Cover-up of same by The Cochran Firm while pretending, under contract, to represent decedent’s family
I am writing to you, Senator, to solicit your help in resolving issues surrounding the death of my brother, Larry Morris Neal. He was a mentally ill heart patient who was secretly arrested in mid‑July 2003 and detained until his death on August 1, 2003, in Shelby County Jail in Memphis, Tennessee. Larry spent most of his life from early childhood (age 9 through his mid-20’s) in Western State Mental Hospital in Bolivar, Tennessee. As you know, during the 70’s, many such institutions were closed or no longer kept mental patients who presented no apparent threat to the public. After release from Western State, Larry was arrested numerous times for misdemeanors connected with his handicap, paranoid schizophrenia. The last ten years of his life, Larry suffered from severe respiratory problems and a heart condition that necessitated prescription drugs for his survival. During the 18 days of Larry’s final incarceration, his family and State-appointed social worker searched for him as a missing person. The jail falsely and repeatedly reported that neither Larry Neal nor a John Doe meeting his physical description was incarcerated in that facility. It is therefore reasonable to assume that Larry received none of his vital prescription heart and psychiatric drugs during incarceration, which likely caused his death. Larry supposedly was unidentified until he died, despite the fact that (i) he had suffered many contemporaneous arrests in that very same facility for misdemeanors related to his mental illness, with the last arrest only two weeks prior to the incarceration that killed him; (ii) Memphis police had supplied emergency transport to mental hospitals for emergency treatment during Larry’s psychotic episodes for more than 25 years; and (3) Memphis police were fully aware of Larry Neal’s heart condition and had contact information for his social worker, who was usually called when Larry was arrested on public nuisance charges, panhandling, and the like.
At the time of Larry’s death, Shelby County Jail was under federal overview by the U. S. Justice Department following suit by the USA, filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act. One would think that overview by the United States Department of Justice would ensure openness and honesty from everyone connected with Larry’s death. Contrarily, for four years, all requests by Larry’s family to government entities, including the Justice Department, for reports, explanations, and accountability regarding my brother’s euthanasia have been ignored, or we were told no reports exist.
I attribute the fact that Larry’s family has never received any information explaining Larry’s incarceration and death to The Cochran Firm. Unfortunately, Larry’s family hired The Cochran Firm to file Larry’s wrongful death suit, never knowing that The Cochran Firm’s managing partner in the law firm’s Memphis office, Julian Bolton, Esq., had a vested interest in seeing to it that our suit against Shelby County Jail never got filed. I cannot begin to tell you how hurt we were to learn that The Cochran Firm deliberately tricked my grieving, elderly mother into signing a contract for legal representation that the law firm never had the smallest intention of honoring. Rather, it was necessary for The Cochran Firm to trick Larry’s family into believing we had lawyers so that no honest lawyer would ever get the opportunity to really work in our behalf and file suit against Shelby County Jail. Because we planned to sue, it was not surprising that Shelby County Government was tuncooperative regarding the release of information about Larry’s incarceration and death. However, if Larry’s family had indeed had an honest attorney, those records would have been subpoenaed and released during discovery. That is exactly why The Cochran Firm contracted with my mother – to prevent her hiring an honest attorney with no conflict of interest in the matter of Larry’s wrongful death.
Below, I offer a brief chronicle of my family’s fruitless efforts over nearly four years to get information and demand accountability for Larry’s death:
Shelby County JailShelby County GovernmentShelby County Attorney
In response to my inquiry, the County Attorney declared “We did nothing wrong,” but rendered no explanation or report. (Letter from Brian L. Kuhn, Shelby County Attorney, dated 8/17/06)
Shelby County Coroner’s Office
Faxed the Neals a poor copy of Larry’s autopsy drawings with sketchy narrative descriptions, but lacking a full narrative report. When asked for a detailed autopsy report and a coroner’s investigative report, the Coroner’s office replied that there were no further reports on Larry’s death.
Larry’s autopsy was performed by the office of Shelby County’s Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. O. C. Smith. This same man was later indicted by the U.S. Justice Department for faking his own kidnapping after placing a note on his person accusing himself of lying in favor of Memphis police in a capital murder case. The accused in this case was facing a death sentence, having maintained throughout his trial that it was a policeman who shot the policeman he was accused of killing.
US Department of Justice
According to the USA’s Agreement with Shelby County Government, the jail was to issue monthly reports as well as an inmate mortality report when someone died in custody. In response to my letter to the Justice Department, which was addressed to Terrell L. Harris, Mellie Nelson, Mary Bohan, and Tammie Gregg, the Justice Department reported that that agency never received any report regarding Larry Neal from Shelby County Jail/ Government (signed by Marie A. O’Rourke, Assistant Director, July 26, 2005 (copies attached)).
Subsequently, the Justice Department failed to respond to Larry’s family’s request under the Open Records Act for ANY reports from Shelby County Government/Jail for the time period Larry was incarcerated and died. Any reports from the jail to the Justice Department for July and August 2003 that failed to report Larry’s death were misleading at best, and likely fraudulent. (See attached our 3/29/06 request, directed to Chief John L. Wodatch, for copies of those reports under the Open Records Act.)
The Justice Department subsequently released Shelby County Jail from overview without any investigation regarding Larry Neal’s death, to my knowledge.
The Cochran Firm
Fraud / Undisclosed Conflict of Interest / Deliberate Malpractice
This law firm contracted with the Neals (August 2003) to file a wrongful death action against Shelby County Jail and a negligence suits against the State of Tennessee and Larry’s final care home. The Cochran Firm did not reveal to its clients the fact that the firm’s Managing Partner of the Memphis office, Julian Bolton, Esq., was a 20+year member of the Shelby County Commission, which is the entity that owns and operates the jail where Larry died. The Cochran Firm used its position as our attorneys to shield Shelby County Jail from our lawsuit by accepting our case and allowing it to languish on its shelves while the statute ran. After successfully preventing our suit against Shelby County, Bolton was promoted to the position of Treasurer of the Board of Commissioners, and then to Chairman. Ironically, Julian Bolton is/was also a valued member on the Midtown Board of Mental Health.
The Cochran Firm lied to clients before contract, stating that the firm’s conflict of interest check resulted in no impediments to their representation. This firm lied to the Neals in writing after contract regarding a fictitious and nonexistent investigation and discovery process, it was conducting, cautioning us not to discuss Larry’s death with anyone. Instead of behaving as the Neals’ attorneys, The Cochran Firm merely held Larry’s wrongful death case inactive for nearly 11 months while the statute of limitations ran (12 months in Tennessee). By the time the Neals found out about The Cochran Firm’s ties to their defendant and the law firm’s lies about a nonexistent discovery process, it was too late for another law firm to accept our case on a contingent fee basis. (The poor in America suffer many injustices for the lack of affordable legal counsel.) Later, The Cochran Firm lied to the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility during its investigation of the Neals’ malpractice allegations. David McLaughlin, who was The Cochran Firm attorney assigned to handle Larry’s wrongful death and negligence suits, presented fraudulent documentation to that Tennessee Bar during its investigation.
The Neals filed suit pro se for fraud against The Cochran Firm, having their Complaint served to the firm’s “Atlanta office,” which was the office the Neals originally contacted for legal representation on August 1, 2003, immediately following Larry’s death. The Cochran Firm’s Atlanta office answered the suit in the name of “CCGSS,” and claimed in its discovery responses not to be The Cochran Firm (as it had represented to the Neals prior to contract signing) and denied any affiliation whatsoever with other Cochran Firm offices.
Fulton County GA Superior Court
Hattie Neal and Mary Neal v. The Cochran Firm (Civil Action No. 2005CV104215 – filed 8/1/05 -- Fraud suit brought pro se against The Cochran Firm)
Judge Shoob dismissed the case on June 8, 2006, with her Order citing two reasons: (a) The judge found that “there is no Cochran Firm in Georgia.” Meanwhile, The Cochran Firm advertised then and continues to advertise now its legal services to millions of Georgians via rapid transit system television commercials, network television, the Internet, etc., with business being conducted out of its Peachtree Street, downtown Atlanta offices; and (b) Judge Shoob further stated that our suit was dismissed because Plaintiffs did not specifically allege fraud in their Complaint. You will note that (1) FRAUD is clearly listed as the cause of action on the court’s filing form completed by the Neals to initiate the court action; (2) throughout their Complaint, Plaintiffs allege fraud against The Cochran Firm; and (3) in the conclusion of their Complaint, Plaintiffs specifically asked for punitive damages for The Cochran Firm’s fraud against Plaintiffs as their attorneys (see attached hereto Plaintiff’s Complaint p. 15, ¶ 113(b); and see the Complaint’s filing form).
Surprisingly, when the discovery period ended and it was time to set a trial date, it was reported to the Neals that the Fulton County Superior Court Clerk’s Office had “lost” an important motion from the court’s file. As a legal secretary for over a decade in Georgia, I have filed hundreds of motions with Fulton County Superior Court and worked alongside countless other legal secretaries, yet this is the first time I heard of this court losing a motion from the court file.
With Judge Shoob’s dismissal of our suit, Larry’s family was denied the opportunity of having a jury trial, and those responsible for Larry’s death and the subsequent cover-up were given a reprieve from complete disclosure regarding the circumstances of Larry’s incarceration and death.
The selection of a Fulton County Superior Court judge for any given case is supposed to be by a random lottery process. However, Judge Shoob is likely the only judge on a Georgia Superior Court who ever presided over another case involving allegations of wrongful death against Memphis, Tennessee police. The Internet reports that in a case assigned to Judge Shoob through a change of venue several years ago, she ruled favorably for Memphis police regarding the admissibility of certain key evidence. Major coincidence? By now we understood that the Neals were unlikely to get any opportunity to have a fair hearing against The Cochran Firm in open court, perhaps even if we appealed to a higher court or filed against the firm in another venue. We understood that we would probably only receive more of the same treatment. A Georgia court recently sentenced two black boys to prison for 10 years because they killed a puppy. Even this dog got his day in court. Does this mean that the life of a mentally ill man is not equivalent to the worth of a dog?
One thing is clear to me now regarding another case handled by The Cochran Firm: It was not necessarily the same glove.
Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility
In September 2005, we lodged a complaint against The Cochran Firm with the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility. Jesse D. Joseph, the Disciplinary counsel assigned to the case, performed a cursory investigation and then hastily dismissed the Neal’s case against David McLaughlin, The Cochran Firm’s attorney the Board held accountable for answering the Neals’ allegations against that law firm. Mr. Joseph closed the investigation within weeks, without asking to review any proof of wrongdoing against The Cochran Firm that the Neals had to present. The case was re-opened in the Spring of 2006, after the Neals informed the Board (by e-mail to all members) that Larry’s family was seeking justice in another venue (namely, the lawsuit filed against The Cochran Firm in the Superior Court of Fulton County, Georgia).
By letter dated October 19, 2006, Lance B. Bracy, Chief Disciplinary Counsel of the Board, ruled, however, to close our case without any sanctions against The Cochran Firm. In so doing, the Board found that the Cochran Firm did nothing wrong in (1) lying to its clients and concealing its conflict of interest from clients; (2) performing no substantive work on the client’s case during the 10.5 months it was under contract as the family’s attorneys, despite letters to its clients that discovery was going forth; and (3) falsifying documentation to the Board in its defense of the Neals’ allegations of professional misconduct against The Cochran Firm. In dismissing the case, the Board offered no response to the Neals’ material evidence regarding forged and fraudulent documents submitted to that body by McLaughlin.
Georgia’s Board of Professional Responsibility gave no response whatsoever to the Neals’ report to that agency of professional misconduct by The Cochran Firm.
DeKalb County, Georgia Police Department
Failed to investigate or respond in any way to the Neals’ report of phone tampering and removal of Yahoo e-mails that related to Larry Neal’s death. (Police report filed 5/10/06, with Officer Perkins, no. 2426, case no. 06-064301, Center Precinct)
Your Name Goes Here(I am writing my personal appeal to each U. S. Senator, individually.)
How say you, Senator? Will you help us resolve Larry’s death, please? Do you believe in the God-given, unalienable rights of all Americans, including those with disabilities? Even the mentally ill? Even black men? Even the indigent? If so, please help bring closure to Larry’s 84‑year-old mother. She fell and hurt her hip in the lobby of The Cochran Firm’s office building in Memphis as we left the contract meeting four years ago. Her fall apparently triggered arthritis throughout her body. Hattie Neal has not had a single pain-free day since that fall, which she suffered due to her weakened, grieving state after having contracted with counsel on the morning immediately following Larry’s funeral. Larry’s mother believed that in placing her case with that law firm, she had helped to prevent other mothers from enduring the death of their handicapped children in jail due to negligence and/or euthanasia. Won’t you help?
The list of persons and entities contacted by the Neals in our continual quest for information and justice regarding Larry’s wrongful death is four-years long, despite verifiable proof for all allegations. The details of our quest for justice in this matter are truly shameful for America, a country so concerned about human rights around the globe, with a creed of equality and justice for all of her citizens. This letter is a personal appeal for your assistance, Senator. In addition to this letter-writing campaign, a website is being constructed (http://wrongfuldeathoflarryneal.com) and demonstrations are planned to cry out to the world for help in gaining information and finally reconcile the issues of Larry’s imprisonment and death as well as to assist the thousands of mentally ill persons like Larry who yet languish in American jails. Perhaps some fellow inmate or honest police officer will come forward and tell us how things really were with Larry during his final incarceration, thereby helping to bring closure to his family.
I hope that America will soon move away from its practice of imprisoning its mentally ill citizens. Let us not continue to replace psychiatrists with policemen, trading long-term care and mental hospital beds to sleep on cold, iron prison racks with no mattresses and no cover, lest a sick prisoner hurt himself. We must not continue answering the need for compassionate care for the mentally ill with chains, mace, and Taser guns. Mental illness is not a crime, Senator; it is a handicap. As such, we should not continue the Dark Age practice of keeping our sick people in dungeons, particularly those Americans who have diagnosed mental impairments that make it impossible for them to comprehend and abide by the laws that rule the behavior of ordinary citizens. The Cochran Firm had on its brochure in 2003 when it tricked my mother into signing contract this quote: “To whom much is given, much is expected.” Luke 12:48. America has so much to spend defending the human rights in foreign lands, including the lives of our young soldiers and billions of dollars. Yet, the condition of our mentally ill citizens, evident in my brother’s incarceration and death, rises to the level of cruel and unusual punishment. So, I answer to The Cochran Firm’s Bible quote with one of my own, and one that I feel should be applied by my government in its treatment of the mentally ill: “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me. Then shall He say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Matthew 25:40-41. We must not allow our response to mental illness continue to be jail, commitment to substandard hospitals (as evidenced by the recent deaths in one Atlanta area mental hospital), homelessness, and euthanasia. I believe that America is better than that, and her citizens rightfully expect more for their incapacitated brethren. If we do not address this problem now, Senator, what next? What will we do with our many children diagnosed as being bipolar or who suffer from autism? What are we going to do with the soldiers who return from combat brain damaged due to the shock of bombs exploding close to their heads? What of our elders with Alzheimer’s? Will we simply build more jails and order up more chains? Will we just starve our brain damaged citizens to death, as was done in Florida? What has happened to this “one nation under God”? Is hospitalization in America to continue to be a solution only for the wealthy or the criminally insane, while the rest of our mentally ill population crowd our jails and put an unfair burden on our criminal justice system? Are families to lock their deranged loved ones away in basements and attics to prevent their arrest for misbehaving in public?
We have regressed a great deal over the last 30 years in caring for our chronically mentally ill citizens. The mental hospital where we visited my brother on Sundays when I was a child was a large, attractive, and serene place with manicured lawns and comfortable seating for visiting with family members on the lawn, or inside, if the patient did not have outside privileges. My mother used to sit and speak gently to Larry on the park bench while holding his hand. If he was feeling good during a particular visit, Larry would tell us about his group therapy sessions and crafts classes, and the hospital’s weekly social event. Larry and the other patients would try hard all week to remain calm and follow instructions, lest they be denied attendance. Nowadays, only the very rich can hope to have their sick loved ones in an atmosphere with psychiatric care and skilled, compassionate personnel on staff. All the poor ones in America who just cannot seem to stop disturbing the peace or show proper respect the law (which many of them cannot even understand) are thrown in jail for their criminal lack of good sense.
I would like to see a three-day limit placed on the amount of time that persons who are certifiably mentally ill can remain incarcerated awaiting trial. America should construct or reconstruct hospitals for the speedy transfer of such detainees, where they should remain under psychiatric care until making bail, standing trial, or longer if so determined by their doctors. If America has the money to fight for the humane treatment of people in other countries, let us expend the necessary funds to secure the humane treatment of our own citizens who are mentally disabled. If this happens, Senator, if you will introduce and fight for such legislation, then poor Larry’s isolation, suffering, and death in jail will not be in vain. Please consider making the humane treatment of America’s mentally ill citizens one of your re‑election platforms.
Thank you for your kind attention to my letter, and in advance, thank you for your assistance. Moreover, I thank God for my right to freedom of speech without fear of reprisal, the right to petition my government for a redress of grievances, and I thank Him highly for placing righteous men and women in positions of leadership and power in America. I will be standing by, hopeful of your intervention in the shameful denial of information and reconciliation concerning my sick brother’s jail death. I will be watching for new legislation introduced in Washington to alleviate the suffering of our mentally ill citizens and their families.
Please feel free to contact me at my home number above, or my work number during regular business hours: _________. If your published avenue for electronic contact is a web form instead of a regular e‑mail box, please note that I may not be able to attach any substantiating documentation to this correspondence. However, you will receive same with delivery of your hardcopy of this letter by the U. S. Mail. Furthermore, I hereby authorize you to conduct whatever investigation you deem necessary to substantiate the facts presented to you herein.
Mary L. Neal
cc: Worldwide Web