NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — From a documentary on the BET network to countless news stories, Gideon’s Army has proven to be adept at public relations.
Recently, NewsChannel 5 Investigates revealed how the social-justice group, in its push to get Nashville city leaders to give them a million dollars of taxpayer money, has exaggerated its record for reducing violence in North Nashville.
Now, our investigation has discovered there's a major difference between what the group claims it's doing with the taxpayer money and donations — and the reality on the streets.
In the summer of 2020, Hambino Godbody and other group leaders took NewsChannel 5 to meet residents of North Nashville’s Cumberland View housing projects, introducing us to Richard Hicks — part of the group's pitch that the community needs more of Gideon’s Army’s violence interrupters and not cops.
“Somebody that we know, familiar faces - you get better results with familiar faces,” Hicks said.
What we didn’t know at the time was that Hicks was running buddies with Godbody.
Last fall, the Gideon's Army leader posted photos and videos of him with Hicks, cruising Old Hickory Lake on a yacht.
Hicks, a convicted felon, also posted video on social media of himself, hand rolling some sort of cigarettes, pulling out a handgun, along with ammunition magazines full of bullets.
He would later be arrested and plead guilty to federal firearms charges.
Juvenile diversion program
Then, there are Gideon’s Army founder Rasheedat Fetuga's claims, in a fund-raising appeal on radio station 92Q and in grant proposals requesting taxpayer money, that “the current juvenile diversion program for the Juvenile Court was developed by Gideon’s Army.”
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Juvenile Court Judge Sheila Calloway, “The current juvenile diversion program was not developed by Gideon's Army?”
“The current program was not developed by Gideon's Army,” Calloway confirmed.
Calloway said Fetuga was one of the people who first pushed the idea for a restorative justice program, but Impact Justice out of California actually developed the program and Raphah Institute was selected to implement it, instead of Gideon’s Army.
"If, in her mind, if that means she formed it, that doesn't necessarily bother me," Calloway said.
"But what I do know is that Raphah Institute is the agency that, along with help from Impact Justice, is the number one agency that actually formed it."
Work with Metro Schools
Gideon’s Army’s website also touts its work in Metro Schools, featuring photos from a program it started at Pearl-Cohn High School several years back, promising that, if you donate, “your donation puts people in schools.”
The group recently submitted a grant application to the city, still claiming "Gideon's Army works with Metro Nashville Public Schools."
NewsChannel 5 asked Pearl-Cohn's principal, Dr. Miriam Harrington, “Does any Metro school have a relationship with Gideon's Army right now?”
“As far as I know, I do not know of any school,” Harrington said.
A Metro Schools spokesperson confirmed that the group is not currently working inside any of the city's schools.
After Harrington took over at Pearl-Cohn in 2018-2019, she asked Gideon’s Army to leave after deciding her team could do a better job of reducing student discipline issues without the disruption brought by outsiders who sometimes had their own agendas.
"When I first came, I believe there were over 3,000 incidents," Harrington said.
"Then, the year thereafter, a thousand. Then, a year after that, 850. And we've cut those down every year since coming into and fully supporting students with restorative practices."
Another Gideon’s Army program at McKissack Middle School also ended after just a year, the district spokesperson said.
But that didn't stop the group from claiming, on its recently updated profile on the Giving Matters website operated by the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, that it's still providing "daily needs to students at McKissack Middle School."
37208 student listening session
On top of that, Gideon's Army also took credit for a forum in March 2020 that Harrington put together for kids from the 37208 ZIP code to talk about issues facing their community.
The group's leaders were there, encouraging the kids to ask for the group to be brought back into the school.
An official announcement of the event made no mention of Gideon's Army.
But then Gideon's Army filed a report to justify a state Department of Human Services grant it was receiving, saying: "Gideon's Army hosted a student listening session at Pearl Cohn High School for the 37208 Committee."
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Harrington, “This is something you hosted?”
“Gideon's Army didn't host it?”
“Any idea why Gideon's Army would say they hosted that event?”
“No, I'm not sure.”
37208 Food Card
While Gideon's Army has occasionally sponsored cookouts and brought food trucks into some neighborhoods, its Giving Matters page claimed: “North Nashville is a food desert. Our 37208 Food Card program provides families with a weekly delivery of fresh food.”
However, a search of Gideon’s Army’s Facebook page did not reveal any mentions of such a food card.
And when NewsChannel 5 stopped by the local Save-A-Lot, where produce and other fresh foods were readily available, we couldn’t find anyone who had ever heard of the food card.
Neither had people at North Nashville's Little Pantry That Could nor had the Rev. Enoch Fuzz, who has his own food ministry.
“I haven't heard of that program," Fuzz said. "I'm going to tell you something: I'm really active in the community.”
After NewsChannel 5 Investigates raised questions about that claim, Gideon's Army recently removed it from the group's Giving Matters profile.
37208 Market and Cafe
Then, there’s a market at 23rd Avenue N. and Osage Street that Gideon’s Army purchased last year for $375,000. The group bought the market after a boycott against an owner who had clashed with the community.
On its Giving Matters profile, Gideon's Army claims the 37208 Market offers “fresh and healthy produce” for the community.
But after putting out a news release for the market that was supposedly going to open a year ago, NewsChannel 5 found it still empty — with no hint of produce or food of any kind.
There was a beer sign and, while we were there, a representative of a local beer distributor arrived with even more signs — signs for Natural Light, but not natural food.
NewsChannel 5 asked the representative of the beer distributor, "Do you know if they are going to open soon?"
"Hopefully," the man answered, later saying he expected the opening was just days away.
But we checked, and the city says Gideon’s Army had not even bothered to apply for a beer permit.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Rev. Fuzz, “Do you think the people who support Gideon's Army ever thought they were supporting another market selling beer?”
“They wouldn’t think of that," Fuzz said.
"If it was a food program and we are talking about eliminating a food desert, we're not going to do it with beer and alcohol.”
Fuzz said the situation with Gideon’s Army shows why big ideas often fail to produce big results.
“Our city government ought to be able to prop people up who have these great ideas," he continued.
"And, if you are not able to prop them up, I'll tell you, man, a lot of times people are going to fall down.”
NewsChannel 5 Investigates repeatedly reached out to Ms. Fetuga to give her a chance to explain the discrepancies we found in the stories that Gideon's Army tells.
Fetuga never responded.
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