Chief Investigative Reporter

Jeremy Finley is the News4 I-Team's Chief Investigative Reporter. He has won multiple Midsouth Emmy and Edward R. Murrow Awards.

Complaints filed against an assistant district attorney in Rutherford County by four prosecutors in the Davidson County accuse him of saying, “Blacks hate Mexicans,” in a 2015 session discussing how to pick juries.

The complaints, obtained by the News4 I-Team, accuse Rutherford County Assistant District Attorney John Zimmerman of making the comment along with another statement with “racial implications.”

Davidson County district attorney Glenn Funk wrote in his complaint that he heard Zimmerman say that “all Blacks hate Mexicans,” and that the presentation encouraged unethical and illegal conduct.

Davidson County assistant district attorneys Jenny Charles, Roger Moore and Janice Norman all emailed complaints saying they heard the comment as well.

“At best, it was a careless statement that generalized an entire race of people. At worst, it was an overtly racist stereotype,” Charles wrote.

According to the complaints, the panel on which Zimmer spoke occurred at the District Attorney General’s conference on October 22, 2015.

The complaints refer to a legal mandate that jurors are not to be chosen based on their race.

The complaints were emailed privately but were obtained by the News4 I-Team.

While Zimmerman refused to answer questions on camera, he did say by phone that he did not recall making that specific comment.

“If I said those words, it was a very poor choice of words. Not a wise thing to say,” Zimmerman said.

“Do you believe that (stereotype?)” asked the News4 I-Team.

“No, I do not believe that all blacks hate Mexicans,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman said his comments referenced a prior trial in which he was the prosecutor and six Mexican defendants were on trial on drug charges.

Zimmerman said the attorneys for the defendants struck all the white jurors, leaving an all black jury.

Zimmerman said he did not strike any jurors, and wanted to use that as a lesson to the prosecutors at the conference.

“Here's an example where I believe the defense lawyers misunderstood the demographic makeup and the relationship between African Americans and Hispanics as far as sympathies. They felt like an all-black jury would be naturally sympathetic to their clients,” Zimmerman said.

Rutherford County NAACP President Katie Wilson said even if the complaints were filed in 2015, it is concerning because Zimmerman has been selecting juries since then.

“Do you consider this racist?” asked the I-Team.

“Oh yes. By all means,” Wilson said.

Wilson also said he was confused by the stereotype, as she has Mexican relatives in her family and had never heard of that mindset.

In the complaints, Funk also writes that the first inappropriate comment he heard Zimmerman make was as an assistant district attorney in Nashville, he would strike jurors with a 37215 area code if a case involved people from the “inner city.”

Funk wrote that he heard Zimmerman say, “In Nashville, rich people don’t care about what happens in East Nashville.”

Zimmerman said he actually didn’t make that remark, but was quoting what another prosecutor once said.

While Jerry Estes, executive director of the Attorney Generals Conference, did not return repeated phone calls asking for an explanation as to how the complaints were investigated, an open records request did reveal a letter sent to Funk.

The letter, signed by District Attorney Kim Helper, who was one of three people who was sent the complaints, read, “While you and your assistants are firm in your view of General Zimmerman’s remarks, others attending the session did not hear the same language and/or interpret his comments in the same manner.”

Zimmerman’s boss, Rutherford County District Attorney Jennings Jones, issued a statement to the News4 I-Team.

“This event took place well over three years ago and there appear to be substantive differences of opinion as to what actually took place,” Jones wrote, “Mr. Zimmerman understands that the phrasing he used was an extremely poor choice of words…I have never seen Mr. Zimmerman act in a racially-motivated way and have made sure that he understands that this office will not tolerate any such action."

Copyright 2019 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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