Murfreesboro's Top Stories of the Decade: Muslims, Robert Arnold, jobs and more

Dec 31, 2019 at 02:51 pm by Michelle Willard

Murfreesboro's Top Stories of the Teens

When picking the top stories from the last 10 years, I tried to pick things that have had long-term repercussions.  

That's why taxes increases beat out Bill Ketron for the 2019 Story of the Year. (I'll do a "Year in Ketron" to review everything he's gone through this year) It's also why the ouster of Nicole Lester from the Election Commission in 2014 made the list.

In the meantime, remember when all this crazy stuff happened? If you think there's something that deserves a mention, let me know in the comments.

2010: Red wave sweeps Rutherford County

In the elections of 2010, Rutherford County completed its trend toward the Republican Party.

The party took all the races in the County General Election for the first time in history.

The biggest shocker of the night was Robert Arnold's defeat of veteran Sheriff Truman Jones. Arnold (more on him later) won with 51.8 percent of the vote, 2,729 votes over Jones, who has served as sheriff since the mid-1980s.

Not only did the Republicans pull off the sheriff's race, but the party also unseated incumbents in the circuit court clerk and register of deeds races.

The red tide flowed in November, when Republicans swept into the state house in picking up at least a dozen seats, putting them solidly in control of both houses of Tennessee's General Assembly.

With these wins, and others across the state, the GOP took control of both legislative chambers, along with the governor's office, for the first time since the Civil War.

2011: Islamic Center of Murfreesboro lawsuit

On May 24, 2010, the Rutherford County Planning Commission heard and approved a new site plan for the 52,000-square-foot Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, firing the first shot in a years-long legal battle.
Within a month of the approval, opponents of the ICM converged on the Rutherford County Courthouse to express their displeasure at the decision and the county's actions leading up to the meeting.

The legal wrangling surrounding the religious community center came to a head in Chancellor Robert Corlew's courtroom in 2011.

In November, Corlew ruled that The Murfreesboro Post could intervene in the lawsuit to defend itself against attorney Joe Brandon's clients, who have argued that the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission did not give adequate notice prior to the Islamic Center's approval.

Meanwhile, contruction was completed on the ICM.

The case was finally settled in 2014 when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal.

2012: MTSU Lady Raider Tina Stewart murdered

Just days before MTSU's Lady Raiders were to play in the Sun Belt Conference tournament in 2011, Junior guard Clantina (Tina) Marie Lapae Stewart died from a lethal stabbing, which occurred in her Raiders Crossing apartment.

Stewart's roommate, Shanterrica Madden (above), who was a freshman at MTSU at the time was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. She claimed she acted in self defense.

In May 2012, jurors found Madden guilty of murder, bringing more than a year of legal proceedings to a close. Madden showed no emotion as Circuit Court Judge Don R. Ash announced she had been convicted of second-degree murder and tampering with evidence – less than two hours after jury deliberations began, following five days of testimony.

Prosecutors had sought a first-degree murder conviction, which would have resulted in Madden serving life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Whitesell said the fact Madden shut the door and turned off the lights, as Stewart bled to death, was perhaps the most compelling argument in the case. But he acknowledged the prosecution could never prove where the knife was located before the stabbing.

In July 2012, Ash sentenced Madden to 29 years in prison.

This incident inspired MTSU's True Blue pledge.

2013: The local economy fully recovered from the Great Recession

In 2013, Rutherford County's unemployment rate hit 5 percent, one of the lowest in the state, for the first time since the recession hit in 2008.

The recovery was helped by established companies like Nissan, which recovered its workforce topping 7,000 on three shifts for the first time in five years.

It was also aided by the relocation of companies like Schwan Cosmetics USA and M-TEK, which kicked off a years-long growth spurt that we are dealing with today.

2014: Coup at the Election Commission

In 2014, the five-member Rutherford County Election Commission tossed Nicole Lester out on her ear.

Chairman Ransom Jones accused Lester of shirking her duties and just overall being bad at her job. Before July was over (just a few weeks before the August election), Lester's job was and Alan Farley had been installed in her place.

A former member of the Election Commission, Farley has spent the last five years remodeling the elections process in Rutherford County. His legacy project is a new voting process to make voting easier on Election Day. Vote Centers provide voters with multiple polling locations to choose from, so they can cast their votes at the most convenient location on Election Day.

2015: The sheriff gets busted

In 2015, Robert Arnold thought he was doing the right thing when he disclosed he was making additional money from JailCigs, an electronic cigarette company he co-owned with his family and Joe Russell, the RCSO's administrative chief deputy.

Throughout the year, we learned that Arnold was entering into contracts without the knowledge of other county leaders, like the County Commission, and firing employees who voted against him in the 2014 election, as well as profiting from his inmates. Federal prosecutors alleged Arnold pocketed $66,000 from his JailCigs and JailSnacks scheme.

In response, a group of concerned citizens filed suit to oust Arnold, but he hung on and was placed on administrative leave until he entered a guilty plea in May 2017 to three felony counts. He was sentenced to 50 months in minimum-security federal prison, but was released early in August 2019.

2016: Murfreesboro Police arrest children

A group of elementary school children were arrested and handcuffed at Hobgood Elementary School in April 2016 after cell phone video surfaced of an off-campus bullying incident.

Charges against the children were dismissed, but not before there was a breakdown in communication that resulted in the arrests.

Later analysis of the video found that none of the children arrested were visible in the bullying incident that happened in a neighborhood near Black Fox Elementary.

In 2017, one family sued for wrongful arrest and was awarded $86,000 in a settlement.

2017: Murfreesboro cancels white supremacists

On Oct. 28, 2017, white supremacists planned to hold a "White Lives Matter" rally on the Public Square.

Photos: White Lives Matters Rally

Organized by the National Socialist Movement, which describes itself as “America's Premier White Civil Rights Organization,” the event was supposed to be held after a similar rally in Shelbyville.

Organized by the National Socialist Movement, they were joined by members of the Nationalist Front, League of the South and the Traditionalist Workers Party.

Shelbyvillians thwarted their rally by singing at the supremacists, which may have scared them off of Murfreesboro.

The rally was permitted from 1:30-4 p.m., but around 3:15 p.m., Public Relations Officer for the League of the South and organizer Hunter Wallace tweeted the Murfreesboro rally was canceled because “it was a lawsuit trap” and “it was cold thought tbh (to be honest).”

According to a press release from the city of Murfreesboro, teams of law enforcement officers screened protesters and between 800 and 1,000 counter-protesters for prohibited items before entering. Law enforcement officers monitored the rally.

Officers from Murfreesboro City, Rutherford County, Tennessee Highway Patrol, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, plus other nearby agencies lined and surrounded the Square to keep the would-be protesters separated.

2018: CBD bust crushes local cops

In February 2018, DA Jennings Jones obtained indictments for 21 individuals and charged them with felonies for possessing and selling a schedule VI drug, in the form of cannabidiol, a.k.a., CBD, at 23 stores across the county.

Little did he know it was legal.

Named "Candy Crush," the saga began when Smyrna Police Department officers bought items containing CBD and SPD had them tested. The TBI tests came back as a schedule VI substance. So more officers were dispatched across the county. TBI also cannot determine how much THC might be in the products either.

"They all came back as containing schedule VI with two being inconclusive," Jones said, citing the state law that prohibits the sale and use of a marijuana-derived CBD without a doctor's order.

The problem is there is a second Tennessee law that allows for the sale and use of industrial hemp-derived CBD.

Jones presented the TBI's findings to a Rutherford County Grand Jury that then indicted the store owners, which resulted in the arrests and the seizure of a significant amount of cash.

Within a few days the charges were dropped and the lawsuits were filed.

2019: Your taxes went up

Both Rutherford County and the city of Murfreesboro decided their taxes needed raising in 2018.

Claiming the funds were needed for education, pay raises for employees and the general cost of growth, the County Commission raised property taxes 5.7 percent, the sixth increase in the past 15 years. Meanwhile, Murfreesboro said "hold my beer and watch this" when the City council increased taxes by a whopping 35.8 percent. The council also implemented a $7.50 per can fee for trash collection.

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