A City Council winner in the Tuesday runoff election was involved in violent armed robberies in 2001 and 2002 and more recently declared herself to be "a racist."
Election officials said Demetrus "Meechie" Coonrod was cleared to run for city office after earlier going to court and getting her voting rights restored and then this year getting her citizenship rights restored by Circuit Court Judge J.B. Bennett.
Sherri Sivley at the election office said, "She was cleared to run with us. Whether there is something in the city charter than prevents felons from serving in office is another matter."
City spokesperson Marissa Bell, asked if the city charter forbids a person with a felony record to hold public office, sent a link to the whole city charter to Chattanoogan.com.
Ms. Coonrod spoke about her past during the campaign. She said she had served her time and was moving forward.
Ms. Coonrod, who ousted incumbent Yusuf Hakeem in District 9, was charged by federal authorities in a string of robberies at restaurants and other businesses.
Prior to that Ms. Coonrod, who just served a term as vice chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, had a string of state charges, including a child abuse and neglect case that arose out of Juvenile Court. Other charges on her record include assault and disorderly conduct in 1997, and disorderly conduct and two cases of assault as well as theft and improper use of 911 in 1999. She was arrested on a charge of passing worthless checks in 2001.
She was arrested along with Jason Davis, Jonathan Travis, Kevin Wooten, Justin Hill, Ruthie Easter and Elizabeth Agnew in the armed robbery cases. Davis, described as the leader of the armed robber ring, got a 45-year prison sentence. Judge Curtis Collier characterized him as a "wolf among a pack of wolves."
Ms. Coonrod pleaded guilty to involvement in holdups at Popeye's and a plasma center as well as conspiracy to commit the armed robberies. She got a sentence of 84 months.
She was sent to a prison at Tallahassee, Fla., where her attorney said several corrections officers "came under investigation for introducing various types of contraband into the prison in exchange for both money and sexual favors. The male officers victimized multiple female inmates by using their position of power to intimidate and influence them. Ms. Coonrod, victimized herself, gave valuable information to investigating officials that was used to develop the case against the officers. She agreed to be interviewed and eventually testified at trial against two officers who did not plead guilty, resulting in a successful outcome for the government. The result of these efforts was the reduction in her sentence by 21 months."
Ms. Coonrod arrived at the Salvation Army halfway house in Chattanooga on June 8, 2010, as a result of the shortened sentence. While at the facility, she obtained a number of violations.
There were listed as: 1) 06/08/10 - Possession of a cell phone: During a random car check, a cell phone was found in the offender's vehicle. Sanction: Loss of phone and warning. 2) 06/30/10 - Unaccountability: Ms. Coonrod failed to call when departing from work. Sanction: Warning. 3) 06/30/10 - Failure to pay subsistence: Ms. Coonrod received her pay check on 06/25/10 and was to pay her subsistence on 06/29/10. She failed to pay as required. Sanction: Warning - pay on time in future. 4) 07/01/10 - Insolence toward a staff member: Ms. Coonrod became irate and began yelling and using profane language when she was told by her Case Manager that all passes must be authorized by her probation officer. She advised her Case Manager that she would get her hair care products by “any-motha-f------way.” Ms. Coonrod continued yelling after leaving the case manager's office. Sanction: Warning - any more outburst of profanity will result in removal from the program as a program failure. 5) 09/07/10 - Failure to pay subsistence: Ms. Coonrod failed to pay her subsistence from a check she received on 09/03/10. Sanction: Pay by Tuesday, 09/14/10, 7:00 p.m. 6) 10/15/10 - Failure to pay subsistence: Ms. Coonrod failed to pay subsistence since 09/10/10, having signed out for work, on average, for 40 hours per week. Sanction: offender caught up on payments. 7) 10/15/10 - Using abusive or obscene language: Ms. Coonrod was yelling at another inmate while eating breakfast. She told the inmate she was a “f--- up” and that she deserves everything that happens to her. A staff member informed Ms. Coonrod she could not be yelling at other people. Ms. Coonrod told the staff member she could do it because she (the inmate) deserves it. Sanction: Loss of visitation for two days. 8) 10/19/10 - Unaccountability: Ms. Coonrod signed out for work and left the center at 1:35 p.m. Upon review of the security cameras, Ms. Coonrod was observed returning to the Center at 2:21 p.m. and was seen handing another inmate something from her car door. She failed to call or advise staff she was returning. Sanction: Warning. 9) 11/24/10 - Insolence toward a staff member: When Ms. Coonrod was denied a church pass for failure to submit by Center policy, Wednesdays at 12 p.m., she began yelling at her Case Manager and stuck her foot in the door. She was instructed to remove her foot from the door and she refused. Ms. Coonrod then ordered her Case Manager to contact the director. She was instructed again to remove her foot from the door. Ms. Coonrod then stated she wanted to speak to a black man, not a white man. According to the incident report, she was yelling “you’re a f------ peckerhead” and “you’re a f------ peckerwood.” She yelled “you are g-- d--- right I’m racist.” Sanction: Termination from program."
Ms. Coonrod's attorney later argued that she had paid her restitution, resumed reporting to probation officers and not gotten into any further trouble.
It was noted that she had a romantic relationship with Terrence Etchison, who served time in federal prison on drug and money laundering charges. Her attorney said Ms. Coonrod suffered grief and depression problems after Etchison was gunned down at Kanku's on Wilcox Boulevard in 2010.
Arguing that she not go back to prison for probation violations, her attorney said, "Her primary goal since her release from prison has been to have a normal law-abiding life where she works, takes care of her children, and hopes to find someone to share her life with. Since her release from prison in 2008, despite several serious physical injuries, she has received no new charges, completed outpatient drug treatment at CADAS, failed no drug screens, maintained employment, and fully paid the $12,140 restitution in her case. There are no allegations that Ms. Coonrod has not reported to the probation office or absconded from supervision. There are no allegations of illegal activity on Ms. Coonrod’s part.
"Ms. Coonrod’s behavior on supervision has not been without problems and she has received modifications, yet each of her modifications has occurred within a context. The first modification occurred on Feb. 23, 2010, and required Ms. Coonrod to perform 20 hours of community service, which she has completed. The reason for the modification was Ms. Coonrod’s failure to provide proof of wages, receipt of food stamps, use of her daughter’s car, and application for new lines of credit. Ms. Coonrod voluntarily accepted the performance of this community service without a hearing.
"As an explanation to the underlying reasons for the conduct which led to the modification, on Jan.10, 2010, Ms. Coonrod had been in a motor vehicle accident. Ms. Coonrod injured her shoulder and back. She missed some work days and received a worker’s compensation check through Unum Provident for others. As a result, she was receiving a check but wasn’t working. She usually received a recurring check/proof of income, but was having difficulty getting a copy of her pay stub for these changed payments. The U.S. Probation Office is aware that Ms. Coonrod has maintained steady employment through Pilgrim’s Pride and that her place of employment has not changed. At this same time, Ms. Coonrod was inquiring about enrollment into Virginia College or Chattanooga State. Virginia College applied for financial aid for Ms. Coonrod. Ms. Coonrod did not attend Virginia College and enrolled in Chattanooga State instead. Thus, while the violations did technically occur, there were underlying reasons.
"The second modification occurred roughly one month later on March 26, 2010. The basis of this modification was for continued contact with Terrence Etchison (an individual formally on federal supervision), leaving the district to travel to Atlanta (once in 2008 and once in 2010), failing to inform the USPO about contact with law enforcement, and failure to list all financial accounts. Ms. Coonrod acknowledged the relationship with Mr. Etchison, whom she originally met as a co-worker at Pilgrim’s Pride and admitted her travel to Atlanta, one event of which occurred two years earlier. Mr. Etchison was shot and killed on February 27, 2010, four days after the imposition of her first modification. The contact with law enforcement occurred at the courthouse and was related to a hearing regarding Mr. Etchison’s murder. And, upon instruction from the probation office, Ms. Coonrod closed the joint bank account she had with Mr. Etchison and provided proof of the closure. It was also during this time when Ms. Coonrod was ordered to participate in a mental health treatment program."
Ms. Coonrod was terminated from the halfway house on Nov. 24, 2010, just 14 days before her six months was set to expire. Her attorney said, "During her stay at the Halfway House, Ms. Coonrod again maintained employment, failed no drug screens, and continued her mental health counseling. She attended Chattanooga State five days a week in the morning and worked in the evening. The Salvation Army notes that her multiple doctor appointments were maintained with no accountability issues. The reason for her termination from the halfway house, which Ms. Coonrod acknowledges, has been described as 'insolence' and will be addressed at her revocation hearing.
"During Ms. Coonrod’s stay at the Salvation Army, on Sept. 3, 2010, she suffered a very traumatic injury at work resulting in the partial amputation of three fingers on her right hand. Since that time, Ms. Coonrod has had significant amputation pain and phantom amputation pain. Her primary care physician as well as an orthopedic doctor have treated Ms. Coonrod."
The attorney said, "To Ms. Coonrod’s credit, she maintained her employment during this time and in fact still works at Pilgrim’s Pride. Much like her prior car accident, she received worker’s compensation for a period of time. Ms. Coonrod received two writeups from the Salvation Army, one on October 15th and one on September 7 th , for failure to pay subsistence. The September 7 th was four days after her accident. She was heavily medicated when she missed the September 7 th payment. On October 15th she was receiving worker’s compensation and mistakenly thought she did not have to pay subsistence out of it. According to the Salvation Army she did catch up on her payments.
"Ms. Coonrod recognizes that being terminated from the Salvation Army Halfway House requires punishment. However, given her performance in the areas in which defendants under supervision are asked to rebuild their lives,she is asking that the Court not sentence her to the maximum 24 months of imprisonment, and in the alternative to consider intermittent or home confinement. The history and characteristics of Ms. Coonrod have been described above. There does not appear to be any allegation of criminal conduct on Ms. Coonrod’s behalf, therefore there is no need to deter her from criminal activity or further crimes. She is working, attending school when she can, attending counseling and keeping medical appointments. In fact, she had an additional hand surgery scheduled for Feb. 17, 2010.
"Since Ms. Coonrod was released from the Salvation Army Halfway House, she has continued to work, attend her doctors appointments, and take care of her daughter. Ms. Coonrod has not had the easiest life and frankly has little reason to trust authority. Her childhood is reported as miserable. She spent most of her childhood being moved from foster home to foster home, believing that no one cared for her. She spent five years in prison, during part of which she was not protected from the system’s own 'bad seeds' but was manipulated, assaulted and taken advantage of by corrections officials. When she finally found a romantic companion through work and hopefully a life partner, the relationship was forbidden by authority, then she lost him to murder. Little reason to trust authority can be found in these events.
"Morever, Ms. Coonrod has had what would be considered by any standards as a difficult year. She lost three fingers at her employment yet kept on working. For Ms. Coonrod to stay out of legal trouble, to stay employed, to stay off drugs and to continue her counseling should be commendable. She has performed above the result level of most supervised releasees. This is a testament to her attempts to try to respect and trust a system that has frequently let her down. This effort is also reflected in her willingness to acknowledge her missteps and accept punishments dispensed. Ms.Coonrod is capable of performing the big requirements of probation. What Ms. Coonrod is being violated for is her insolence and alleged inability to follow directions. The breaking of rules arguably, but not laws. Given her personal history and recent medical injury, her attitude is at least explainable if not understandable."
Ms. Coonrod eventually went off federal probation without having to go back to prison for the alleged violations.