MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Your tax dollars pay the pension benefits of a Memphis Police homicide detective accused of providing drugs to, having a sexual relationship with a suspect involved in an ongoing murder investigation, and a pending trial.
Lieutenant Eric Kelly retired on October 31, 2019, just days before Memphis Police commanders were set to fire him. Kelly wrote in his retirement letter dated October 31, 2019, “It’s been a blast. Thank you.”
Despite being accused of providing drugs to a defendant, Kelly was not charged with any crime. According to state law, even though he is accused of violating policy Kelly is entitled to his full pension and benefits. Kelly was never convicted of a felony. FOX13 investigated the law in Tennessee that governs public employee pensions and asked should it be changed in light of the Kelly investigation?
The suspect investigators accused Kelly of having an intimate relationship is 29-year-old Bridgett Stafford, an accused gang member. In July 2017, Stafford was charged with accessory, helping suspects in a heinous kidnapping and murder. According to the affidavit, Stafford “was made aware of the kidnapping/robbery and the suspects’ attempts to use victims credit card” and Stafford was the person that drove the suspects who used the victim’s credit cards to purchase over $1,500 worth of cell phones and accessories." Stafford was arrested on felony drug and weapons charges February 6, 2020, and told the judge she was indigent and couldn’t afford an attorney
Someone with money she knows intimately is retired MPD Homicide Lt. Eric Kelly. According to internal affairs investigators, Kelly is accused of having had a sexual relationship with Stafford. Kelly had been investigating the murder case that Stafford has been charged as an accessory after the fact. “It was a serious offense and he could have faced up to termination," said Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings. Kelly retired eight days before another scheduled hearing on November 8, 2019, before a deputy chief and as a result, is collecting a full pension.
According to documents FOX13 obtained through an open records request, Kelly is entitled to an annual pension of $43,328.12.
“The citizens are paying for cops who break the rules,” said Howard Manis, managing attorney for the Memphis Cochran Law Firm. Attorney Manis has filed several civil suits against the City of Memphis and its police department. Manis believes state pension law needs to be reviewed because Memphis Police Internal Affairs investigated allegations that Kelly bought drugs for Stafford, had a sexual relationship with her, gave her thousands in cash, let her play with his department-issued gun and tried to convince her to become a stripper. “We need to evaluate if we give golden parachutes to these officers when they leave if this type of stench of corruption,” said Manis.
FOX13 wanted to know if retired homicide Lt. Eric Kelly deserved a full pension in light of internal affairs investigation. We put that question to Memphis Police Association president Michael Williams who told FOX13 “I don’t know. Eric Kelly has not been found guilty of anything in a court of law.” Williams points to the Tennessee law that governs public employee pensions.
Tenn. Code Annotated 8-35-124 states an employee "must be terminated upon a verdict of guilty by a jury, a finding of guilt by a judge in a bench trial, or the entry of a plea of guilty or nolo contendere of a felony arising out of the employee’s or official’s employment or official capacity, constituting malfeasance in office.” MPA President Williams told FOX13 “do we lock somebody up if they have not been convicted of a crime?” According to Williams, denying retired homicide detective Kelly his pension would be similar to locking him up financially because he would be denied his benefits.
FOX13 emailed Tennessee Governor Bill Lee to ask if the state law should be changed to address this loophole, and if not, why not? We also emailed the Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III and the chairman, vice chairman of the Joint Committee on Pension and Insurance to weigh in on the issue. Gov. Lee’s spokesperson Ferguson Gillum replied, “we’ll decline to comment.” Samantha Fisher, spokesperson for the TN Attorney General’s office said, “questions about addressing or reexamining state law you might try talking to lawmakers. It wouldn’t be appropriate for our office to comment.”
Council chairperson Patrice Robinson is the new council member on the City of Memphis pension board. She told FOX13 on certain cases, the pension ought to know all facts even if their hands are tied by state law.
“If they are supposed to get their pension, we want to make sure they get it. But if they do not follow the ordinances that we have on the books, then it is our opportunity to say ‘this is not what we are going to do at this time,’” said Robinson. Memphis Police Association President Mike Williams told FOX 3 the state pension law doesn’t need to be changed because of just one case. Williams warned, “We want to take a step further and say you know what, if we think you have done something, we want to take your ability away. We want to take your financial freedom away.”
Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich reviewed the case and concluded Eric Kelly did not break any laws, a decision that is hard to understand given his documented text messages referring to pot he got for Stafford and Stafford’s own account that Kelly provided her with drugs. Kelly denied he did anything wrong when interviewed by Internal Affairs. Memphis Police Internal Affairs found otherwise believe he violated policy.
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