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Maryville's Laurel Branch Park improvement spending may exceed $3 million

The city of Maryville continues to fine tune land on either side of the Robert C. Jackson Drive Extension, a process that may soon cost more than $3 million, a city official said.

City Manager Greg McClain told council members during their April work session that ongoing improvements at Laurel Branch Park will be expensive, but the city will price the land accordingly by increasing them from initial amounts.

“When we do this work, the price point on that property will go back up to recoup what we’re putting in,” McClain explained, adding, “And people will pay it. Time is more important to them than money.”

That doesn’t mean it will be able to recoup every penny of spending, but the city is prioritizing ease of access for developers and expects people to pay well for that.

As it is today, there are “some real challenges” on the property, McClain told council members, mainly regarding the slope of property in the southwestern corner. The cost for developers might drive them away from buying, McClain said, indicating people want something that’s “ready to go,” rather than something that may cost hundreds of thousands to fix before anything can be built.

City officials already have approved spending of more than half a million in capital project funds for area improvements, including utilities and road improvements.

During their April 6 meeting, council greenlighted $100,000 for a road connecting Big Springs Road and West Lamar Alexander Parkway.

In March it approved $400,000 for infrastructure design and sanitary sewer construction.

The work that lies ahead, according to McClain, is grading — a lot of grading. That, and the city wants to build more roads and utilities in the area.

Three entities already have committed to purchasing Laurel Branch Park property: Downey Oil Company, Seefried Industrial Properties and Darrell and Rebecca Dillard — who own Maryville Rental Center.

Property records show the city sold land to the Dillards for $454,250 and to Charles Carruthers and Charles Carruthers Jr. with Downey Oil Company for $670,000.

McClain said during the April 16 work session sale documents from Seefried Industrial Properties have yet to be finalized.

According to council documents, there are 79 acres of city-owned land at Laurel Branch Park. Since Seefried committed to buying more than 44 acres there, a majority is already spoken for.

There also may be a greenway planned for the area, but McClain said it’s “down the road” and designs for it aren’t part of the current vision for the area.

Laurel Branch Park also contains tens of acres of wetlands the city has to manage and maintain and which cannot be part of any development.

Though McClain noted the city wants to turn these improvement projects around quickly, he told The Daily Times in an interview Monday that council probably will have to wait until June to see a request for spending because staff is still in the early stages of design and planning.

He added the city hopes to finish grading before November, but utilities and roads are top priorities right now.

Murder case against ex-cop in Floyd's death goes to the jury

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The murder case against former Officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd went to the jury Monday in a city on edge against another round of unrest like the one that erupted last year over the harrowing video of Chauvin with his knee on the Black man's neck.

The jury of six white people and six people who are Black or multiracial began deliberating after nearly a full day of closing arguments in which prosecutors argued that Chauvin squeezed the life out of Floyd last May in a way that even a child knew was wrong.

The defense contended that the now-fired white officer acted reasonably and that the 46-year-old Floyd died of a heart condition and illegal drug use.

After closing arguments were done, Judge Peter Cahill rejected a defense request for a mistrial based in part on comments from California Rep. Maxine Waters that protesters could get more confrontational if there is no guilty verdict.

The judge told Chauvin's attorney: “Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned.” He added: “I wish elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law and to the judicial branch.”

Chauvin, 45, is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, all of which require the jury to conclude that his actions were a “substantial causal factor” in Floyd’s death and that his use of force was unreasonable.

The most serious charge carries up to 40 years in prison.

“Use your common sense. Believe your eyes. What you saw, you saw,” prosecutor Steve Schleicher said in closing arguments, referring to the bystander video of Floyd pinned down on the pavement with Chauvin's knee on or close to his neck for up to 9 minutes, 29 seconds, as onlookers yelled at the officer to get off.

Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson countered by arguing that Chauvin did what any reasonable police officer would have done after finding himself in a “dynamic” and “fluid” situation involving a large man struggling with three officers.

As Nelson began speaking, the now-fired Chauvin removed his COVID-19 mask in front of the jury for one of the very few times during the trial.

With the case drawing to a close, some stores were boarded up in Minneapolis. The courthouse was ringed with concrete barriers and razor wire, and National Guard members were on patrol. Floyd's death last spring set off protests in the city and across the U.S. that sometimes turned violent.

The city has also been on edge in recent days over the deadly police shooting of a 20-year-old Black man, Daunte Wright, in a nearby suburb on April 11.

A couple of hundred people rallied outside of the courthouse shortly after the jury got the case, lining up behind a banner reading, “Justice for George Floyd and all stolen lives. The world is watching.”

Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell had the final word Monday, offering the state's rebuttal argument. The prosecutor, who is Black, said the questions about the use of force and cause of death are “so simple that a child can understand it.”

“In fact, a child did understand it, when the 9-year-old girl said, ‘Get off of him,’” Blackwell said, referring to a young witness who objected to what she saw. "That’s how simple it was. `Get off of him.' Common sense.”

Under the law, police have certain latitude to use force, and their actions are supposed to be judged according to what a “reasonable officer” in the same situation would have done.

Nelson noted that officers who first went to the corner store where Floyd allegedly tried to pass a counterfeit $20 bill were struggling with Floyd when Chauvin arrived as backup. The defense attorney also noted that the first two officers on the scene were rookies and that police had been told that Floyd might be on drugs.

“A reasonable police officer understands the intensity of the struggle,” Nelson said, noting that Chauvin’s body camera and badge were knocked off his chest.

Nelson also showed the jury pictures of pills found in Floyd’s SUV and pill remnants discovered in the squad car. Fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in Floyd’s system.

The defense attorney said the failure of the prosecution to acknowledge that medical problems or drugs played a role “defies medical science and it defies common sense and reason.”

During the prosecution's argument, Schleicher replayed portions of the bystander video and other footage as he dismissed certain defense theories about Floyd's death as “nonsense." He said Chauvin killed Floyd by constricting his breathing.

Schleicher rejected the drug overdose argument, as well as the contention that police were distracted by hostile onlookers, that Floyd had “superhuman” strength from a state of agitation known as excited delirium, and that he suffered possible carbon monoxide poisoning from auto exhaust.

The prosecutor sarcastically referred to the idea that it was heart disease that killed Floyd as an “amazing coincidence.”

"Is that common sense or is that nonsense?” Schleicher asked the jury.

Blackwell, his fellow prosecutor, likewise rejected the defense theory that Floyd died because of an enlarged heart: “The truth of the matter is that the reason George Floyd is dead is because Mr. Chauvin’s heart was too small.”

Earlier, Schleicher described how Chauvin ignored Floyd’s cries and continued to kneel on him well after he stopped breathing and had no pulse. Chauvin was “on top of him for 9 minutes and 29 seconds and he had to know,” Schleicher said. “He had to know.”

He said Chauvin heard Floyd, “but he just didn't listen.”

The prosecutor said Floyd was "not a threat to anyone" and was not trying to escape when he struggled with officers but instead was terrified of being put into the tiny backseat of the squad car.

He said a reasonable officer with Chauvin’s training and experience — he was a 19-year Minneapolis police veteran — should have sized up the situation accurately.

Chauvin, wearing a light gray suit with a blue shirt and blue tie, showed little expression as he watched himself and the other officers pinning Floyd to the ground on bodycam video played by his attorney. He cocked his head to the side and occasionally leaned forward to write on a notepad.

An unidentified woman occupied the single seat set aside in the pandemic-spaced courtroom for a Chauvin supporter.

Floyd’s brother Philonise represented the family in court, as he often has during the trial.

Schleicher also noted that Chauvin was required to use his training to provide medical care to Floyd but ignored bystanders, rebuffed help from an off-duty paramedic and rejected a suggestion from another officer to roll Floyd onto his side.

“He could have listened to the bystanders. He could have listened to fellow officers. He could have listened to his own training. He knew better. He just didn’t do better," Schleicher said.

“Conscious indifference. Indifference. Do you want to know what indifference is and sounds like?” Schleicher asked before playing a video of Chauvin replying, “Uh-huh” several times as Floyd cried out.


Webber reported from Fenton, Michigan. Associated Press video journalist Angie Wang in Atlanta and writers Mohamed Ibrahim and Aaron Morris in Minneapolis contributed.


Find AP’s full coverage of the death of George Floyd at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd

Maryville City Schools upgrading bus camera system

A new school bus camera system will give Maryville City Schools easy access to recordings of what happens both inside and outside the vehicles.

The Maryville Board of Education on Monday , April 19, unanimously approved spending $34,025.40 for new recording systems on 20 buses the district has under contract with Rocky Top School Buses LLC.

The current camera system has only two views of what happens inside the bus, but the equipment from Safety Vision will add a view of the outside as well, which will show drivers who violate state law by passing when the bus is stopped for students to enter or leave.

The Wi-Fi-enabled system also will automatically download the records not only at the end of the day when buses finish their routes but also when they are within access of the schools’ network.

Currently, administrators are swapping out memory cards on buses to access recordings a couple of times a week, according to Director Mike Winstead.

“We’re excited about this purchase,” he told the board before the vote.

While it won’t give administrators a real-time view of what happens on or around a bus, he said, “it’s the next best thing.”

Home buying

During the meeting at John Sevier Elementary School, the board also unanimously approved buying a house at 408 Melrose St. for $225,000. Winstead said the current owner approached the district about the sale.

The home is near Sam Houston Elementary, by three others that currently house the Maryville City Schools Foundation, MCS Clinic and Family Resource Center. In the short term Maryville’s information technology employees could move into the house next year. In the long term the district may use the property to renovate the SHE entrance and add parking.

The board approved spending $106,094.40 to replace 155 teacher laptops in grades 8-12 with new Dell Latitude 3310 devices. The old laptops will be used to fill student needs until those devices are updated.

Other spending

In other action the board approved:

• Replacing a dishwasher believed to be original to John Sevier Elementary — which according to the MCS website was completed in 1968 — with a new unit from Mobile Fixture Co. for $51,179.6. “We go until we can’t find parts,” Winstead said.

• Paying Denver Hunt Co. LLC $40,285 to extend the awning coverage at John Sevier Elementary, Coulter Grove Intermediate and Maryville Junior High schools.

• Buying a new Ford F-250 truck for the maintenance department through a state contract at $27,260. Winstead said a 1997 Chevrolet truck still will be used to transport mowers.

• Renewing for $34,992 the Filewave site license that allows remote access to computers.

During the school board comment period, Chairman Nick Black took issue with an April 4 Daily Times editorial that criticized General Assembly bills that would raise from $10,000 to $25,000 the threshold for requiring local school boards to solicit competitive bids.

Black said the last time the law was changed was in 2006, when it went from $5,000 to $10,000. “This is a completely benign bill,” he said. “It keeps pace with inflation a little bit, and it’s time for this bill anyway.”

He quoted a sentence in the editorial that said, “If this bill passes, any purchase under $25,000 could go to friends of school board members with no oversight.”

“The reason that they are drawing attention to this is because it would slightly reduce revenue for local papers,” Black said, “and I think it’s a cheap shot to take this position for a bill that is needed. It’s unanimously supported across the state.”

“I think it was unfortunate that this piece was written and, again, taking a cheap shot at us without any support, without any evidence that any of this would occur,” Black said.

School board member Candy Morgan added that the Maryville board’s procedure is to put on the agenda anything that might have a conflict of interest.