Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell is expected to face tough questions from county commissioners Wednesday morning about his decision to seek an end to the U.S. Department of Justice’s oversight of Juvenile Court.
Luttrell said he was asked to appear before the commission committee that oversees law enforcement and courts by the committee’s chairman, Commissioner Mark Billingsley.
Shelby County commissioners were not notified of the mayor’s intentions, and some were miffed that they’d been left out.
Earlier this month, Luttrell and two other top elected county officials asked the Department of Justice to end its oversight of reform efforts designed to correct serious violations uncovered by a 2012 federal investigation. The investigation found that the court failed to protect children from self-harm, failed to protect their due process rights and perhaps most troubling in a majority-black community, treated black children more harshly than white children.
In December 2012, Juvenile Court entered into a memorandum of agreement with the Justice Department, committing to making major reforms that have cost more than $10 million. While federal monitors have found that the court corrected many of the deficiencies, it continues to discriminate against black children. And at some stages of the process, the discrimination has gotten worse, the equal protection monitor noted in the last report made public.
“It is time to terminate the agreement and allow all sides to stand together to praise the work that has been accomplished,” says the June 9 letter, which was signed by Luttrell, Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham and Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael. (Read the entire letter here.)
Luttrell said that ending the oversight was a topic of discussion at a May 25 breakfast with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions at The Arcade. Sessions was in town to address law enforcement; on Tuesday, Sessions named Memphis as one of 12 cities that will receive special crime-fighting help from the federal government.
While Luttrell acknowledged that the court had not made progress on the pattern of racial discrimination, also known as disproportionate minority contact, he referred any questions about the equal protection violations to Judge Michael. Michael, who has repeatedly declined interview requests, again declined to talk.
“We’ve tried to show good faith, we’ve tried to show a commitment and we’re just being asked to be given a little latitude,” Luttrell explained Tuesday.
“The fact that we’ve haven’t made progress in some areas does not indicate a lack of commitment… The fact that that not has been accomplished should not be intrepreted as a sign of racism or insensitivity.”
The County Commission committee meetings begin at 8:30 a.m. at Vasco A. Smith, Jr. County Administration Building, 160 N. Main.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Read the Department of Justice’s 2012 investigation into Juvenile Court. Among the results: “We find that [Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County’s] JCMSC’s administration of justice discriminates against Black children.”
Sign the petition to Luttrell, Oldham and Michaels: “Take back your request to end federal monitoring of Juvenile Court! Protect OUR Children!”
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