Cook: 39 arrests and the future of two men

Cook: 39 arrests and the future of two men

November 7th, 2011 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

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.

Theft.

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 davidcook@blumail.org.