Judge Steelman upholds limits, wrecks DA’s ‘safety zone’ plan vs. purported gangs

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A state RICO case defendant finishes a 1-minute arraignment before Judge Tom Greenholtz in Hamilton County Criminal Court in a racketeering case targeting gang activity. (Photo WTVC-TV9)

Mr. Horton, who runs a hospital boiler room, goes back into his family house after telling about his son, Jonathan, who is listed by the state as a gang member. This man is the closest I get to meeting a real gang member after nine visits to their given addresses Tuesday and Wednesday. (Photo David Tulis)

This house, given by the DA as a gang member’s address, appears empty two years later. (Photo David Tulis)

No one answers the door at this house when I come knocking, seeking an interview with an alleged gang member named by DA Neal Pinkston and essentially freed by Judge Barry Steelman. (Photo David Tulis)

Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman puts the kibosh on a gang member ban sought by district attorney Neal Pinkston, citing the sketchy nature of police “gang validation” claims and lack of evidence that groupings such as Gangster Disciples an Grape Street Crips have “as a primary activity” the commission of criminal gang offenses as required by law.

By David Tulis / 92.7 NoogaRadio

The ruling puts in the clear young men such as Ommerieal Woods, who has a record of petty offenses and a gang label. Mr. Woods is at the same time a victim of a scam out of the department of safety and homeland security in which people who never applied for a driver license are given a license administratively, which is then revoked so that the individual might be criminally charged with “driving on revoked.”

The David Tulis show is 1 p.m. weekdays, live and lococentric.

The state’s program is sharply rebuked by a federal judge in Nashville and shows how wily commercial government has become in its bid to regulate use of the roads, even though state law does not allow policing of private users such as Mr. Woods.  Mr. Wood, who says he has a job with Volkswagen, has never applied for a driver license and legally uses a car on the road rather than “operates/drives a motor vehicle.”

Mr. Woods is among  About 30 people highlighted by Mr. Pinkston in a 2016 petition for an East Lake “safety zone” that would have prevented men on the list from freely associating with one another, despite protection of the First Amendment.

Meanwhile, the state is prosecuting 54 people, some connected with gang activity, under the state racketeering statute.

Queries to Trevor Tomas, the police spokesman, or Melydia Clewell, the spokeswoman for the DA’s office, were not returned Wednesday.

Judge Steelman, in a 17-page ruling, highlights how court rules in Tennessee do not allow for gang validation forms to be entered into a case as substantive evidence. The prohibition is the same one that prevents police traffic reports from being entered into evidence in a criminal matter. A traffic report “could contain an opinion or conclusion thus invading the province of the fact finder,” or jury. Left unsaid in the Steelman opinion is a possible reason why traffic reports, like gang validation forms, are not allowed as evidence.

It could be that in the case of transportation wreck reports by police, they are records of administrative law under Tenn. Code Ann. § Title 55, which is administrative law, and not liable for credible use in a criminal matter where constitutional and God-given rights are at stake in the accusation.

Mr. Pinkston’s effort to use the Tennessee nuisance law also falls short,  Judge Steelman says. Tennessee state law defines gang as “a formal or informal ongoing organization, association or group consisting of three (3) or more persons” with a largely criminal purpose. Chief David Roddy’s officers were unable to provide evidence that the social clubs are largely criminal in purpose.

A dad rejects gang label

Jonathan Lebron Horton is said by DA Pinkston to be a gang member. However, his adopted father, a hospital boiler operator at 931 East Avenue, says there is no way that his adopted son could have been a gang member except by mistake and by association.

He describes his son as extraordinarily intelligent, an only child, who did very well on standardized tests and is not deliberately involved in evil enterprises. The DA in his moldy filing says that Jonathan has a criminal history, with connection to controlled substances come is a confirmed Gangster Disciple member and has been arrested with fellow GD number Lee Clements.

And he admits to being one and wearing gang clothing, Mr. Pinkston avers. The senior Mr. Horton says these are affinities and not die hard commitments on the part of his son.

A state racketeering case before Hamilton County criminal court judge Tom Greenholtz involves many people said to be members of either of two gangs. (Photo WTVC-TV0)

Jonathan “works hard” and has been employed at Amazon “last I heard” and also at Volkswagen. “He’s got so many different jobs.”

When he was a teen, “everything was a big joke to him. He didn’t realize the seriousness of it. ‘These guys are dangerous, don’t you understand that?’ He thought it was a joke. *** He’s not really like a hard core gang member, you see what I’m saying?” Mr. Horton says the gang label is easily applied and unreliable. “You see a bunch of ‘em out there playing, ‘that’s a gang!’ You get a bunch of boys together and talking, they say, ‘that’s a gang!’”

There are gangs and they infested his neighborhood, and he made a name for himself trying to drive them out. When members knocked on the door asking for Jonathan, “‘No, he can’t come out here; get away from here.’ I wasn’t afraid of them. I told them to get out of here. You know, if you’re afraid of them they just might do something.”

He says the real gang members are drug dealers and “crack heads,” not the young and impressionable hangers-on such as his son, 22. “All the young people knew someone who was in a gang,” Mr. Horton says.

8 others on DA list not found

An effort to reach Gregory Lamar Gillespie at 2101 Vance Avenue, near the old Tennessee Temple University center, is fruitless. A woman who answers the door at a house with a small lawn more on the front porch says that she is his sister-in-law and, “he don’t come around here no more.” She takes my card.

Clifford Rashid Hill is said to live at 714 S. Seminole Drive. With the house looks abandoned. Dominique Jackson at the Bay Berry apartments, on a potholed road in Glenwood, has not been in apartment 7J for a while. The woman who answers the door said the she is a new tenant come a having moved in two months ago. Two neighbor women are unsure of the name of Mr. Hill as they sit in their living room, the door wide open.

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