Durham Probe Can Be Opened

A Nashville judge says details of a sexual harassment investigation of Republican State Representative Jeremy Durham can be open to the public. Chancellor Russell Perkins Tuesday denied Durham’s request to seal evidence related to the probe, claiming it could hurt his re-election effort. Several female staff working for the General Assembly claim they were subjected to unwanted attention by the Franklin elected official. State Attorney General Herb Slattery could release the results of the harassment investigation to a General Assembly committee today. Durham has denied any wrongdoing and has pressed ahead with his re-election effort. Earlier Durham was removed from a Republican leadership position in the General Assembly.

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Native Americans Wrapping Up Bike Ride

More than a dozen Native American bicyclists from Oklahoma and North Carolina are wrapping up a nearly 1,000-mile ride retracing their ancestors’ journey along the Trail of Tears.

The Remember the Removal cyclists who began their journey June 5 in Georgia are scheduled to arrive Thursday at the Cherokee National Courthouse in Tahlequah. They averaged about 60 miles per day riding through Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas.

The riders include citizens of the Tahlequah-based Cherokee Nation and members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, headquartered in North Carolina.

They stopped at historic Indian gravesites and other landmarks along the Trail of Tears, which marks the routes where thousands of Cherokees were forced to march by the U.S. government from their native lands into what is now Oklahoma.

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Study Shows Lack of Diversity in Tennessee Courts

A new report faults Tennessee’s court system for not adequately representing the diversity of the state’s population.

The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy ranks Tennessee 45th out of 51 state court jurisdictions for gender and racial diversity. The report says that the state’s judiciaries are 60 percent less diverse on average than the state population.

According to the report, white males make up 36 percent of the state population but account for 74 percent of judges.

While women make up 51 percent of the population, only 20 percent of judges in Tennessee are female. And the report says that minorities make up 26 percent of Tennessee’s population, but just 9 percent of judges are people of color.

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Surgeon General: “Pill Abuse a Disease, Not Crime”

The path to solving the country’s opioid abuse epidemic is an opportunity to recast addiction as an illness rather than a crime in many cases and to find efficient ways to treat pain, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told an auditorium of medical students and doctors Wednesday at Meharry Medical College.

Clinicians can shape the way the country thinks about addiction by changing the way they talk among themselves and to patients about opioids and addiction, Murthy said.

The prescription opioid crisis is one of the most important public health crises of our time, Murthy said. In Tennessee at least 1,263 people died from opioid overdose in 2014 — more than in car accidents or from guns.

Yet, the stigma around addiction and mental health — that it’s a character flaw or moral defect — impacts the way people seek or receive care.

“We have to change that. We have to help the country see that it’s … a chronic disease like diabetes or heart disease. If we help people see that it will make it easier for folks to come forward,” Murthy said. “It will also make it easier for communities to support treatment programs in their neighborhoods.”

Murthy said it’s become clear that the dramatic increase in the number of prescriptions for opioids has contributed to the epidemic.

A variety of measures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and insurance companies are aimed at influencing the habits of clinicians who write prescriptions. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is requiring opioids to have black box warning labels on pill bottles as an additional measure to warn providers and patients of the potential risks.

In Tennessee more than half — 55 percent — of those who abuse painkillers get them from a friend or relative who has a prescription, according to a 2014 report from the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Seventeen percent have their own prescription.

The challenge for many clinicians has been that they lack the training to treat pain effectively and the support to identify and treat addiction, which is something that can be changed, Murthy said on the latest stop of his “Turn The Tide Rx” tour.

In July Murthy will send a letter to the 1.2 million opioid prescribers urging them to change their habits. Federal officials will include a pocket card that clinicians can slip into their white coat pockets as a guide to alternatives.

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Congressional Candidate Post Inflammatory Sign

A campaign billboard in Polk County, Tennessee, is causing a political storm and gaining national attention.

The sign appeared off Highway 411 near Benton and read “Make America White Again.” Independent candidate for the state’s 3rd Congressional District seat, Rick Tyler, is responsible for the sign.

Tyler maintains he does not hate people of color, but that he wants America to go back to a “1960s, ‘Ozzie and Harriet,’ ‘Leave it to Beaver’ time when there were no break-ins, no violent crime, no mass immigration.”

But many residents are uncomfortable with the sign, saying it does not reflect the views of the entire country, demanding it be removed.

After taking down the sign on June 21, Tyler defended the billboard, saying, “I respect their right to have an opinion. I believe the majority of the people in the county like it.”

“I saw people taking pictures beside it right after I posted it,” added Tyler.

When WRCB asked Tyler if he feared for his safety, he responded, “I don’t fear it. I welcome it, and I will respond with the application of truth.”

Tyler then put up a second billboard on Highway 64 with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” quote written over a White House surrounded by Confederate Flags.

Tyler’s neighbor, Jimmy Johnson, told the New York Daily News the second sign was also taken down within hours because residents complained.

“Thankfully it’s down but there’s actually a lot of people who support him and are willing to vote for him as well,” Johnson told New York Daily News.

Tyler, who owns a local restaurant, says he was inspired by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to create the slogan for his campaign in a post on his website, which has since been removed.

“Clearly we are in uncharted waters, in that there has never been a candidacy like this in modern political history. Of great significance, as well, is the reality of the Trump phenomenon and the manner in which he has loosened up the overall spectrum of political discourse,” Tyler wrote, according to WTVC.

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Leaders Vote Down Hiring Request

Embattled Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold has a new fight on his hands that he said puts the safety of the public in jeopardy.

County commissioners have asked Arnold to resign following his indictment on corruption charges. Now they are refusing to increase his budget.

Arnold said those who will pay the biggest price are the people of Rutherford County.

The sheriff said his office is grossly understaffed. He requested more than $1.5 million to hire new deputies.

When Arnold learned he wasn’t getting the money, he accused the county commission of holding his employees hostage for political purposes.

“To whom much is given, much is expected,” said Rutherford County Commissioner Rhonda Allen. “As our top law enforcement official, we expect more of him.”

In a 4-3 vote, the Rutherford County Commission’s budget committee decided to withhold Arnold’s budget increase request after previously voting to give him the money.

This comes after the sheriff was indicted on 14 federal counts relating to corruption and conspiracy.

“Because we’ve already demonstrated that we have a lack of confidence in the sheriff, we had to examine, do we fill those roles? Do we trust him with that additional money? The bottom line is, we don’t,” Allen said.

Arnold wants to hire 19 jail staff and patrol deputies, and pay for equipment, training and vehicles.

The sheriff would not go on camera, but issued a statement saying in part:

The actions of the four commissioners hold the citizen and the county employees hostage for political purposes, endangering the lives of both the employees who respond to dangerous calls and the citizens who may be the victims of violent crime.

“I just have to hold the mirror back up and say, ‘You’re holding the whole department hostage by not resigning your position,’” Allen said.

Allen said the money is still in the budget, but is not being provided to the sheriff’s office for the time being.

“The group of seven commissioners last night have every intention of spending this money on those positions, but we don’t intend on allocating that back to the sheriff’s department until we have new leadership in that role,” Allen said.

Allen said she believes it’s unlikely Arnold will step down in the coming months.

Scroll down to read Sheriff Arnold’s full statement:

Four County Commissioners who voted Tuesday to withhold funds from hiring seven new patrol deputies and 12 detention deputies showed deliberate indifference to the safety and security of Rutherford County citizens, Sheriff’s Office deputies and inmates.

My job as Sheriff is to provide for the safety and security of our citizens and our dedicated employees, who place their lives on the line daily.

The actions of the four commissioners hold the citizens and the county employees’ hostage for political purposes, endangering the lives of both the employees who respond to dangerous calls and the citizens who may be the victims of violent crime.

Quit playing politics. Set aside the political agendas and be responsible.

Our patrol division is grossly understaffed right now. Many times, citizens have to wait for deputies to respond to a critical call because they are tied up on other calls.

Our deputies respond to dangerous calls, often without backup, increasing the danger to our deputies.

If we hire new deputies July 1, they must undergo a 16-week training program with a Field Training Officer, plus attend the state training academy for 12 weeks before they can work on their own.

Delaying the hiring of new deputies could affect every citizen who needs a deputy to respond to an emergency call.

And one of the most critical responsibilities of a county commissioner is to protect the safety and security of the inmates at the Adult Detention Center.

Training a new detention deputy takes two weeks in the classroom and a minimum six weeks training with another deputy. Delaying the hiring of new detention deputies raises the liability of an understaffed jail.

Mayor Ernest Burgess recognized the need for new employees. He recommended hiring the new patrol deputies to enhance the security of county residents, who now have one deputy for every 10,851 residents.

The mayor also recommended hiring 12 new detention deputies who will oversee one-half of the inmates now watched only by cameras.

His recommendation was approved by the Public Safety Committee and the Budget and Finance Committee in a 5-1 vote May 17.

Four commissioners recommended withdrawing funds for those 19 positions Tuesday.

I ask the County Commission to please keep politics out of the budget process. Instead, I ask commissioners to keep the safety and security of Rutherford County citizens, employees and inmates the top priority when they vote on the budget Monday.

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Apple to Pay Back Tennesseans for E-Books

Tennesseans who purchased ebooks from Apple Inc. will receive their cut from a price-fixing settlement over the price of ebooks, according to the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office.

Tennesseans will see a total of $8.5 million out of a $400 million settlement. That’s in addition to nearly $2.9 million already paid to Tennesseans.

Customers who bought ebooks from Apple’s iBooks store from April 1, 2010, through May 21, 2012, will start receiving account credit or checks beginning June 21. Consumers will receive $6.93 for each best-selling New York Times book and $1.57 per all other ebook purchases.

The settlement comes from the U.S. Department of Justice filing an anti-trust lawsuit against Apple, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, Macmillan, Penguin Group and Simon & Schuster in 2012, according to the official website for the settlement.

Tennessee joined a group of 33 states, led by Connecticut and Texas, in investigating and prosecuting Apple for its participation in the conspiracy to artificially inflate E-book prices.

All five of the conspiring publishers settled prior to trial, paying a total of approximately $166 million in nationwide consumer compensation, according to a news release. Most of that money was distributed to consumers in March 2014. The current distribution will consists of the $400 million Apple payment and any remaining funds from the publisher settlements. The $566 million total nationwide compensation to consumers is more than twice the estimated amount of actual damages.

Consumers who purchased ebooks through Sony or Google will receive checks in the mail. Consumers who purchased ebooks through Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, or Kobo will automatically receive credits in their accounts (unless they previously requested to receive checks), according to the release. Consumers receiving account credits should expect to receive an email between June 21, 2016 and June 24, 2016, indicating that the credits are available in their accounts. Credits may be used to purchase anything sold by these retailers, not only ebooks. Affected customers can visit the official lawsuit site atebooklawsuits.com or call toll-free (866) 686-9333 for more information.

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