The man who has been handling public relations for the city of Ferguson, Mo., was convicted of reckless homicide in 2006 after fatally shooting an unarmed man, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Devin James told the paper that he shot Rodney Steward in self defense during a robbery attempt in Tennessee 10 years ago. He said he discusses his criminal history with clients, and Ferguson mayor James Knowles III said the city knew about James’s past before it agreed to a contract with him.
“We haven’t put it out there because he’s not the story,” Knowles told the Post-Dispatch.
But the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, the agency that was reportedly paying the Devin James Group for its services, ended that relationship Thursday. A spokesperson for the agency told the Post-Dispatch that it wasn’t previously aware of James’s conviction.
“The thing that everyone needs to remember here is I was a subcontracter,” James said in a phone interview Friday. “I was a subcontracter who was given an assignment.”
James, who said he’d continue to work with Ferguson pro bono, said all entities that he worked for — including the partnership — knew about his background, which was seen as an asset. He wasn’t even originally supposed to do PR for the city, an assignment “nobody wanted to touch,” he said.
“The initial conversations were about the unrest in the African American community and so the conversations were, Devin you’re black, you have a background that lends itself to being able to relate to some of the people. We think this would be a good fit for you,” said James, who also noted the discussions were not carried out in such blunt terms.
James told the Post-Dispatch that he had a turbulent childhood and had belonged to a gang as a teen. He eventually worked his way to the University of Memphis and got a job at an adult bookstore. He was injured in a 2004 shooting and showed a scar to the Post-Dispatch.
James was involved in another shooting months later, and that’s the one that ended with his conviction, the paper reported. He told Memphis police that two men, Rodney Steward and Marcus Moffitt, tried to rob him at his home. Moffitt was armed with a handgun, and James said he ran for his own. Steward and Moffitt fled when they saw James’s gun, and James followed, according to the Post-Dispatch report.
Gunfire was exchanged, and police found Steward dead when they arrived at the scene. A medical examiner found that Steward had been shot multiple times.
The Post-Dispatch has this account of the subsequent court proceedings:
During James’ trial, a Memphis police sergeant testified that all bullet casings at the scene came from James’ gun. The sergeant returned the next day and found “no evidence of bullet strikes inside or outside the house.”
James told the paper that the investigation was botched and complained that the judge had “prior connections” to his family.
Ferguson became the site of protests and unrest following the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, a black teenager who was killed by Darren Wilson, a white police officer. Brown was unarmed at the time of the shooting, and his body lay in the street for hours after his death.
Crowds gathered in the St. Louis suburb after the 18-year-old’s death, and several have called for Ferguson public officials to step down. The city’s police chief apologized to the Brown family on Thursday and then tried to join protesters. Local agencies and officials were heavily criticized for their response to the aftermath of Brown’s shooting.
Below we’ve posted documents James’s group submitted to officials in August. The Post obtained these after filing a public records request for contracts with the city.