• Man shot to death by SCSO officer near 201 Poplar had lengthy criminal history

    By: Kody Leibowitz

    Updated:

    MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Questions abound remain after a man was shot and killed by a Shelby County sheriff’s deputy on Monday. 

    TBI said in a press conference on Monday that an SCSO deputy was called near 201 Poplar for a reported sexual assault. The man reportedly involved – 49-year-old James Lee Kirkwood – was a registered sex offender, according to court documents.

    RELATED: Surveillance video captures moments before stabbing, deadly shooting near 201 Poplar

    FOX13 learned on Tuesday that Kirkwood re-offended multiple times over a five-year period between 2012 to 2017 for violating the sex offender registry. 

    According to a TBI criminal records report, he was sentenced to 90 days behind bars for Violating the Sex Offender Registry Act. 

    Violations include, but not limited to: 

    • Failure to timely register or report 
    • Falsification of a TBI registration form 
    • Failure to timely disclose required information
    • Failure to sign a TBI registration form
    • Failure to pay the annual administrative costs if financially able
    • Failure to timely disclose status as a sexual offender or violent sexual offender
    • Failure to timely report release after re-incarceration
    • Failure to timely report following reentry in this state after deportation
    • Failure to timely report when offender moves to another state

    State and local records do not state exactly how Kirkwood violated the Sex Offender Registry.

    The violations, per the state law, are considered Class E felonies, punishable for not less than 90 days on a first violation, not less than 180 days for a second violation, and not less than one year for three or more violations. 


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    For violating the Sex Offender Registry, Kirkwood never was sentenced to more than 180 days, according to a FOX13 analysis of his state criminal record. 

    “For him, he was constantly coming and going from the system,” said Claiborne Ferguson, a Memphis-based attorney.

    Ferguson has clients who are registered on the Sex Offender Registry. He said that some of his clients are homeless and re-offenders for violating SOR.

    “A lot of clients that are ours that are on the Sex Offender Registry are a special problem for us because they are often times homeless, drug or alcohol addicted, mental health issues. And a lot of times, they just simply don’t have the available resources or family to give them the support that they need,” said Ferguson. 

    RELATED: SCSO deputy stabbed, shoots sex offender to death after incident outside 201 Poplar, officials say

    “They will end up violating consistently because they won’t be able to meet the requirements for residency. They’ll end up back at 201.”

    Ferguson said there is not much Tennessee courts can do “other than send them to what’s typically a short jail stay” of typically 90 or 180 days. 

    “Then, they are back out of the street without the services they need to not reoffend,” said Ferguson.

    Services, the attorney said, like involuntary civil commitment. 

    “Unfortunately, the State of Tennessee has really lax laws when it comes to mental health care and involuntary commitments,” said Ferguson. “These guys a lot of times probably needed to be forced into medication and/or commitment to keep them off the street – not for the crimes that they may commit in the future, but they simply can’t meet the standards of society.”

    Involuntary civil commitments, according to Cornell Law School, are admissions “of individuals against their will into a mental health unit.”

    There is no public record of a mental health diagnosis for Kirkwood. 

    Ferguson said that involuntary civil commitment is one way that could help re-offenders constantly in and out of the system for violating the Sex Offender Registry.



    Background info: 

    According to a release from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, a deputy was initially called to the scene around 10 a.m. on Aug. 5 for a woman who reported a sexual assault. While talking with that woman, officials said she spotted the man she was reporting. 

    During a chase with the suspect, investigators said the suspect pulled a knife and stabbed the deputy in the arm.

    The officer then opened fire on the man, who officials identified as James Lee Kirkwood, 49. A witness told FOX13 he heard six gunshots.

    FOX13 confirmed that Kirkwood is also a registered sex offender in the state of Tennessee. According to court documents, he has criminal charges related to similar incidents dating back to 2012.

    SCSO told FOX13 the officer is in non-critical condition.

    Officials said that TBI is leading the investigation.

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