A1 A1
Lebanon charts new course to deal with flooding

Lebanon decided to axe plans based on the Army Corps of Engineers study for the water detention structure at Stumpy Lane in lieu of a new plan aimed at mitigating multiple factors that cause the flooding on the square and other areas around the city.

During its regular scheduled meeting Tuesday, the City Council passed a resolution sponsored by Councilor Fred Burton and Mayor Rick Bell unanimously, which approved a long list of efforts aimed to protect the city from flood damage.

Those items include:

  • Contact the owner of the Woolen Mills and request permission/authorization to remove the old railroad bridge.

Request a professional services proposal to model Sinking Creek with the two buildings between West Spring Street and the railroad tracks near Newby Street removed in order to evaluate the effect on flooding and determine if the city should pursue the purchase and removal of these two buildings.

  • Run a second model with the same two buildings removed along with the construction of a wall along the west side of Sinking Creek between West Spring Street and the railroad tracks.
  • Consider modifications to the West Gay Street creek bank as part of the bridge replacement project.
  • Develop a warning system using new technology to warn emergency officials who will then be able to provide an earlier warning of flood conditions to Lebanon Square business and property owners.
  • Improve debris removal efforts in Sinking Creek after significant storms.
  • Establish a specific maintenance plan in compliance with state and/or federal guidelines.
  • Develop an improvement/incentive plan for new developments in the watershed to detain and store additional stormwater on their respective properties.
  • Provide education and information to property owners regarding improvements they can make to reduce flood risks and damages that would include flood-proofing measures like storing items above flood elevation, locating electric outlets above the flood elevations, and using concrete floors as opposed to carpet or wood to reduce cleanup activities and costs.
  • Consider buying out high-risk property that has a history of flooding and work with the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency to determine eligible structures.
  • Consider a local grant program to assist property owners with specific improvements to their private property that would assist in mitigating flooding.
  • Councilor Jeni Lind Brinkman said, “I think this is heading in the right direction.”

    Turning to Commissioner of Public Works Jeff Baines, Brinkman asked what kind of timetable the city could expect on these plans. Baines said that it varied on each item, that some could be turned around quickly, while others would require more time, estimating about a six-month timetable for the longest of the projects.

    Brinkman said that she would like to see regular updates on the status of these items moving forward, to which Baines obliged.

    Wilson County Sheriff’s Office corporals James Flora, left, and Matthew Bush lead a group of correctional officers and dispatchers on a training session through Lebanon on Tuesday in preparation for the 12-week law enforcement academy, during which time they will get certified to become deputies. Chief Deputy Mike Owen said the training would feature extensive physical workouts and that the recruits had to have at least two years of experience either as correctional officers or dispatchers to go out for certification.

    Training for the academy

    Police brass eyed in probe of Black man's deadly arrest

    MONROE, La. — Federal prosecutors are investigating whether Louisiana State Police brass obstructed justice to protect the troopers seen on long-withheld body camera video punching, dragging and stunning Black motorist Ronald Greene during his fatal 2019 arrest.

    It marks a significant expansion of the federal inquiry that began as a blow-by-blow examination of the troopers’ violence against Greene and their apparent efforts to cover it up. Investigators are now moving up the chain of command, probing allegations that supervisors disregarded the video evidence, quashed a recommendation to arrest one of the troopers and recently pressed a state prosecutor not to bring any charges, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press and a half dozen people familiar with the case.

    “Their investigation is far beyond just use of force,” said Ron Haley, an attorney for Greene’s family, who met with federal authorities at length last month. “They’re casting a very wide net.”

    The development comes as federal prosecutors are preparing to present their findings to a grand jury by the end of the summer, which could bring the first charges of any kind in a case that’s long been shrouded in secrecy.

    Greene’s deadly arrest on May 10, 2019, came after he eluded a stop for a traffic violation and led troopers on a chase near Monroe at speeds topping 115 mph. Troopers initially told Greene’s relatives the 49-year-old died from a crash at the end of the chase, despite his car showing little damage, and only later did state police acknowledge a struggle.

    It took 474 days for state police to launch an internal inquiry and officials from Gov. John Bel Edwards on down refused to release body camera video for more than two years. That was until the AP obtained and published it in May, showing white troopers beating Greene and dragging him by his ankle shackles, even as he pleaded for mercy and wailed, “I’m your brother! I’m scared! I’m scared!”

    A key point under scrutiny in the federal investigation came just a day after the AP published the video, when the head of the state police, Col. Lamar Davis, and his chief of staff, Lt. Col. Doug Cain, made a hastily arranged attempt to dissuade state prosecutors from charging troopers in the Greene case, according to several people familiar with the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss it.

    Davis and Cain traveled to District Attorney John Belton’s office in Ruston — more than 200 miles north of Baton Rouge — on May 20 to review the video frame by frame and make the case that the troopers’ actions were justified. Belton, who told colleagues he was deeply disturbed by the footage, referred the case to federal authorities in September 2019 but has not ruled out prosecuting the troopers at the state level.

    Capt. Nick Manale, a state police spokesman, said the agency is continuing to cooperate with the federal investigation and “intends to release all documents and investigative files at the appropriate time.” He said the federal inquiry “prevents the release of further information.”

    Davis has declined repeated interview requests. Cain did not respond to messages seeking comment.

    “Why would the top command people be so adamant on protecting their officers when it’s apparent that the officers didn’t do everything right?” said Andrew Scott, a former Boca Raton, Florida, police chief who testifies as an expert witness in use-of-force cases. “There’s a culture and a custom and practice that this type of behavior is condoned or winked at by command staff and has been allowed to perpetuate itself over the course of many years.”

    Of particular interest to federal investigators is why the state police failed to arrest Chris Hollingsworth, a veteran trooper who can be seen on the video stunning Greene and was later recorded boasting to a colleague that he choked Greene and beat the “ever living f—- out of him.”

    Seven days after Greene’s death, on May 17, 2019, state police detectives told their superiors that Hollingsworth should be arrested for turning off his dashboard and body cameras before the high-speed pursuit and later when he realized one of the devices was recording him talking about beating Greene, according to notes written by the lead investigator, Det. Albert Paxton.

    But state police commanders in Monroe pressured their detectives to hold off, the notes say. Among those present at the meeting were Capt. John Peters, the regional troop commander, and Bob Brown, then the major over statewide criminal investigations.

    The meeting became “very heated,” the notes say, with the commanders warning that charging Hollingsworth would cause investigators to “have issues with patrol.”

    The detectives also suggested Hollingsworth be charged with aggravated battery. Peters responded, “What is evidence and who decides?”

    Hollingsworth was never arrested and was only fired in September after he admitted to bashing Greene’s head with a flashlight — a use of deadly force internal investigators said was unjustified. The 46-year-old died in a single-car highway crash in Monroe hours after he learned of his firing.

    Also under scrutiny, according to those familiar with the probe, is why the state police failed to provide the body camera video and even the most basic police reports for the official autopsy. It listed Greene’s cause of death as “cocaine induced agitated delirium complicated by motor vehicle collision, physical struggle, inflicted head injury and restraint.” The forensic pathologists, however, say the lack of supporting materials left them unable to determine whether the crash or excessive police force caused his most severe injuries.

    The FBI recently asked the pathologist to make another attempt at such a conclusion accounting for the evidence state police initially failed to provide.

    As federal prosecutors home in on possible obstruction charges, state police leaders have redoubled their hunt for leaks in a case that’s steeped the agency in controversy and divided its ranks.

    At least six high-ranking state police officials — including Peters, Brown and Col. Kevin Reeves, the head of the state police at the time of Greene’s death — have retired amid the growing fallout from the case.

    Last month, Peters announced his departure as head of the Monroe-based Troop F — which has become notorious for its harsh treatment of Black suspects — with an email saying, “Shamefully, we have now seen there are those within our own ranks tearing this agency apart from the inside.”

    Peters didn’t mention in his email that he recently received a 32-hour suspension for signing off on a use-of-force report without reviewing the body camera footage of his troopers beating yet another Black motorist, according to state police records. Peters, who was among the commanders to sign off on the use-of-force reports in Greene’s case, told investigators it was “common practice” for him to approve such documents without reviewing the materials. He declined to comment to AP.

    Leading the federal inquiry is Assistant U.S. Attorney John Luke Walker, a Lafayette-based prosecutor who won accolades for his role in a sprawling child exploitation case that resulted in dozens of convictions.

    Walker is also investigating Louisiana state troopers’ beatings of at least two other Black motorists. They include Aaron Larry Bowman, who was pulled over near his Monroe home just 20 days after Greene’s death and was struck 18 times with a flashlight, leaving him with a broken jaw, ribs and wrist, and a gash to the head.

    Trooper Jacob Brown, the son of Bob Brown, was arrested in December on second-degree battery and malfeasance charges in Bowman’s beating. Brown did not respond to requests for comment.

    Bowman’s lawyer, Donecia Banks-Miley, said federal prosecutors met with her and her client in June and showed them Brown’s 2019 body camera footage for the first time.

    “It’s been covered up for so long,” Banks-Miley said. “It’s just been covered up.”

    City approves new liquor store despite calls for cap

    Efforts to limit the number of liquor stores in Lebanon were stymied during the last Lebanon City Council meeting in July, but they haven’t sunk just yet. However, at least one more liquor store was approved during the meeting Tuesday.

    Conversations over whether Lebanon already had too many liquor stores first surfaced last month during council work sessions, and spilled over into the meeting on July 20. However, the vote to limit the number of liquor stores fell short of tallying the votes needed, after Councilor Joey Carmack and Councilor Fred Burton voted no, and Councilor Jeni Lind Brinkman abstained.

    Councilor Camille Burdine, who has been the most vocal about the number of stores in Lebanon, citing several constituents voicing their concerns about it getting out of hand, said she does not plan to see this measure go down without a fight.

    She said she will be bringing a revised resolution that would limit the number of liquor stores before the City Council at its next meeting on Aug. 17.

    Last month, Burdine said, “Our citizens care about how many liquor stores we have now. If improving the quality of life in Lebanon is our ultimate goal, then we need to establish some standards,” a sentiment she repeated Tuesday.

    While the previous number of liquor stores in Lebanon had been reported at 17, an updated count released during the Tuesday meeting revealed the number is actually 12 stores currently active in city limits.

    Before the meeting Tuesday, two additional certificates of compliance, a prerequisite for opening a liquor store in the city, had been approved by the City Council. Accounting for the certificate approved Tuesday, the total is now 15, although three of those stores are not open yet.

    The applicant for the latest liquor store certificate is Jimmy Patel, of For Us Two Inc. and the location for the store will be 1233 S. Hartmann Dr.

    Burdine was the only councilor who voted against the latest certificate. Ultimately, it passed 4-1, as Councilor Chris Crowell was absent from the meeting.

    By Tennessee law, liquor stores have to renew their compliance permits every two years. For those stores already in the city, they would be effectively grandfathered in.

    WCS going back to class with masks optional

    Wilson County Schools students are back in class today, with record enrollment, unfilled teacher positions, and without masks, even as the delta variant of the coronavirus continues to drive an increase in cases.

    WCS Director Jeff Luttrell announced during Monday’s board meeting that mask wearing, by teachers and staff as well as students, would be optional. However, he recommended recessing the meeting, rather than adjourning it, in case the board needs to revisit the mask policy as COVID-19 surges locally.

    “Last board meeting this board voted on a recommendation from me to have masks optional ...,” he said. “At this point that’s where we’re still at. I want people to know what we’re going to do. We’ve said masks are optional and when we start school Thursday we’re going to encourage social distancing as much as possible.”

    Lutrell added that the COVID cleaning protocols for both buildings and school buses will continue this year, and the district has plenty of supplies.

    Multiple residents spoke at the beginning of the meeting, most opposed to a mask mandate. The board’s meeting room was full and the overflow crowd, the vast majority of which was against a mandate, watched the meeting from other rooms in the Administrative & Training Complex. Arguments against a mask mandate drew applause, while those arguing in favor were met with silence.

    According to the latest data from the state, as of Tuesday, Wilson County has seen an average of 40 new cases a day for the past two weeks. That compares with an average of 11 new cases a day the previous two weeks. Over the last seven days, the positive test rate was 16.7%. In mid June, the positivity rate got as low as 1%. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that as of Wednesday, 50.7% of county residents 12 and older have gotten one vaccine dose, and 45.1% are fully vaccinated.

    Although the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics are recommending students, teachers and staff wear masks, the state is leaving that decision up to local districts.

    However, House Speaker Cameron Sexton on Monday warned districts against mandating masks or going to remote learning, saying such a move would be met by legislation to move taxpayer money from public schools to private schools. On Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally said he trusted local school boards to make those decisions. To date, only Shelby County Schools has issued a mandate.

    Luttrell also told the board that the district is seeing a large jump in enrollment, with current figures standing at 19,504, 2,072 more than the number of students enrolled at the end of the last school year. While cautioning that enrollment won’t stabilize until after Labor Day, Luttrell said the district is having to hire more teachers because of the growth.

    “We’re starting to experience a shortage of teachers,” he said. “We have some positions that will not be filled.”

    He also said he has formed committees to set the next school calendar and to address issues in the transportation department, which will begin the school year with a shortage of drivers.