Ferguson Rep Fired for Previous Reckless Homicide Conviction Speaks to Local Reporter

One of the week’s most compelling PR stories concerned the apology delivered to Ferguson, Missouri residents by its police chief Tom Jackson. The video was produced/distributed by Devin James, whose Devin James Group was one of two firms hired by the city to handle the ongoing events following the August shooting death of Michael Brown.

Our friend Brad Phillips, aka Mr. Media Training, gave us a smart take on the apology itself:

This is especially relevant considering the fact that Taylor’s subsequent attempt to march with protesters backfired.

Unfortunately, the story got even more complicated yesterday: James is now out of a job thanks to a prior conviction for reckless homicide that was not shared with the “partnership agency” responsible for paying his salary.

The story on James so far: Ferguson mayor James Knowles III told St. Louis Today that the city was aware that he had previously been convicted of killing an unarmed man in 2006; James claimed that the dead man and an accomplice had broken into his home in an attempt to rob and/or intimidate him. James, who was wounded in the incident, noted that he “routinely discloses information about his past to his clients”, but the city apparently did not share the information with the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, the agency responsible for subcontracting its PR and marketing services. In the wake of that revelation, the Partnership announced that it was “severing ties” with James.

Here’s a key quote:

“The Partnership…offered Ferguson the services of the James Group when it became clear that circumstances surrounding Brown’s death were overwhelming the city’s police department and elected officials.”

When news of Ferguson’s signing of Common Ground PR broke, the firm and the city received a fair amount of media criticism for a perceived inability to communicate with the local African-American community due, in part, to a lack of minority representatives at the firm. It would seem that the city hired James to counter that criticism and to more effectively communicate with both locals and media outlets.

James’ personal narrative also compelling: in his own words, he experienced gang membership and homelessness before returning to school and working toward a college degree in marketing.

James also seems to have an unconventional approach to media relations: in this recent exchange on Twitter, for example, journalists from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch go back and forth with the representative over an earlier request to provide comments from city officials for a coming story in the paper.

Last night, James spoke to a reporter at local station KMOV about his firing. It’s a long, fascinating conversation revealing, among other things, how the city contracted him for PR work prior to the death of Brown. He calls local government reps “cowardly” and “pathetic” while explaining the details of his hiring and firing:

The least surprising quote from the above video: “They don’t have a crisis plan.” At the moment, this story looks like another series of missteps by the city of Ferguson. In yet another twist, someone claiming to represent the groups protesting the city’s conduct responded to the points on the “most common misconceptions” document distributed on Monday. They were not happy.

Finally, an unnamed executive from a minority-owned PR shop in the area told St. Louis Today:

“he reached out to Ferguson in the days after the shooting to discuss the city’s communication strategy and inquire about a contract to handle the publicity enveloping the community.

‘No one got back to me,’ the owner said. ‘The next thing you know Common Ground was there and then James.'”

The only real conclusion to be drawn from the latest developments in this story is that the city has, once again, demonstrated the shortcomings of its own communications strategy.

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.