds are injured. Security personnel reviewed surveillance video and identified Cleveland Shaw Jr., then an employee of Gideon’s Army, as a person carrying “an AK-47 style weapon.”
March 25, 2021, 2:36 p.m. -- MNPD call for service: shots fired.
April 6, 2021, 9:57 p.m. -- A gun battle erupts between a four-door sedan and individuals in a parking lot. Among those returning fire: Charles Brooks, an employee of Gideon's Army and convicted felon who is legally prohibited from possessing a firearm.
April 7, 2020, 4:59 p.m. -- MNPD call for service: shots fired.
April 7, 2021, 11:46 p.m. -- Gideon's Army employee Cleveland Shaw Jr. is shot and killed on nearby Clarksville Highway. Police say they believe Shaw shot first at Caurice Crawford Sr., the estranged boyfriend of Shaw's sister, and was killed in self-defense.
April 8, 2021, 8:01 a.m. -- MNPD call for service: shots fired.
April 12, 2021, 6:40 p.m. -- Three-year-old Jamayla Marlowe is caught in crossfire and killed. Two other people are injured.
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Watch NewsChannel 5's previous reporting on Gideon's Army below: