Sparks fly over request for DOJ to end oversight of Juvenile Court

Commissioner Walter Bailey said the federal oversight was necessary of Juvenile Court (SOURCE: WMC Action News 5)
Commissioner Walter Bailey said the federal oversight was necessary of Juvenile Court (SOURCE: WMC Action News 5)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Tensions were high and sparks flew from some County Commissioners toward Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell over a letter sent asking the Department of Justice to discontinue federal oversight of Juvenile Court.

"What wasn't this brought to this body?" Commission Chairman Melvin Burgess questioned. "It's very disrespectful to this community, the black community, I'm taking the hit on this."

Commissioners supported the federal oversight and said it was needed at this time.

"We need those objective eyes and those objective standards," Commissioner Walter Bailey said.

The tensions reached such a boiling point during the Wednesday meeting that Burgess walked out and went down to a NAACP news conference that was being held downstairs about the county's letter. Burgess' actions left Mayor Luttrell speechless.

"Now, where did he go? Talk about disrespect, Mr. Chairman that's disrespect," Luttrell said.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions' visit last month to Memphis sparked the letter to the DOJ.

The mayor, sheriff, and juvenile judge contend improvements have been made in the court. Those improvements, according to those officials, show improved representation and a decrease in the use of force.

The court also released statistics showing it does not detain as many juveniles.

Critics of the decision to discontinue federal oversight of the court said major racial disparities remain in the treatment of black and white youth and the county can't be trusted to police itself.

"We need federal oversight, and if we want to make it local, we can go right across the street to the US District Court for the Western District of Tennessee," Commissioner Van Turner said.

Some commissioners called for the letter to be rescinded, but Luttrell said an agreement would need to be reached between himself, the sheriff, and the juvenile judge before that would happen.

There is still no word from the DOJ on the status of the request.

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