Three weeks after prosecutors said they could find no criminal wrongdoing by Memphis Police Lt. Eric Kelly, newly released records shed additional light on the recently retired homicide detective’s conduct and his relationship with a suspect he was investigating.
Records obtained by the Institute for Public Service Reporting assert Kelly regularly bought marijuana for Bridgett Stafford, gave the criminal defendant $2,000 and allegedly even convinced her to become a dancer in a local strip club.
The records released by MPD’s internal affairs unit also say Kelly’s homicide partner had met Stafford when the three of them traveled on a city-funded trip to Alabama, yet failed to report those details to supervisors.
Instead, MPD supervisors found out about the affair after Stafford’s boyfriend told the FBI Kelly had charged her with a crime as “’leverage’ to “initiate a sexual relationship with her.’’
Asked about the developments Thursday, Jan. 30, a spokesman for Amy Weirich emphasized the District Attorney General never said in a news conference earlier this month that the investigation was closed.
“In the press conference, Gen. Weirich said at this time and with the facts before us there are no criminal charges we can bring,’’ spokesman Larry Buser said in an email. “The investigation is ongoing.’’
The 200-plus page internal affairs file gives a more detailed indication of the information criminal investigators have at their disposal as they look at Kelly, a 26-year police veteran who suddenly retired last fall in the middle of the investigation and is now collecting a $43,000 annual pension from the city of Memphis.
A relationship begins
In the file, Stafford tells investigators that Kelly began pursuing her shortly after arresting her in April 2018 to question her about a murder.
“I first met him in the interrogation room when I was arrested for accessory after the fact – first-degree murder,’’ Stafford told internal investigators.
At the time, Kelly was investigating the 2017 kidnapping and murder of retired chemist Robert Glidden, 60, who was savagely beaten to death for money and later found bound and nude near a drainage pond in Raleigh. Before nabbing Stafford, police had recently charged two men for Glidden’s murder. Officers still were fitting the pieces together — chasing details on how Glidden was apprehended July 31, 2017, and placed in a car trunk and how the suspects began running up charges on his ATM and credit cards.
According to a sworn affidavit by Kelly, officers had received information that Stafford knew about the kidnapping and robbery and that she “agreed to take the suspects to several locations to try and run up the charges on the victim’s credit cards.’’ Kelly said in the affidavit Stafford was wanted for accessory after the fact to first-degree murder.
Stafford said after her arrest she saw Kelly in court – and a relationship blossomed from there.
“He kept telling me to call him and text him,’’ she said. “… I waited a couple of weeks and then I called him and he asked to take me to dinner and all that stuff and then we went to dinner and that’s when it all started.’’
Stafford was eventually indicted not as an accessory to murder but with theft of property between $1,000 and $2,500. Though both are Class E felonies, that development could factor into a determination of whether Kelly violated any criminal laws by perhaps promising favorable treatment to a witness – something Kelly adamantly denies.
“It wasn’t a relationship where we’re gonna have sex for me to keep you from going to jail,’’ Kelly told investigators. “No … that wasn’t it. I truly took invested interest in this particular person ‘cause we had connected on a particular level.’’
Stafford appears to give conflicting statements on that count.
“He had told me if I would if I would have come to him first … I wouldn’t have never had been arrested or he wouldn’t had to issue a warrant for my arrest and, yeah, that I wouldn’t had to make bond and all that stuff,’’ she said at one point.
Later, however, when an investigator asks if Kelly made any threats or promises “related to your criminal charges in exchange for a relationship,’’ Stafford answers simply, “No.’’
According to the case summary, “Bridgett Stafford’s boyfriend, Jeffrey Meadows, advised (that) Kelly had leveraged the criminal charge against Stafford to initiate a sexual relationship with her.’’
The report says Meadows made the allegation “during a proffer session with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.’’ The FBI typically holds proffer sessions when a defendant has knowledge of possible criminal information involving others. Such a proffer often can help lessen the defendant’s charges.
FBI spokesman Joel Siskovic said he could not comment on any possible investigation involving Meadows.
Federal court records in Memphis show a Jeffrey P. Meadows was indicted in August 2018 on drug charges. He pleaded guilty last March to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamines and was sentenced to 144 months in prison.
MPD’s case summary gives no indication that internal investigators ever spoke with Meadows.
Speaking with internal investigators, Kelly characterized the initial accessory charge against Stafford as “a ploy’’ to get her in to talk.
“The accessory after the fact charge was truly a thin charge,’’ he said, “but there was enough, I was able to articulate enough to get the warrants issued.’’
Despite conflicting information about Stafford’s charge, reports were clear in describing a steamy relationship between Stafford, 29, and Kelly, 49.
Statements and text messages contained in the file allege Kelly bought Stafford marijuana, traveled with her at city expense and even gave her the alarm code to his home where – sexually suggestive cell phone pictures show – she posed in a bikini while kissing Kelly’s assault-styled rifle.
“He took me to the gun range to shoot his gun,’’ Stafford says at one point. “Most of the time I just stayed in his apartment. I mean, I knew he had a girlfriend, so like I don’t know. He had two different houses and, yeah, I would stay at one in Midtown most of the time.’’
Stafford told investigators she started stripping at the Gold Club at Kelly’s initiation after he “took me to the place to get the job…
“He picked me up from there in (a marked) police car once when I got off. And he was scared that he was going to get in trouble. So, the manager walked me to the side.’’
Kelly denied helping Stafford find work as a stripper. But when confronted with text messages he said: “I encouraged her to do as best she could with it…. It was her decision.’’
Money and drugs
Stafford said Kelly gave her money, too – and drugs.
“He use to CashApp me money all the time,’’ she said, contending he gave her money for “my stripper clothes” and other needs – more than $2,000 in all. “He used to buy me weed.’’
“How would he buy you weed?’’ an investigator asked.
“Oh, some guy he knew,’’ Stafford answered, contending at one point that Kelly often would deliver the marijuana to her in a McDonald’s bag. “You guys have the text messages.’’
In those text messages, Kelly warns Stafford at one point that “someone has put a warrant out on you’’ and later offers her advice for her exotic dancing gig.
“…the stripping game is cut throat…u have 2 find your groove and ride it,’’ Kelly wrote. “you got to dig deep inside of yourself and get ur hustle on…I can’t keep giving you all this money. An ur not producing…over the last 4 weeks..i know I have given u at a MIN of 300 a week forward whatever u wanted 2 use the money for.’’
Despite text messages discussing “weed,” Kelly denied supplying Stafford with marijuana or giving her money to buy it.
“I gave her money, but whatever she did with it … was, you know, her deal,’’ he said.
Records collected by investigators reveal hundreds of dollars in digital CashApp payments from Kelly to Stafford, several with memos from the detective like, “plz don’t f*** off this money’’ and “plz get on your hustle.’’
However, Kelly’s account of their relationship and its origins differed greatly from Stafford’s.
“I told her if you needed some help or wanted some guidance or whatever … I said, ‘You feel free call back up here,’ ‘’ he said. “I talk to people I’ve put in jail all the time, they call up here.’’
He said he gave her thousands of dollars over the course of their relationship and tried to help her find jobs.
He initially denied in a May 31 interview to having sex with Stafford, but admitted under persistent questioning they’d shared explicit photos and text messages. The detective eventually conceded he’d had “oral contact’’ with Stafford on a couple of occasions.
In August 2018, Stafford accompanied Kelly and fellow homicide detective Sheila Green on a city-paid trip to Montgomery, Alabama, to interview a suspect in a separate murder investigation. According to Stafford, she and Kelly picked up Green at her home where she was introduced to Green’s wife. Stafford said before she left for Montgomery with the two detectives in a city-owned Dodge Durango, she and Green’s spouse smoked marijuana.
“Me and the detective’s wife smoked. The cops didn’t smoke,’’ she said.
When investigators interviewed Green last May 17, she seemed to remember little.
“I could not tell if she was male or female – I don’t know,’’ Green said of Stafford. She said she didn’t know her race either – only that she was “light-complected.’’
“But you can’t tell me … if this person appeared to be a male or female, white or black?’’ an investigator pressed. “Isn’t that our job to recall information as a police officer?’’
“Well, when it is pertinent I guess,’’ Green answered. “But I mean I just…’’
“You don’t think driving down out of town to Alabama…?’’
“I just looked at that person,’’ Green interjected. “I, I’m telling you.’’
“…Over 200 miles, someone in the car – you don’t think that’d be pertinent to know who was that? (Who) else was in the car?’’
“I, I just never paid much attention,’’ Green said.
When the investigator pointed out that it was against department policy to transport an unauthorized person in an MPD car, Green responded:
“It happens all the time. And I mean, you’d have to get rid of the whole department. It’s, it’s not unusual, you know?’’
Interviewed again 12 days later Green’s memory improved – but not much.
“She was a fair complexed female,’’ Green recalled, still unsure of her race.
Asked why she turned in a meal receipt for reimbursement that included two guest meals, Green indicated she’d simply ordered two entrees for herself and took one back to her hotel room. In all, the two detectives received $417 in reimbursements for expenses – Green, $188; and Kelly, $229.
For her part, Green received a two-day suspension without pay for failing to report improper conduct.
Kelly admitted that he didn’t report taking a civilian on the trip but contended he only took Stafford along because she was “homeless’’ and “crying.”
“I made a decision at that time and said: ‘Look, just come on … come and go with me on this.’’
This story first appeared at www.dailymemphian.com under exclusive use agreement with The Institute. Photos reprinted with permission of The Daily Memphian.