Tearing Down the Wrong Walls | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Tearing Down the Wrong Walls

Out of all the disturbing things emerging in Mayor Frank Melton's trial this week, the worst to me has been Michael Taylor's testimony that he lived with the mayor for a year and a half or so when he was a minor and never attended high school.

The now-19-year-old said he did go to GED classes while he lived there; "Danky" would take him. "Danky" is Anthony Staffney, Melton's long-time friend and mentee who works for the city's "youth initiative," as he called it in court Tuesday.

It seems clear that Taylor was riding around with Melton and his bodyguards on the city's Mobile Command Unit a lot more than he was in GED classes, however. He was part of the entourage that destroyed the duplex on Aug. 26, 2006, apparently at Melton's request, according to him and ex-bodyguard Marcus Wright and other witnesses. He had already been on at least five similar outings, he said in court, including one on Congo Street where he had helped tear down walls of abandoned houses. Wright testified Tuesday that Melton burned those houses down in defiance of Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality officials.

Taylor said that he and several of his friends—including Fredrica "Jermaine" Brunson—would ride around on the Mobile Command Unit with the mayor and police officers, often hanging out in the back watching television, at least when they weren't doing whatever the mayor asked. I've been on the mayor's joy rides, although thankfully none of the "lawn crew" were along for the ride on my excursions. But on the first one, Melton was clearly drinking—the smell of liquor was unmistakable, and his voice was slurred—and on both, he seemed to be doing the "raids" for fun more than for crime-fighting. It is emerging in the trial that he was likely drunk the night of the Ridgeway demolition, and perhaps others, when he had these young men in his care.

From the beginning of my rather-oddly congenial investigative coverage of Melton—he told me he "still loved" me this week in front of the courthouse—I have felt moments of sympathy for a man so misguided and egotistical that he thinks it's acceptable for him to serve a subpoena to the schizophrenic victim of the Ridgeway duplex attack. He is surrounded by many people who want something from him—money, prestige, jobs, a raucous time—but who seem utterly incapable of speaking up about his destructive behavior. Even his family lives over in Texas at a distance, and hasn't shown up in the courtroom to sit behind him as of press time.

But when I'm feeling sympathy for Melton, who certainly looks pitiful these days, I think of the sad faces of young men like Michael Taylor. Or Christopher Walker. Or Jeremy Bibbs. Or the many others to whom "Pops" (which they call him) is teaching very bad lessons. And I remember Christopher Walker sitting outside a restaurant on County Line Road and explaining in detail how all of them—the young black men of our city—are pawns in an ugly chess game.

It is clear to me after four years of intensely studying Melton that he picks and chooses the young men he helps with his own set of rules, and expects them to play his game, his way. No doubt, they are rewarded for loyalty. He gives them something many of them have never had: hugs, a refrigerator full of food (as Taylor pointed out in court); a "father figure," as he called it.

They are needy, and he gives them something to fill that void. No question. This "help" comes at grave cost to them, though, and our city as a whole. He is teaching select members of a young generation (and the one that already graduated from his school of mentoring that are now mentoring the younger ones) that he is above the law, and they are, too, by extension. It seems to be no real secret why many of them go out and get in serious trouble while living in Melton's home or afterward or both. Melton is teaching them an every-man-for-himself philosophy. You see a problem; you go solve it your way.

The mayor told me once that his college thesis was about Buford Pusser, the infamous and romanticized Tennessee police officer who swung a big stick to clean up the Dixie Mafia. Melton clearly thinks he's that kind of vigilante. But what he is doing is creating a whole new set of problems with the solutions he says will solve crimes. He doesn't even try to get a warrant first; he's above such details.

As is coming out in this trial—which is so much less stacked in Melton's favor than that joke of a state trial—Melton actually picks weak targets to turn into examples of supposed crime-fighting. Evans Welch was needy himself; Melton was in no way helping him when he gathered a mob—twice—to go over there and destroy the place. Duplex owner Jennifer Sutton was working hard to get by; it turned my stomach to listen to defense attorney John Reeves (himself a trial attorney) try to make it sound like she was trying to get one by on the taxpayers by suing in both state and federal court.

I hate to tell Melton, but picking a schizophrenic drug user in the Virden Addition to make the symbol of his supposed drug-fighting efforts was absurd, if that was even his goal. The only message this would send to an actual drug kingpin is that Melton is not willing to take him or her on in a meaningful way. He just wants to get buzzed and take a bunch of kids on a testosterone-soaked jaunt in one of the city's neediest neighborhoods.

Watching Michael Taylor testify broke my heart. Melton has sent him down a road it will be hard to return from. He is clearly confused about his allegiance to "Pops" and the need to tell the truth to keep himself out of prison (and possibly because he'd like to be in a position to do the right thing).

Melton is quite possibly a brilliant criminal, whether he means to be one or not. He finds the weakest young men to pick on and the weakest young men to do his dirty work. Then when he gets called out on it, his victims and his enforcers get put on the stand and laughed at by people watching. This is wrong all around. These young men need help and attention, and not the kind that Melton has foisted upon them in his own quest to be every man's father. Regardless of the outcome of the trial this month, that reality needs to sink in for all of us.

CORRECTION APPENDED ABOVE: The original column stated that Sutton had sued in "city and state" court, and should have read "state and federal" court,

Read our minute-by-minute of the Melton trial and past Melton coverage, and sign up for our trial Twitter feed, at Meltonblog.com.

Previous Comments

ID
143515
Comment

That's probably the most concise and insightful analysis of Melton and his posse that I've read (which is saying a lot, there's little that seems to makes sense when it comes to that topic). Well said.

Author
dvc
Date
2009-02-12T08:59:40-06:00
ID
143521
Comment

Seriously, What does FM hope to gain - What is his real intent by inviting certain types of young men to live in his home when it's clear that 95% of the time he is providing no real guidance. He's not making sure they attend school, he's not bringing in tutors to help with homework, he's not making sure they learn about public service (oops, I forgot, FM does do community service, he tears houses down). But really, it appears that he just wants to endear himself to the community at any cost - I'm the "MAN".

Author
lanier77
Date
2009-02-12T10:20:34-06:00
ID
143530
Comment

Donna, you certainly hit the nail squarely on the head. Frank does seek out the HOPELESS if not helpless black males to "help" because they absolutely have no where else to go. I don't know if you have noticed, but many of his appointments follow the same pattern. For example, Louis Armstrong and Joe Louis are two men that because of their pasts would have found it very difficult to find employment elsewhere. But Frank put them in positions of authority because he knew they would be loyal to him because where else could they go if Frank let them go? Shirlene Anderson somewhat falls into that category as well. While Ms. Anderson had not been convicted of a crime or removed from the bench because of misconduct, she realistically had absolutely no chance of ever becoming the police chief of a metropolitan city like Jackson and making over $110K per year. Frank knew this and so did Anderson. Frank also knew that if he had appointed someone that was qualified for the position, that person would not allow him to go on his "joy rides" in the command center. Frank is not only the pied piper for juveniles but also for vulnerable adults.

Author
thetruth
Date
2009-02-12T11:25:51-06:00
ID
143531
Comment

Didn't Melton also try to appoint Bracey Coleman to a position?

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-02-12T11:29:04-06:00
ID
143534
Comment

NO, not Robert Johnson (former police chief); he seems to have outstanding character. I think you mean Robert Williams, who was involved in the scandal that rocked Council before I moved back (the one with Louis Armstrong). He was on Melton's campaign staff.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-02-12T11:48:38-06:00
ID
143538
Comment

I remember meeting Robert Williams after he spoke at a church service I attended. He was in the military at the time. He left a good impression on me, which is why I was disappointed in that he got himself caught up in the cable situation.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2009-02-12T13:27:30-06:00
ID
143550
Comment

Good article Donna! If Melton and Reeves have a modicum of sanity left they will take a plea. They will go down on their knees and beg for a deal. It is time for this to be over. Finis. We are all tired. Sick and tired. It will take years for the truth to dribble out regarding all these boys. Legend will be entwined with facts and few, if any, will care to determine what is false. Someone needs to be taking notes and writing down names. A book should be written. Maybe a movie. Do the deal Melton. Its the last and best gift you can give the people of Jackson.

Author
Razor
Date
2009-02-12T18:52:14-06:00
ID
143603
Comment

wow............

Author
kcaven
Date
2009-02-15T16:53:44-06:00
ID
143645
Comment

This was indeed a great write up of the situation. I am still in awe that a grown man could house underage teenage boys and never have any guardianship issues or repercussions. Strange. Or maybe I've seen too many made-for-TV movies. Again, nice column. M

Author
JusBeinMichael
Date
2009-02-17T10:00:08-06:00
ID
143670
Comment

With one white kid committing "suicide" in melton's living room and a multiplicity of youngsters, under the age of 17 living in his home for many year, the question must be asked, "WHERE WAS DHS?" melton admits to this kid "killing himself" however, the details of the circumstances have never been told. Who was this kid? I agree with Donna that all of the people around melton are there for their own personal gain. Either they are trying to hold on for retirement benefits, bond kick-backs or positions that they could never secure in an open market. This is sad. The story continues to unfold; however, I wonder at the end of it, will anyone really know the REAL frank melton? I continue to ask, "WHO IS THIS STRANGER AMONG US?"

Author
justjess
Date
2009-02-17T16:12:18-06:00
ID
143672
Comment

Another question to be answered is what will happen to the young men who may be living with him now if he's convicted and goes to jail. They can't stay at 2 Carter's Grove or else the inmates will really be running the asylum.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2009-02-17T16:44:11-06:00
ID
143677
Comment

By the way, justjess, Melton suddenly walked up to me outside the courtroom and said, "no one died in my house." At first I didn't know what he meant, but then remembered him saying that a kid committed suicide in his house in the JFP interviews. "Why did you tell me he did then," I asked him. He called me up to him in the courtroom and said it again. I said the same thing. What a tortured man.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-02-17T19:08:49-06:00
ID
143678
Comment

And golden eagle, the real question is why the state has not given a damn for all these years that Melton has brought young men, including minors, into his home without being a certified foster parent, among some current and former felons and to babysit each other when he was out joyriding and drinking "every other day," as Wright claimed he did. This is much bigger than Melton: It's about why a city and state let him run this bizarre halfway house, presumably because the young men there are considered dispensable. I liked every young man I met there, including the ones who had been in trouble. They need help, and not Melton's if-you're-loyal-to-me kind. I'm sorry, but this has haunted me for years. Where have the state's authorities been? I was so glad when AG Hood and DA Peterson stepped up. They were both later to the table than I preferred, but when they did they made a difference and slowed him down. But what about DHS? Barbour? That old codger Col. Taylor (who talked on Kim Wade's show about what buddies he is with Melton). Buddies, schmuddies.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-02-17T19:13:26-06:00
ID
143685
Comment

Melton suddenly walked up to me outside the courtroom and said, "no one died in my house." Playing semantics here, maybe the kid died in the backyard since it is technically not in the house. Anyhow, that's rather odd that he would say that. But then again, I don't think anything about Melton strikes me as being odd anymore.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2009-02-17T21:46:59-06:00
ID
143694
Comment

Does this mean that melton is being told about things bloggers are saying in the JFP? He said that he doesn't read the paper. Maybe some of his folks are reporting to him. I have heard the story about the kid committing suicide in melton's house several times, Donna. Is he trying to UN-RING the BELL?

Author
justjess
Date
2009-02-18T10:06:37-06:00
ID
143749
Comment

Today, in his closing statement, prosecutor Blumberg says that Michael Taylor is perhaps the most tragic figure in all of this. I couldn't agree with him more, as I said in the column above last week. And it was even worse today to listen to Reeves assassinate Jennifer Sutton's character, in addition to Welch's and witness Cooper's. He was vicious in a way that is hard to believe will sit well with the jury, especially about Sutton. But who knows? He opened the door for Blumberg to come back on him acting like poor people don't have the same rights. That was quite the speech about what it means to be American. Can't wait to read the transcript of it.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-02-18T21:55:35-06:00

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