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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, Jan. 11, 2019

Posted: 3:25 PM, Jan 11, 2019
Updated: 2019-01-11 16:25:35-05
D.C. Mayor Bans Government Travel To Tennessee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst

January 11, 2019

CYNTOIA BROWN; BOUND OVER; DR. THOMAS SCHWARTZ ON INSIDE POLITICS; THE 111th TENNESSEE GENERAL ASSEMBLY HAS CONVENED; GOVERNOR LEE STEPS ASIDE FROM HIS FAMILY BUSINESS; A MESS GETTING MESSIER; THE 2020 U.S. SENATE RACE BEGINS TO FORM;

CYNTOIA BROWN

In many ways it’s been the most ballyhooed clemency case in recent Tennessee history. Several world-famous celebrities (Rihanna, Kim Kardashian West) and numerous political figures (including the Metro Council without dissent) have urged Cyntoia Brown be released from prison.

Brown was sentenced to life in prison for a first-degree murder and robbery committed as a 16-year-old in 2004. It occurred after she had run away from home. Brown has said she acted in self-defense in shooting the man after she was forced into prostitution. Other Brown supporters said she was a victim of sex trafficking and abuse.

But State Parole officials were split in their recommendations to Governor Bill Haslam. After months of deliberating the clemency appeal, and less than two weeks before he leaves office, the Governor granted her release. It is effective this coming August, commuting her sentence after serving 15 years behind bars.

From Governor Haslam’s clemency statement:

“This decision comes after careful consideration of what is a tragic and complex case,” Haslam said. “Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16. Yet, imposing a life sentence on a juvenile that would require her to serve at least 51 years before even being eligible for parole consideration is too harsh, especially in light of the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life. Transformation should be accompanied by hope. So, I am commuting Ms. Brown’s sentence, subject to certain conditions.”

Brown’s parole conditions will require that she not violate any state or federal laws, and she will be subject to a release plan approved by the Tennessee Department of Correction and special supervision conditions, including employment, education, counseling, and community engagement requirements. Parole supervision will continue until August 7, 2029, at which point Brown’s sentence will expire. She will complete re-entry programming prior to her release from custody in August in order to facilitate a successful transition to the community.”

Later in an interview with THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL, Governor Haslam downplayed the impact of all the celebrity and political endorsements for Ms. Brown.

“I think the thing that was so unusual about this (Brown case) was that, because it got such an extraordinary amount of publicity, we wanted to make certain we didn’t treat it any better or worse than any other case. We ended up getting 100,000 phone calls, which I think is the most that we’ve gotten on any issue. But while obviously that’s how democracy works, you don’t want to make decisions based on how many phone calls you get. So we wanted to set all that aside and say, what’s the right

thing to do in this case? And in this case, it meant talking to everybody from her lawyers, to people who had been involved with her while she was in prison, to counselors who knew her, to try to make certain we were making the best decision.”

Based on his clemency statement, it appears Governor Haslam is impressed with how Ms. Brown has changed her life.

“While in prison, Brown has earned her GED and completed an associate degree in 2015 through the Lipscomb LIFE program with a 4.0 GPA. It is anticipated that she will complete a bachelor’s degree in 2019. Numerous Department of Correction employees and volunteers attest to her extraordinary personal transformation while incarcerated, which will allow her to be a positive influence on the community upon release.”

The Governor also sees the Brown case as an additional reason for criminal justice reform in Tennessee, even though there will be those who don’t support his clemency decision, including the family of Brown’s victim, Nashville real estate agent Johnny Allen.

“While we have spent a considerable amount of time studying and implementing sentencing and criminal justice reform in our state, there is more work to be done,” Haslam said. “I am hopeful serious consideration of additional reforms will continue, especially with respect to the sentencing of juveniles.”

“Obviously there’s a lot of people who think it’s the greatest thing ever (his Brown decision) and some people who will be upset. I think you’ve got to shove all that aside. It’s part of why, when Corker’s seat came up, I said it’s just not right. Because I didn’t want to spend my last year-and-a-half as governor running for the Senate, and you couldn’t help but let things affect you. And that’s really why I said on this one, I’m not going to spend a lot of time thinking about it until we get out of here.”

BOUND OVER

After a two-day preliminary hearing, Nashville Judge Melissa Blackburn has bound over to the Nashville Davidson County Grand Jury the criminal homicide case against Metro Police officer Andrew Delke, Jr.

The State is trying to prove that Delke, a white police officer, committed criminal homicide by shooting and killing 25-year-old Daniel Hambrick, a black man, as he ran away. According to police, Hambrick led Delke on a short foot chase prior to the shooting that occurred back on July 26, 2018.

Judge Blackburn advanced the case, concluding that the evidence did not demonstrate Delke’s life was in imminent danger at the time. But the judge also stressed that her job was to determine probable cause, a lower bar than deciding guilt or innocence.

“The Court is mindful of the fact that police work is stressful; that officers must make split second decisions and often act in a heroic manner,” the judge wrote in her decision. “This does not justify the pursuit of a man suspected of no crime following the trailing of a car not apparently involved in any criminal activity. The decision to pursue Mr. Hambrick on foot seems ... to have been prompted by mere assumptions.”

Blackburn also deemed it “improbable” that Hambrick turned and pointed his gun at Delke during the chase, noting that wasn’t supported by video evidence and that Hambrick appeared to be running as fast as he could.

Delke’s attorney David Raybin maintains further evidence, including the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s probe of the matter, is still to be presented in the case. The court decision came following a tense exchange in court between attorneys that continued afterwards.

According to a report by the Associated Press: “Nashville District Attorney General Glenn Funk said Delke’s defense argued that Delke was relying on his training. During the hearing, defense attorneys had said Delke followed that training and state law when he saw Hambrick had a gun and shot him from behind during the foot chase.

Funk said that recalled a (similar) defense used in Nuremberg (the War Crimes trial after World War II). He said there were options available, adding Delke could have stopped, sought cover and called for help.

Delke’s attorney, David Raybin, swung back, saying Funk “has functionally declared war on our police because all of our officers are trained in an identical fashion.”

Let me be clear: Nashville police officers are not Nazis,” Raybin said.

Funk quickly responded that “nothing could be further than the truth” than Raybin’s claims of a war on police, saying in a statement that his office respects and supports Nashville’s police department and that his Nuremberg reference meant that “individuals are accountable for their actions and cannot assign blame to their superiors or the department as a whole.”

“This case is about Andrew Delke and his actions,” not the police department, Funk said.

In a case that continues to sharply divide the community, it is now up to the 13-member county grand jury to indict Delke or return a ‘no true” bill that would end the criminal case.

Delke is the first Nashville police officer in memory to face possible charges over an on-duty shooting.

DR. THOMAS SCHWARTZ ON INSIDE POLITICS

Usually during the holidays and early January, things are quiet in Washington, except for a new Congress coming into session.

But that’s not true this year with the soon to be record-long partial shutdown of the federal government continuing due to the never-ending southern border wall fight. And there's all the controversy and confusion over several recent foreign policy decisions (then reversals) by President Donald Trump.

We’ve again asked presidential scholar and Vanderbilt professor of history and political science Dr. Thomas Schwartz to join us on INSIDE POLITICS this week to sort things out and share his insights.

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include:

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5:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Saturday;

1:30 a.m. & 5:00 a.m. on Sunday.

THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 182 and on NEWSCHANNEL5’s over-the-air digital channel 5.2.

One option for those who can’t see the show locally or who are out of town, you can watch it live with streaming video on NEWSCHANNEL5.com. Just use your TiVo or DVR, if those live times don't work for you.

This week’s show and previous INSIDE POLITICS interviews are also posted on the NEWSCHANNEL5 website for your viewing under the NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS section. A link to the show is posted as well on the Facebook page of NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Each new show and link are posted the week after the program airs.

THE 111th TENNESSEE GENERAL ASSEMBLY HAS CONVENED

We’ve been talking it about for weeks on INSIDE POLITICS.

The 111th Tennessee General Assembly began its work on Tuesday with its first day of session including new leadership, a near record number of new faces and a few protests to liven the hallways on the Hill. https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2019/01/08/tennessee-general-assembly-convenes-rep-glen-casada-elected-house-speaker/2471696002/

In terms of moving legislation, it will be a slow start. This week was taken up by orientation sessions (including sexual harassment training) plus lawmakers received their office and committee assignments. Then it’s a week off awaiting the swearing in ceremonies for Governor-elect Bill Lee which are set for Saturday, January 19.

The committee appointments came out Thursday with new House Speaker Glenn Casada following through on his promise to his Republican Caucus members to get them more involved in the annual budget process by creating more committees and sub-committees. Casada also raised eyebrows by appointing two Democrats to run panels while leaving out two GOP House lawmakers. https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2019/01/10/tennessee-house-speaker-glen-casada-expands-committee-system-names-2-democratic-chairs/2518383002/

To add more details, the State Senate also saw some committee chair shuffles as appointed by Lt. Governor Randy McNally. Reports THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL blog.

“Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), who only narrowly won re-election in November over Democratic challenger Gabby Salinas, is out as chairman of the Judiciary Committee in a leadership shuffle by Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge).

The new judiciary chairman is Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville), while Sen. Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield) takes his place as chairman of Government Operations. Sen. Paul Bailey (R-Sparta) is the new chairman of Commerce, while Sen. Becky Massey (R-Knoxville) takes over in his former role as chairman of Transportation. Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) is the new chairman of the State and Local Government committee, which was vacated by Sen. Ken Yager (R-Kingston), who is now Republican caucus chairman. Sente Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) is the former Chairman of the Commerce Committee.”

As I mentioned earlier, it will be a few weeks yet before bills start moving through committees. But already the interest in proposals to legalize medical marijuana in Tennessee is growing based on multiple measures being introduced. That’s even though incoming Governor Bill Lee (somewhat like current Governor Bill Haslam) says he opposes the concept. https://www.tennessean.com/story/money/2019/01/10/medical-marijuana-bill-introduced-tennessee-lawmakers/2505820002/

The increase in the number of medical marijuana bills could also be a sign of division among supporters about the details about setting up such a program. That in turn could make it continue to be problematic that anything regarding the issue passes this session even though some 30 other states have such medical assistance programs.

GOVERNOR LEE STEPS ASIDE FROM HIS FAMILY BUSINESS

As he promised during his campaign, Governor-elect Bill Lee is stepping away from the Lee Co., placing his holdings in a bind trust while he runs the state.

Here’s how he explained the move in a news release from his transition office:

“Tennessee Governor-elect Bill Lee announced his departure as Chairman of Lee Company as he places his holdings of the company into a blind trust.

“As I said I would do on the campaign trail, I have officially stepped away from my company and placed all of my company holdings into a blind trust to eliminate any potential conflicts of interest,” said Lee. “I look forward to this new chapter of public service and I leave knowing that Lee Company is in good hands with CEO Richard Perko and the Board of Directors.”

Lee resigned from Lee Company on December 21, 2018 after more than 35 years at the company. The company board of directors signed a board resolution removing Lee as chairman, effective at the close of business today, January 9. Additionally, Lee’s stock enters into a blind trust, effective today.

As previously announced, Lee Company will fulfill obligations to state contracts but will no longer pursue new state contracts. With holdings in a blind trust, Governor-elect Lee will no longer have communication with the company regarding contracts and other business decisions.

Lee Company is a family-owned construction, facilities and home services company with offices and operations throughout Middle Tennessee, North Alabama and Southern Kentucky. Lee Company employs more than 1,200 people and has annual revenue in excess of $220 million.”

The Governor-elect also continues to fill out his staff. Brandon Gibson, a judge on the western section of the Tennessee Court of Appeals has been named senior adviser to his incoming administration. She will

be focus on long-term initiatives like criminal justice reform and prioritizing the needs of rural communities.

A MESS GETTING MESSIER

The Metro School Board and its administration is a mess in terms of its governance function, and it appears to be getting worse.

This week state education officials said they are reviewing the educator license of Metro Schools Director Dr. Shawn Joseph. The inquiry comes because of concerns he failed to report numerous recent cases of teacher misconduct. That includes several revealed by NEWSCHANNEL5 INVESTIGATES.

The state investigation disclosure follows a raucous school board meeting where one member, out recovering from a medical condition, took to social media and urged teachers opposed to Dr. Joseph to show up at the session to express their concerns, and wear masks if they want to protect themselves from retaliation.

That led supporters of Dr. Joseph (who also showed up the School Board) to say wearing masks (apparently no one di,d by the way) smacks of tactics of the Klu Klux Klan. Dr. Joseph is African American.

The schism on the School Board first became clear a few months ago. That’s when three of its nine members signed an op-ed piece in THE TENNESSEAN saying they had lost faith in the Schools Director and he should be dismissed.

Now adding further fuel to the fire (and perhaps more investigations) are the members of Nashville’s state legislative delegation which met this week. Here’s a report from THE NASHVILLE SCENE. https://www.nashvillescene.com/news/pith-in-the-wind/article/21040747/nashvilles-lawmakers-wonder-whats-going-on-at-metro-schools

THE 2020 U.S. SENATE RACE BEGINS TO FORM

He dropped out last year to give former Governor Phil Bredesen an united Democratic Party behind him in what turned out to be an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate to replace Republican Bob Corker.

Now with Tennessee’s other seat in the Senate open in 2020 because incumbent Lamar Alexander is retiring, Nashville attorney James Mackler won’t be denied a spot in the candidate field this time. He has told the Associated Press he is in the field. This story link is courtesy of THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL. http://onthehill.tnjournal.net/democrat-mackler-to-run-for-senate-in-2020/

Mackler is already taking a sharply different approach than Bredesen by attacking Trump, who appears to remain very popular in statewide polls.

On the GOP side, outgoing Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam says he is also giving the Senate race “serious consideration.” He is taking an overseas trip with his family where he will possibly make up his mind about what to do. New GOP Congressman and former State Senator Dr. Ma