Wednesday, April 18, 2007
At the center of the maelstrom around Mayor Frank Melton's actions the night of Aug. 26, 2006, sits a young man named Michael Taylor. Because Tayloralready accused of a felony then at the tender age of 16allegedly helped Melton and his bodyguards destroy the Ridgeway Street duplex, the men could face decades in prison.
By far, the worse charge they are facing is that of directing or causing a minor to commit a felony, which alone can draw 20 years in the slammer.
For many people who view Melton as some sort of savior of young men, the fact that he may have instructed a young man out on bail to pick up a sledgehammer and help destroy another person's home comes as a sharp irony. But the truth is that Melton has long blurred the lines when it comes to his assistance of young men.
In many ways, Taylor, now 17, is a typical Melton mentee. He grew up near Wood Street and wasted no time getting in trouble with the law. He and his friend Fredrica Brunsonalso known as Jermaine Butler, the head of the controversial Wood Street Lawn Servicewere accused of armed robbery at Headliners Barbershop on Dec. 4, 2005. Authorities issued bench warrants for their arrest, but they could not be found.
It turns out that Taylor was livingor hiding outin the mayor's home at 2 Carter's Grove, a place top police brass and Melton's detectives regularly frequented.
Ironically, it was Melton's penchant for showing off the happy young men who live in his home that got Taylor and Brunson busted last June. Melton had invited TV cameras into his home to film a Father's Day barbecueand TV reports later showed the faces of Taylor and Brunson. District Attorney Faye Peterson received a tip that the young men were at Melton's home; she checked and found the bench warrants and then called Sheriff Malcolm McMillin to report that the fugitives had been located.
McMillin sent deputies to Pleasant Avenue, where the young men hang out, to arrest them. Melton soon showed up in his black Tahoe with Taylor in the backseat. Melton refused to hand Taylor over, telling deputies he would "take care of it," and then instructed his bodyguards to drive away with Taylor still in the vehicle. "(Melton) said he already knew about (the warrants) and drove off, leaving my deputies in the street," McMillin said then. He called Melton and told him the law required him to give up the young men.
Soon, the young men would be out on bond for the armed robbery, and Taylor would be back living in Melton's house. He then joined the Wood Street Lawn Service, which Melton financially seeded and then pushed through City Council.
The next time Taylor's name surfaced was for allegedly helping Melton and bodyguards Michael Recio and Marcus Wright destroy the Ridgeway Street duplex, along with the attack of the handcuffed manager of the Upper Level, Tonarri Moore, Aug. 26.
That night, witnesses say, Taylor was one of the young men who emerged from the Mobile Command Center with sledgehammers and, under order of the mayor, busted holes in the walls of the duplex, as well as breaking furniture and even the toilet. Later the same evening, Melton's entourage swept into the Upper Level, arresting Moore, who was videotaping them. Outside, witnesses say, a group of young men, calling themselves "The Wood Street Playas" jumped off the RV and beat Moore while he was in handcuffs.
Two weeks after the Jackson Free Press broke the story of the duplex demolition on Sept. 1, prosecutors indicted Melton, Recio and Wright on several felony chargesincluding causing a minor to commit a felony. Taylor himself is not charged because the adults take the charge for him.
In a hearing before Judge Joe Webster last Friday, defense attorneys tried to argue that the felony regarding Taylor should be thrown out because he had already been charged as an adult at the time of the incident. The judge, however, didn't buy it.
"A criminal charge treating him as an adult does not emancipate him in other respects," Webster said. He argued that by the defense's theory, any minor charged as an adult would then enjoy full adult rights, including the right to enter binding contracts.
On Dec. 4, the JFP learned that Taylor was back in jail for an armed carjacking. He had been arrested Nov. 18 for stealing a young woman's car at gunpointthen trying to sell it back to her. Three days before, Melton had copped a plea for three gun charges, leading to house arrest and an ankle bracelet to track his whereabouts.
When he was arrested, Taylor gave his home address as "2 Carter's Grove." Soon after the JFP reported the arrest, Judge Swan Yerger revoked his bond. Taylor is still in jail awaiting trial on the charges
Taylor's saga in the care of Frank Melton is not unusual. Melton says he wants to keep his young charges from becoming the "second generation" of criminals from the unyielding streets of Jackson.
He knows many of the "first generation" wellincluding many of his mentees from the last 20 years, like Christopher Walker, Maurice Turner and Anthony Staffney. Many have been in trouble, from drug charges to murder arrests, and still frequent his home freely and interact with the next generation of young men there. Some of the "first generation" are on the city payroll.
Melton said in interviews with the JFP that he wants to "save" this next generation because he "lost" the last one. "I lost most of them, Donna. ... But I love them, and I will always love them. But they taught me so much about what was going on in the streets," he added.
Now, though, as he heads into a trial accused of ordering one of his young friends to commit a felony, many in the city wonder: How can you "save" a young person by ordering him to commit a crime?