published Monday, November 7th, 2011

Cook: 39 arrests and the future of two men

Criminal trespassing.

Aggravated assault.

Theft of property.

Driving without a license.

Aggravated criminal trespass.

Failure to appear in court.

Again, failure to appear in court.

Criminal trespassing.

Criminal conspiracy.


Criminal trespassing.

Again, two days later, criminal trespassing while possessing a weapon.

Since fall 2010, Leon Epps has been arrested 12 times by Chattanooga and Hamilton County police. Epps is 19. His first two arrests -- Aug. 20, 2010, and again eight days later -- were both dismissed by the district attorney's office.

"Police made contact with the defendant and conducted a pat down, finding a loaded 9 mm in his waistband. Defendant stated to police that he was carrying the firearm because his cousin was shot the night before on the same street," an arrest report from three weeks ago reads.

Epps is in jail awaiting trial on a charge of criminal trespass.

"We see this every day. This is nothing unusual," the court clerk told me. "All these people are like a revolving door."

Javonnie Lebron Simms will turn 36 two weeks before Christmas Day. Since August 1995, when he was 19 -- the same age as Epps -- Simms has been arrested by local police 27 times.

Twenty-seven times, multiple charges: theft, possession of cocaine, crack and marijuana, indecent exposure, assault, stop sign violation, attempted first-degree murder, evading arrest, improper turn, driving while intoxicated, driving without a license, possession of crack with intent to resell and one charge for not possessing a state waterfowl license.

At one point during his criminal career -- the court clerk tells me -- Simms was given a suspended sentence, probation for one year and ordered to pay a $750 fine.

"He currently owes the county $16,604," the clerk said. "He's never paid one dime."

According to his three-page arrest record, 21 charges were dismissed when he appeared in court, including the last charge in August 2009 ("Fugitive from GA").

Yet he has pleaded guilty to charges ranging from possession of cocaine to theft, disorderly conduct and assault, according to court records and the court clerk.

He is not in custody at this time.

What makes a man live his life in such a way? What causes such a life, where crimes are tossed like litter onto the road? From where does such a script, such a perverted and distorted story, emerge?

At what point does a man stop caring about the damage his actions cause?

Is there ever a point when personal transformation becomes impossible?

It is hard for me to imagine Epps and Simms as children. I do not see them embraced during Wednesday night church. I don't picture spelling tests stuck with magnets to the fridge door. No blowing out candles on their fifth birthday. I wonder what their first words were.

I wonder what their last ones will be.

I imagine the frustration of police, arresting the same folks again and again and 27 times again.

There is a lot of talk in our town about gang violence and crime. A lot of talk.

"If each officer just killed three would-be bangers each, ya'll could rid yourself of the problem," wrote one online reader in response to a news story last week about gang violence. "Sounds like an easy fix to me."

I don't think anything could be further from the truth.

David Cook can be reached at

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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maddawg said...

Okay, now tell us why these two constantly escape jail time. I served on a grand jury here back in 09 and we were constantly seeing the same names over and over. It is frustrating to us as citizens and jurors and the police officers voiced their frustration as well. Just slap that wrist and sin no more......

November 7, 2011 at 11:12 a.m.
rolando said...

An even easier fix would be to stop arresting them...nothing happens to them when they are arrested, so why waste the effort. Come to think of it, that is probably happening already...if not, it should be.

November 8, 2011 at 2:32 p.m.
shen said...

Don't blame the courts, D.A.s Mr. Cook for when a case gets dismissed. Usually dismissals are based on some miscondunct having taken place during the time of the initial arrests, and at the hands of the arresting officer(s). The judicial system must follow the laws that protects us all, even if that sometimes mean letting a guilty person go free.

It's easy to be shocked at the high numbers of arrest in some cases. Under closer scrutiny, however, most of those high numbers are usually based on minor offenses. During the 1980s and 1990s America went through a mass arresting phase especially in certain areas. Now, it's somewhat prophetic that so many would come to have multiple arrests and a lenghty jail and prison record.

In a society that came to make most anything an offense leading to possible arrest it's predictable that most citizens of that society would end up with criminal records. Multiple ones at that.

November 9, 2011 at 5:45 p.m.
longgone said...

What planet is "Shen" from, pray tell??????????? That is the most ridiculous & incorrect bunch of crap I have ever read. Funny, though, it does sound familiar.....

November 10, 2011 at 7:44 a.m.
macropetala8 said...

strange, but both your posts have an eerily familiar ring.....hmmm

November 10, 2011 at 9:11 a.m.
amnestiUSAF84 said...

We want those harsh first-strike-you're-out-stright-to-deathrow sentencings until they're used across-board and swallows up a cop friend or relative of ours, don't we? Then it's: "We're human too. We make mistakes just like y'all."

November 13, 2011 at 10:43 a.m.
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