April 8th, 2008
As one begins to read into this Letter to the Editor/News Release, one might be inclined to initially conclude that the word “PERSECUTION” is mistakenly misused in place of the word “PROSECUTION” in the title above. Such is not the case, the substitution is not a mistake as far as the author is concerned. As for the readers, after reading and considering all of the content, I suspect that a great number of readers will agree with the choice to use the term “PERSECUTION.” Additionally, readers who, in the future, find themselves selected to be on a Grand Jury or a Jury within the jurisdiction of District Attorney General D. Michael Dunavant may very appropriately find themselves much more guarded and cautious of any testimony offered by General Dunavant, any of his Staff, or any other person potentially falling under the coercive scope of his authority. I am just a dumb old retired Marine Infantry Grunt with no particular expertise in the legal profession. Therefore, in order to avoid any misunderstanding by the reader, I am compelled by reason to define the two above terms as I have applied them herein.
My common, average guy, understanding of the purposes and functions of prosecutors and investigators is that they, upon having probable cause to do so, investigate to establish that a crime has been committed. If they determine that a crime has been committed, they then proceed to conduct a thorough, professional, impartial, ethical investigation aimed at discovering all of the facts that can be uncovered regarding the crime. This includes not only discovering all of the incriminating evidence that can be discovered in support of some preconceived theory of the crime, but it also includes discovering all of the exculpatory evidence as well. When such an investigation establishes that there is probable cause to believe that a particular person or particular persons committed the crime, and that the weight of the evidence is sufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, then they then proceed to charge such person(s) with the crime. They then proceed, within the limits of the law, to aggressively seek to convict the alleged offender(s) in a proper court of law—this fair and unbiased pursuit of the truth then leads to a just conclusion that I call a “PROSECUTION.”
On the other hand, any process or investigation or attempt in or out of a proper court of law by prosecutors and/or investigators to simply single out a person to charge with a crime and then focus their efforts on discovering only incriminating evidence against the person singled out, while deliberately avoiding the discovery and/or disclosure of exculpatory evidence, I call a “PERSECUTION.” Some signs [tells] of such a persecution are uncharacteristic and/or unprofessional actions [exceeding a frequency beyond “very rare”] such as avoiding any attempts to corroborate the testimony of witnesses, and/or a failure to properly locate and secure physical evidence, and/or avoiding the discovery of documents which might prove [or disprove] guilt and/or any other actions whatsoever that tend to obscure the truth regarding the actual guilt of the accused.
The “tells” of what I, above, call “persecution” are not at all rare in the below related cases against Billy Phillips although they should be. On the contrary, they are everywhere and there are far too many to simply dismiss them as mere oversight or even unintentional negligence.
The Stolen Engines
General Dunavant first indicted Mr. Billy Phillips for felony theft of two high performance Chevrolet crate engines and for Official Misconduct. Simply put, General Dunavant alleges that these two engines were gifts from a Chevrolet dealership to the City of Gallaway and that Billy Phillips acting under the authority of his office as Chief of Police diverted receipt of the engines to himself for his own personal gain. The trial ended in a hung jury. Why?
The case was absurd on its face. Neither the City of Gallaway nor the Chevrolet Dealership filed a complaint alleging any unlawful conduct by Mr. Phillips. General Dunavant initiated the investigation without such a complaint based on false and misleading information provided by persons who had no standing to file a complaint of their own. Gallaway City Officials have no recollection of the city having ever sought ownership of such engines and no correspondence or other documents from the dealership to indicate that they ever sought or received such engines, nor would they have had a need for such engines. Additionally, the dealership could not produce any correspondence, receipts or other documents of their own or from the City of Gallaway that offered proof that such a transaction between them and the City of Gallaway ever occurred.
Take note of this “tell,” this absence of any official documents from either the City of Gallaway or the Chevrolet Dealership that would prove General Dunavant’s charges. If the charges were true, there should have been numerous documents to support those charges. This same kind of odd lack of supporting documents in the prosecution’s endless persecution of Billy Phillips will occur frequently throughout this narrative.
Billy Phillips, then Chief of Police, sought and acquired the engines as a private citizen acting in support of a Gallaway youth group and in support of other community projects. One engine was placed in a dragster that was built at Arlington Automotive in connection with a local youth group. It was still there at the time of the trial. Chief Phillips sold the other engine to another person and the proceeds were donated to a construction project in Gallaway intended to benefit the public. Mr. Phillips did not profit or otherwise personally benefit from either of the engines nor did he ever intend to profit from them. The dealership didn’t want the engines back, nor did they seek reimbursement for them, and the City of Gallaway makes no claim on the engines—they never asked for the engines.
The remainder of General Dunavant’s case is based on a telephone interview between a Special Agent Jack Van Hooser and Mr. Bennie Green, the purchaser of the above mentioned other engine. According to Agent Van Hooser’s telephone interview,
“…Green met with Phillips and took him a check for $5500.00, but Phillips would not accept the check, only cash. Green returned with cash and paid for the motor. Green thought it was unusual that Phillips would not take a check because they were friends, and Green had done a lot of work for Phillips and the City of Gallaway as a volunteer. Phillips and Green went to the home of a friend of Phillips where the motor was stored and picked the motor up…”
There were and are two problems with this part of General Dunavant’s case. First of all [as will quickly become apparent], any competent investigator and even most incompetent investigators know that witnesses can sometimes be unreliable without even intending to be so. Consequently, whenever possible, it is standard practice for investigators to try to corroborate their witnesses statements. It would have been very easy for Agent Van Hooser to check on Mr. Green’s statement by checking Mr. Green’s bank records, but he, allegedly, did not do so [another tell?].
Perhaps Agent Van Hooser deliberately neglected to corroborate Mr. Green’s telling of events. After all, Mr. Phillips’ alleged refusal to accept a check and his alleged insistence on cash both imply a guilty act—implies that he was seeking to avoid a paper trail of his crime.
Fortunately, Mr. Phillips managed to discover a copy of the supposedly non-existent check that Mr. Green used to pay him for the engine—the check that Agent van Hooser should have discovered in his [?unbiased, thorough, professional?] investigation. The check is from Mr. Green’s bank account and is made out to Billy Phillips for the amount of $5700.00. The memo note on it indicates that it was for the purchase of a crate engine. Consequently, Mr. Green was not only mistaken about how he paid for the engine, but he also had to “imagine” an entire round trip back to the bank to get the cash and then back to Mr. Phillips to pay him the cash. Unless Mr. Green was benefiting greatly from a recent ingestion of some powerful hallucinogen at the time of Agent Van Hooser’s “investigative telephone interview,” I find it impossible to believe that Mr. Green imaged such a round trip. Yet, at the same time, I find it impossible to believe that Mr. Green would have invented such a false statement on his own, for doing so, would only put him in potential jeopardy of perjury. The only way that it makes sense for Mr. Green to make such a false statement would be if he were “encouraged” to do so under duress. [Tell?]
The trial ended in a mistrial due to a hung jury. General Dunavant’s office will retry Billy Phillips on the alleged theft of the crate engines again on April 23rd, 2008.
The False Indictments
Just days prior to Billy Phillips’ trial for the alleged theft of the above noted crate engines, General Dunavant’s office successfully sought four additional indictments against Mr. Phillips involving firearms and a radar gun and they then expeditiously informed the press of those indictments. Coincidentally, the TBI Agent, Special Agent David Harmon, who presented the charges to the Grand Jury, proceeded almost immediately after the Grand Jury hearing to the Gallaway Police Department to “investigate” the charges for which he had just obtained indictments! Coincidentally, Chief Collins, upon predictably checking readily available records and documents that had been available throughout General Dunavant’s investigation, informed the Agent that he had just committed perjury before the Grand Jury. Chief Collins provided the agent with documents proving that the firearms related charges against Mr. Phillips were false and the agent was appropriately shocked and dismayed. General Dunavant or a member of his staff dutifully went before the appropriate judge and had the charges dismissed. Coincidently, General Dunavant did not expeditiously inform the press of his errors or of the dismissed charges. Coincidentally, General Dunavant managed to get the press to report false damaging indictments about illegal handling of firearms before Mr. Phillips’ trial began. [Another Tell?]
Usually investigators first investigate, confirm, and secure their evidence, before they seek indictments rather than the other way around. Although General Dunavant and his investigators did eventually take possession of and establish a chain of custody on the above mentioned radar gun, they conveniently did not bother to confirm and secure the firearms or any of the other evidence prior to seeking their indictments.
Allegedly, the firearms related false indictments were based on a Report of an Investigative Audit of the City of Gallaway. The Investigative Audit Report is, generally, not actual evidence by itself. It is simply a report of evidence discovered. The actual evidence lies within the documents upon which the report is based. All of the documents available at the time of the audit were made available to the auditors including the documents that Chief Collins showed to the TBI agent to prove that the firearms indictments were false. The source documents, on the firearms in question, identifying from whom the Gallaway Police Department acquired the firearms proves that the alleged crimes did not even occur. These documents were provided for the auditors to review and copies were provided of all documents requested by them. In the unlikely event that the auditors failed to provide copies of the actual evidence to General Dunavant, that is simply no excuse for obtaining false indictments against a person and reporting those indictments to the public—especially a person about to be tried on other charges. The source documents have been readily available to General Dunavant and his investigators throughout the many months prior to and following the audit, as well as after the Audit Report was released. General Dunavant knew that the check discovered by Mr. Phillips, that wasn’t supposed to exist, had destroyed the credibility of the engine buyer as a witness in a case that was within days of going to trial.
The coincidences noted above are deliberate coincidences and the errors made by General Dunavant and his Staff were deliberately orchestrated errors designed to try to publicly damage Mr. Phillips just prior to trial on the weak engine theft charges. The coincidental failure of General Dunavant to promptly inform the press of the error serves only to substantiate this conclusion. It was easy for them to predict that, if someone coincidentally showed up promptly at the Gallaway Police Department after the Grand Jury, they would coincidentally discover their error and coincidentally have to get the charges dismissed—but, of course, it would coincidentally, conveniently, and unfortunately be too late to stop the press.
Investigating and validating the charges after obtaining the Grand Jury Indictments instead of before seeking such indictments? I suppose the Three Stooges might do things in that order. The only reason, in this case, for such a strange, aberrant reverse process of obtaining the indictment first and investigating second is self-evident. Had Agent Harmon sought the so-called evidence against Mr. Phillips regarding the firearms related charges prior to obtaining the indictments, he would have been made aware in advance that the firearms charges were false. Consequently, it would have been impossible to deliberately seek false, damaging indictments against Mr. Phillips prior to the already pending trial and then explain them away after the damage to Mr. Phillips had already been accomplished.
The Indictments Regarding the Theft of a Radar Gun
As mentioned above, along with the false indictments, Mr. Phillips was also indicted on charges involving the alleged theft of a Radar Gun. It was alleged that Piperton Mayor Chambers, City Commissioner Scott Thomas, and Piperton Chief of Police Carl Hendricks presented a radar gun to Gallaway Chief of Police Billy Phillips as a gift to the City of Gallaway in appreciation for Gallaway’s assistance and support in helping Piperton establish a Police Department. It was also alleged that this radar gun was purchased with a personal credit card by Commissioner Scott Thomas. It was further alleged that Chief Phillips falsely claimed that the gift had been presented to him in appreciation for his efforts to assist Piperton and that he, consequently, profited illegally by selling the radar gun. This gift was presented to Chief Phillips in private, behind the closed doors of Chief Phillips’ office. No other Gallaway Officials were present, nor did Piperton notify them that such a gift was to be presented.
An auditor reported that it seemed to him that the gift of a radar gun would be more appropriate as a gift to a City as opposed to a gift to a Chief of Police. Frankly, considering the circumstances, my opinion is the exact opposite of the auditor’s. The gift was presented privately behind closed doors in the Police Department to Chief Phillips without the prior knowledge of any other Gallaway Officials and without the prior public approval of the Piperton City Commission. If the gift had actually been intended as a gift of appreciation from the City of Piperton to the City of Gallaway, the errant involved Piperton Officials would have obtained proper prior approval to present the gift on behalf of Piperton and they would have presented it publicly at an appropriate Gallaway public meeting and/or public award ceremony. Additionally, they would have found a gift or an award more appropriate to present to a city. Although the gift of a hand held radar gun to a police officer or police department seems reasonably appropriate, as a gift to a city, it would seem to be a really dumb choice.
At the same time that the above gift was presented to Chief Phillips, Piperton Mayor Chambers and Commissioner Scott Thomas, without the proper prior approval of the Piperton City Commission, decided to try to modify a contract established between and approved by both the Piperton and Gallaway City Commissions. Upon informing Chief Phillips of their decision, Chief Phillips informed them that neither he nor they had the authority to modify such an agreement without the prior approval of their respective City Commissions. Thereafter the relationship between the Gallaway Police Department and the City of Piperton rapidly disintegrated.
Once again there was a conspicuous absence of documentation to prove the charges. The prosecutors offered no documentation whatsoever as evidence in support of their charges because, although there were documents available, they disproved the claim that the radar gun was purchased by Commissioner Scott Thomas. It appears that it was important to the prosecution to present their case in a manner that indicated that Commissioner Scott Thomas had purchased the radar gun as a private citizen. It seems that the prosecution wanted to avoid disclosing some possible Sunshine Law violations and misconduct problems regarding their witnesses. The decision to give the radar gun to the City of Gallaway was not made at a public Piperton City Commissioners meeting nor was it approved at such a meeting. Had Commissioner Scott Thomas actually purchased the radar gun as a private citizen then that fact would probably have adequately mitigated the Sunshine Law violations and other possible misconduct credibility problems that existed with the prosecution’s witnesses.
It is completely impossible to believe that General Dunavant and his staff did not seek any proof of purchase and/or proof of ownership documents and/or check the credit card records of Commissioner Scott Thomas regarding the purchase of the radar gun prior to seeking an indictment. The very idea that they would somehow inadvertently overlook the very obvious course of action to seek supporting documentation to help prove their case is absolutely absurd. Proof of ownership is crucial in establishing whether or not a theft has even been committed. It is obvious from the documents provided with this letter that, not only did Commissioner Scott Thomas not purchase the radar gun as was alleged, but that falsifying pen changes were made to COMMSERV invoice #149869 in an effort to create the false appearance that Commissioner Thomas had made the purchase. It is very clear from Piperton Police Department check number 1103 that Commissioner Scott Thomas did not pay for the radar gun. The check pays $699.00 to COMMSERV and in the lower left corner it refers to invoice #149869 which is the invoice for the purchase of the radar gun allegedly stolen by Billy Phillips. These above mentioned documents were obtained by the defense from Piperton City Hall just before trial because they were noticeably absent from the discovery provided by the prosecution. The prosecution had to know of these documents and they deliberately withheld them from the defense. The prosecution also certainly knew that Commissioner Scott Thomas did not purchase the radar gun. Nevertheless, the prosecution allowed him to get on the stand and commit perjury by testifying that he purchased the radar gun with his credit card. Additionally, Mayor Chambers and Commissioner Scott Thomas also certainly had to know about the above documents. Finally, can anyone actually believe that Commissioner Scott Thomas did not know that he was committing perjury when he testified that he paid for the radar gun? [way too many tells?]
Billy Phillips was acquitted by a jury of all charges regarding the radar gun.
In the aftermath of the trial, General Dunavant and TBI continue to stupidly act as if they actually believe that the radar gun belongs to the City of Gallaway. After the trial, Agent David Harmon sent a letter to the City of Gallaway requesting that they retrieve their radar gun within 30 days or the radar gun would be destroyed. Current Gallaway Police Chief Christine Ashcraft, who was unfamiliar with any of the details surrounding the radar gun, retrieved the radar gun from TBI. Consequently, for the time being, it is not going to be destroyed. Nevertheless, until such time as the Piperton City Commission properly and legally approves and documents the transfer of ownership of the radar gun from the City of Piperton to the City of Gallaway, the radar gun remains the indisputable property of the citizens of Piperton. Furthermore it is wrongful and unlawful for General Dunavant and Special Agent Harmon to deprive the citizens of Piperton of their lawfully obtained property by “awarding” that property to the City of Gallaway.
There have been far too many slip-ups, too many unprofessional breaches of established investigative procedures, and too many negligent lapses in due diligence focused on one defendant [Billy Phillips] by General Dunavant, his staff, and TBI to simply conclude that they were just honest mistakes and/or human error. For some insane reason General Dunavant is determined to abuse the power of his office for as long as it takes to destroy Billy Phillips. Left unchecked, I think that General Dunavant will continue to concoct charges against Billy Phillips, such as those noted herein, until he either convicts Billy Phillips or bankrupts him.
In addition to all of the above, which I would briefly describe as gross prosecutorial misconduct and malicious prosecution, General Dunavant has, during the same timeframe as covered above, not only tried to further damage Billy Phillips by lying to the media about Billy Phillips having multiple prior felony convictions, he has also communicated that same lie to the Mayor of Gallaway. Additionally, in a letter to the Board of Professional Responsibility dated October 15th, 2007, on paper with the letterhead of his elected office, General Dunavant stated that the Police Officer Standards and Training Commission [POST Commission] informed him that Billy Phillips “…had prior disqualifying felony convictions…” General Dunavant is fully capable of checking the criminal history of Billy Phillips and is, therefore, fully aware that Billy Phillips has never been convicted of a felony—or did he neglect to double check his facts in this matter as well?
I was not at all surprised by the recent storm of media stories about the filing of a motion accusing District Attorney General Michael Dunavant of threatening to indict Selmer, TN Chief of Police Burks for testifying at a bond hearing for indicted drag racer, Troy Critchley. I had prior knowledge of similar conduct by General Dunavant. In the same letter to the Board of Professional Responsibility noted in the above paragraph, General Dunavant accused Jason Collins, the new Gallaway Chief of Police, of misconduct before the court in Billy Phillips’ first trial on the alleged theft of the crate engines. General Dunavant’s allegations were completely lacking of any substance or specificity. He alleged that Chief Collins sat directly behind Phillips and, that during breaks and at other times Chief Collins was seen at defense counsel table with Phillips, and that Chief Collins took further steps to assist and collaborate with the defense during trial. He further stated that it was unbecoming of a Chief of Police to assist those who violate the law. Apparently General Dunavant has deluded himself into believing that it is he, rather than the courts and juries, who decide who has actually violated the law.
If Generals Dunavant and Dycus really believed that they had a legitimate concern about Chief Collins’ conduct before the court, then they would have had a duty as officers of the court to bring their legitimate concerns to the attention of the judge during the trial. They obviously either neglected their duty to present their concerns to the judge or, if they did, the judge apparently found no merit in their concerns. If the judge had, I am absolutely certain that the judge would have, at the least, had the bailiff remove Chief Collins from his court.
Additionally, General Dunavant stated that it was disturbing to him that Chief Collins testified before the POST Commission on behalf of and in defense of Phillips. Chief Collins’ testimony before the POST Commission is a matter of record. He testified, primarily, to the state of the Gallaway Police Personel Files that he had previously reviewed at Chief Phillips request. Chief Collins testified truthfully before the POST Commission and his testimony was unchallenged. He did not testify on behalf of or in defense of Mr. Phillips nor did he do the opposite. He simply testified truthfully, without regard for who it helped or hurt, which was his only concern and his only duty before that committee.
Think about it! In his above mentioned letter and in his recently reported treatment of Chief Burks in Selmer, General Dunavant is, by his conduct and attitudes, implicitly and coercively issuing an edict under the authority of his office that essentially states that no police officer in his jurisdiction should testify truthfully on behalf of or in defense of an accused fellow officer or any other defendant. Apparently General Dunavant cannot trust any police officer who would be disloyal to him by being loyal to the truth.
When a police officer or any other citizen brought before the court, or any officer of the court including a prosecutor or defense attorney, or before any other fact finding body that can compel testimony under threat of perjury, then said police officer or other citizen is bound to only one loyalty and that loyalty is to the truth. Any statement, conduct, or action by General Dunavant in his official capacity that might tend to impede, or to obstruction, or to discourage said loyalty to the truth before the court can only be regarded as Official Misconduct or worse.
I have done my best to provide as much supporting documentation as possible and to fairly and properly interpret the same. My resources are very limited. Please be aware that the content of this letter is intended only as an expression of my opinion and nothing more. In Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “A Psalm of Life,” he writes “In the world’s broad field of battle, in the bivouac of Life, be not like dumb driven cattle! be a hero in the strife!” This was a plea from Longfellow to humanity. He is essentially saying, don’t be a slave to popular opinion, and don’t let the government, or society, or anyone, or anything else “tell” you what to think. Instead, learn to think for yourself. I can do no better than he in telling you not to believe what I have written simply because I have written it and I believe it.
In spite of everything that I believe and that I have written herein, I, nevertheless, sincerely harbor a small hope that, at the end of a diligent search for the truth and the discovery of, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story;” and, after a thorough review of all of the evidence both inculpatory and exculpatory; the whole truth will, not only exonerate General Dunavant of any misconduct, but that it will also serve to both condone and applaud the actions and conduct of General Dunavant and his office. We don’t need a Nifong sort of episode here in our own back yard, but, at the same time, if we have one, we cannot simply turn away and ignore it.
Respectfully offered as fruit for thought regarding various potential misconducts of District Attorney General D. Michael Dunavant of the 25th Judicial District.
Dennis D. Cantrel
SgtMaj. USMC (retired)
(Watch for more articles to come regarding the unfair treatment of Police Chief Billy Phillips)