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UPDATE: Chattanooga City Council votes to subpoena DA

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HAMILTON COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -

Editor's Note: Channel 3 reached out to District Attorney Pinkston's office on Tuesday and his spokeswoman told us by email he was unavailable. On Wednesday, Pinkston's spokeswoman said he would agree to an interview but only if Channel 3 allowed one of two particular reporters to do the story. Channel 3 Eyewitness News does not allow elected officials or their representatives to assign which journalists conduct interviews on stories such as this. 


Sparks flew in the Chattanooga City Council chambers Tuesday where several city leaders gathered to discuss the city's Violence Reduction Initiative. 

The meeting was the result of a letter District 9 Councilman Yusuf Hakeem wrote last month in which he said VRI has failed the city. 

The sparks were the result of a letter Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston sent to council members criticizing the VRI. The letter, shared with the media before being shared with those running the  program it criticized, also announced his plans to lobby other agencies to join him in a separate anti-gang task force.  

Pinkston's spokeswoman told Channel 3 the FBI had agreed to participate. An FBI supervisor says there is no commitment.

"The FBI has not committed to the DA’s task force," said FBI Supervisory Senior Resident Agent Paul Keenan.

"However we do remain committed to working with our federal, state a local partners to help curb gang violence in Chattanooga."

The TBI did not deny its interest but is certainly not publicly supporting the DA's effort at this time.

"We've been trying to determine if any of our staff had direct conversation with the General or his personnel regarding his proposed task force," said TBI spokesman Josh DeVine.

 "At this time, however, we have not been directly approached with a specific invitation to join a new task force." 

READ MORE | Hamilton Co. D.A. announces multi-agency gang task force 

Pinkston said, "VRI can have a positive impact if implemented properly" but that he "will not allow his staff to bear responsibility for the city's failure." 

"We, this team, have arrested hundreds of gang members," Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher told members Tuesday. 

Some defended their roles in Chattanooga's Violence Reduction Initiative, while others questioned its success. 

"What needs to be done to build trust from your perspective between the community and law enforcement to deal with some of these crimes?" Hakeem asked the panel. 

After months of mounting pressure, council members demanded answers from the panel made up of police, social workers, judges and federal prosecutors-- all components of the VRI. 

But one key player was missing: Neal Pinkston. 

"We've attempted to get the DA to engage us for weeks. And when I say we, I mean the council, the mayor, the police chief, and even the media. We continue to be stonewalled and ignored. The council has the ability and the imperative to demand answers. We have the power to subpoena him and I moved that we do it," District 7 Councilman Chris Anderson said. 

Council members voted to subpoena the district attorney under the city charter with hopes of getting answers about how VRI cases are prosecuted. 

"We've been continually asking about why VRI cases, the most dangerous offenders in our community, don't get special priority from the DA? We still don't have the answer to that because he won't answer us," Anderson added. 

"To make a decision and address the concerns of the citizens of Chattanooga, we need to have the availability of information to make informed judgments and decisions," District 4 Councilman Larry Grohn said. 

The city's charter give the council the power to issue a subpoena, but some question how it will be enforced. 

LEARN MORE | Read section 8.5 of the city charter

Pinkston says he has voiced his concerns regarding the program. 

In an e-mail to the mayor and police chief, Pinkston said in part, "We've actively attended every meeting we've been asked to attend and consulted with officers on ways to improve their cases. We have no control over the types of cases you are bringing to us to prosecute." 

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