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Protests, Rape Kits, and Trolley Fires

A look back at news highlights from 2014 in the Bluff City.

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January

• The Memphis City Council approved the $24-million purchase of AutoZone Park. The park will be paid for with a mix of tax credits, tax rebates, and $300,000 in annual lease payments from the Memphis Redbirds baseball team.

• Easy Way co-owner David Carter was found dead with a single gunshot wound to the chest at the Easy Way Distribution Center on January 20th. Although it was originally believed that his death was the result of a robbery, the Shelby County Medical Examiner's Office later ruled Carter's death as a suicide.

D.A. Amy Weirich
  • D.A. Amy Weirich

• Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich refused to discipline Assistant District Attorney Thomas Henderson after he was censured by the Tennessee Supreme Court over the 2013 holidays. Henderon's censure came after he pleaded guilty to charges of misconduct and violating state rules governing prosecutors. Attorneys in the murder trials of Michael Rimmer say Henderson purposefully hid exculpatory evidence that could have helped their client. Weirich issued a statement defending Henderson's record. Later in the year, Weirich herself came under fire for claims of hiding exculpatory evidence in two other murder trials.

February

• The Memphis and Shelby County Airport Authority announced plans to "modernize" Memphis International Airport by demolishing the southern ends of concourses A and C and enhancing concourse B with walkways, higher ceilings, and more windows. The downsizing was a result of Delta removing its hub status.

• The Hamp Line, the bidirectional bicycle path leading from Overton Park to the Shelby Farms Greenline, broke ground. Parts of the path are already in use, but construction of the Tillman section isn't expected to begin until spring 2015.

Get Off Our Lawn protest
  • Get Off Our Lawn protest

March

• The Get Off Our Lawn group formed to protect Overton Park's Greensward, which they said was being "destroyed by overflow parking" from the Memphis Zoo. The group held sit-in-style protests on the greensward on busy zoo days, physically blocking cars from parking. Eventually, the group, the city, and the Memphis Zoo compromised to reduce the number of days zoo patrons could park on the greensward.

• Victims of serial rapist Anthony Alliano brought a lawsuit against Memphis and Shelby County for damages stemming from the delay in law enforcement handling their rape kits. Alliano was arrested in May 2012, but the victims' rape kits, along with about 12,000 others, sat untested for years. The city still struggles with a rape kit backlog.

April

• The National Civil Rights Museum reopened after being closed for months for massive renovations. The changes included upgraded and expanded exhibits, some of which are interactive.

• A movement to get special on-street parking permits for Overton Square residents began. Some residents had reported that visitors' cars were blocking their driveways and alleyways. In December, the Memphis City Council agreed to allow permit-only parking for residents on a portion of Monroe near Restaurant Iris.

• The "Untapped" pop-up beer garden inside the Tennessee Brewery opened and sold out of beer the first weekend. Restaurateur Taylor Berger, attorney Michael Tauer, commercial real estate executive Andy Cates, and communications specialist Doug Carpenter organized the spring beer garden to raise awareness about the need to save the building, after its owner said he'd demolish it by summer if no one purchased it. In November, cell phone tower developer Billy Orgel closed on his purchase of the brewery, which he plans to convert into apartments.

Aftermath from a trolley fire
  • Aftermath from a trolley fire

May

• After Memphis In May festivities were over, the city closed off two lanes on Riverside Drive to create a protected, two-way bicycle and pedestrian path. Vehicle traffic was reduced to two lanes between Beale and Georgia. City officials will evaluate the traffic impacts until Riverside is up for repaving next summer, and they'll determine then whether or not to keep the bike lane.

June

• Memphis Area Transit Authority suspended trolley service indefinitely following two trolley fires on the Madison line — one in November 2013 and another in April 2014. Temporary buses began operating on the trolleys lines. Experts are still studying what caused the fires, and there is no estimated date for their return.

• Beale Street Landing, which cost $43 million, opened to the public after years of rising construction costs and delays. The landing features a boat dock, a playground, a gift shop, and a bar and grill.

• The Memphis City Council passed a nearly $600 million budget for the city that made deep cuts to employee benefits. The approved changes took away some major health-care subsidies from retirees over age 65 and will replace them with Medigap coverage or another plan. The changes will also cut the spouses of city employees from the city's health insurance plan if they are eligible to get insurance from their employer. The changes will also levy a higher monthly charge of $120 for smokers on the city insurance plan.

July

• Beginning on Independence Day weekend, hundreds of Memphis Police officers and a number of Memphis firefighters called in sick to work during what was labeled the Blue Flu and the Red Rash, a protest to cuts in their health-care benefits, salaries, and pension benefits.

• MATA hires a new general manager, Ron Garrison, who previously served as head of customer service at a South Carolina-based electric bus company.

• The city of Memphis issued a cease-and-desist order for ridesharing services Uber and Lyft because the companies didn't have permits to operate in the city. Both companies refused to stop operations and instead began months-long negotiations with the city on setting new regulations for their businesses. The Memphis City Council is expected to vote on those new rules in January.

August

• Terri Lee Freeman was chosen to run the National Civil Rights Museum after longtime president Beverly Robertson announced her retirement. Freeman spent the past 18 years running the Washington, D.C.-based Community Foundation for the National Capital Region.

• A man was beaten and lay unconscious in a pool of his own blood on Beale Street in the wee hours of a Sunday morning. Bystanders recorded videos and snapped pictures of his motionless body. That incident led the Downtown Memphis Commission to enact a $10 entrance fee after midnight on Sunday mornings when the street seemed overcrowded. The fee was dropped a couple weeks later when the DMC realized it was "bad for business and unpopular with many," according to a letter from DMC President Paul Morris to Mayor A C Wharton.

• The Tennessee Valley Authority board of directors voted to retire Memphis' Allen Fossil Plant in Frank C. Pidgeon Industrial Park and replace it with a 1,000 megawatt natural gas plant by December 31, 2018.

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September

• Three people were brutally beaten by a mob of teens in the parking lot of the Poplar Plaza Kroger. The victims, two teenage Kroger employees and a customer, were chosen at random for the attack. The incident was caught on video, and it went viral after being posted on Facebook. The incident led to "Love Mob" demonstrations and lots of bickering about whether or not the attack constituted a hate crime.

• Memphis firefighter Ronald Ellis allegedly shot and killed his ex-girlfriend Torhonda Cathy in the parking lot of the Colonial Avenue Target. Ellis fled Memphis but was later arrested in Georgia.

October

• The West Tennessee Multi-Agency Gang Unit announced a court-issued gang injunction against the Dixie Homes Murda Gang. The injunction established a "safety zone" within the boundaries of I-240 on the east, Jackson Avenue on the north, North Danny Thomas on the west, and Poplar Avenue to the south. Gang members are no longer allowed to gather there.

November

• A day after a Missouri grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for fatally shooting unarmed teen Michael Brown, protesters gathered at the intersection of Poplar and Highland. They held signs with phrases like "Film the Police," "Protect Us, Don't Kill Us," and "No Justice." A few days later, activists held a die-in at the National Civil Rights Museum to honor Brown and Eric Garner, who was killed by a New York City police officer.

• Construction began on the $17.5 million project to add a bicycle and pedestrian pathway across the Harahan Bridge. That 10-mile project will link Downtown to West Memphis, Arkansas.

December

• The Hi-Tone's longtime owner Jonathan Kiersky sold the Crosstown rock club to former Newby's manager Brian "Skinny" McCabe. McCabe said he'll leave the club's bookings the same but will add a kitchen.

• Swedish-based home goods retailer Ikea announced their intention to open a store on Germantown Parkway in 2016.

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