Jane Deaux Investigations: Fighting Injustice One Client At A Time
Jennifer Greer, one of Merchant Maverick’s four Opportunity Grant winners, doesn’t like the limelight.
She would rather the attention shift to the work she is doing — battling injustice, fighting for truth, and giving her clients 100% of her time and energy. As a private investigator, hired by client’s attorneys to hunt for case details that might have been overlooked or ignored, Jennifer is creating a name and space for her business in Tennessee, especially as a female Black PI, an underrepresented demographic in the industry. Jennifer is out to change that, one case at a time.
Meet Grant Recipient Jennifer Greer, Owner Of Jane Deaux Investigations
Hello, Jennifer! Let’s hop right into the nitty-gritty. What is your background? What journey did you take to get to where you are today — with your own PI business?
Well, I’m a graduate of Xavier University of Louisiana, and I have a degree in Psychology and a minor in Spanish. When I got out of college, I was working in mental health with troubled youth who were in lockdown 24-hours a day. They gave us a little trailer and I supervised them and did therapeutic activities. But that was short-lived because I wasn’t driving…I didn’t start driving until I was 23! Fun fact! And this job was far!
So, then…crazy enough…I went into waiting tables, and after that I started working for the Lakeshore Mental Health Institute in Knoxville. I did that for about 6 months. That was a fairly strategic decision because I knew if you worked for the state, it was easier to transfer into another job within the state — versus them hiring from the outside — and when a job came up for Dept of Children Services, which is what I was trying to do, I got that job and worked it almost seven years.
I was a foster care case manager. Once children came into custody, I took care of them. Taking kids to doctor’s appointments, supervising visits with their parents, foster homes, facilitating drug tests, going to court — you name it, we did it. But I ended up transferring into the hotline. I took calls about the abuse and neglect. But honestly, sometimes that was more stressful than being in the field. And I just couldn’t take it anymore. We had a moral disconnect. Being in the system that long, I saw a lot of things. If someone were to sit down and do a Dear Diary with me, it would be pretty sad. I had to leave — I knew it wasn’t going to change.
I tried to transfer to another state job, but they tricked me. We negotiated a small pay cut, which seemed reasonable, but a week into training they sent over papers that I hadn’t seen. I told my trainer I’d never seen the papers, he said I did, but I thought — I’m not going to sign these until I read it.
To know my background…I’m suspicious of everyone. But it helps me do my job. But you can’t tell me nothin’…I gotta see it. My mom always taught me, don’t sign something without reading it, and when I took the time to stare at these papers, I realized they had totally changed and annihilated my pay.
I’m suspicious of everyone. But it helps me do my job.
I couldn’t live off of that, and I’m not going to come in here and waste my time. I gave them notice. And I went home after that and sat for four months — on purpose — figuring out where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do. I had been overworked for so many years and I needed to slow life down.
At around that four-month mark, I started to get a little bored, and I started studying for my LSAT thinking that I wanted to head into family law. But in the midst of studying, I was like — I don’t want to do this. Maybe I want to do criminal law. But when I started reading up on it, I found out that the criminal lawyers don’t investigate their cases, they hire investigators to investigate their cases…I thought, yes, cool…how the heck do I do that?
And that was the impetus to make the leap into PI work?
Yes. It’s kinda like an underground thing. Around that time, I’m working with the Tennessee legislature proofreading bills that are coming through, and I find — on Craigslist — a private investigation company that is hiring, and I interview with them, and I thought I did great, but I didn’t hear back. For a whole year. So, I just go on with life, I go to work for a major law firm that does class action lawsuits, and then…the PI firm calls me.
They call me and say they know it’s been a year, but they were going to come back and hire me. So, I went and told everyone I was quitting — and man, Shelbi, have you ever tried to quit a job and they are like, “No! How do we get you to stay? You can’t leave!” And it goes on for DAYS! It was horrible and I felt so bad, but I had to get on with my life!
But you were following your dream, so you had to follow to see where this would go.
It’s very complex to get into PI work. First, finding people who actually do it. But in the state of Tennessee, you can’t get a license unless you are attached to a company. It’s very difficult; it’s not like you can go out and say, “I’ll just do this myself.” No. You need a company to hire you.
You went from working with that firm to starting your own business. What were some of the challenges you faced?
Waiting [for all my official paperwork to go through]. That took the longest out of anything I had done to build this business — and that speaks to the issues in our criminal justice system. It was a disorganized situation. It took months…and in the midst of waiting for that? COVID came. And I didn’t want to take on new business at that time because I didn’t want to be out in [the pandemic], but then they closed down the courts, and in-person hearings, and no one was using investigators.
It wasn’t until summer 2020, when I started taking cases. Those were from one attorney who called me, and I said okay, I’ll work on that.
Taking COVID into account, this is probably not where you imagined your business would be after a year.
Well, it was tough and I’m still suffering from the financial fallout, but I’m happy where I’m at, and I have my own system. I’m getting to know more clients and working the way I like to work. It was a struggle in the beginning, and I was thinking about quitting — because of COVID and the money and the responsibilities I have — but also not having anybody as a resource.
Like I said, this is an underground thing; there aren’t a lot of people doing it. And when I didn’t know something, I tried to reach out to familiar resources… they were like: We’re not helping you.
The other issue with that? While I was working as a PI, I never saw a Black PI. And still to this day I have never met, in person, another female Black PI. I met a male Black PI who was an ex-cop, you run into that a lot, but a Black female PI in this business? No. Even when I was with that other company, I was the only Black person on staff.
But in this business, that’s an asset. Because the majority of clients look like me, and that creates a comfort for them — that somebody is working for them who looks like them. And we’re going out into these communities, and it’s easier to talk to people — but there are times when I am in communities where the people don’t look like me and that can be very challenging. There was this one time a lady was acting like she was going to be uber racist, but I just laughed: lady, I can’t deal with that today.
Because the majority of clients look like me, and that creates a comfort for them — that somebody is working for them who looks like them.
So, is it safe to say white men dominate this business?
Oh yes. Older white men who are ex-cops!
Is there a misconception about your work?
I don’t do civilian work. That means, no, I’m not watching your spouse. But you do have people who will call and I will throw them some names of [other investigators], but there are definitely people out there who are desperate to get what they are after that they will give you your money. And there are people who will take that money, and they are really not doing the work. Also, there are some cases that can be never-ending. But that’s not me — I’m into solutions.
What do you think are some of the other misconceptions about your business?
That the justice system is fair.
I’m in Tennessee. There is still this misconception that if you have ever been arrested, or the police are talking to you, you must have done something. That’s very dangerous.
There is still this misconception that if you have ever been arrested, or the police are talking to you, you must have done something. That’s very dangerous.
Think about it like this: If that case goes to trial, the jury must be thinking the same thing. So, what’s the point of going to trial?
From a person who doesn’t have a legal background, the way I view the justice system is like this. You know how they used to, back in the day, put the white wigs on hold court? It’s like, is this theater? Are y’all taking this seriously?
That’s what court is to me: It’s theater. They don’t wear wigs anymore, but it is going in there and putting on a performance. And the person who puts on the best performance wins. People say, “The truth will come out. They are going to hear about this and that.” But no. The truth is, they are not. People think when you get to court, you’re getting 100% the truth, but no, you’re getting whatever motion was filed and granted. You’re not getting anything that was rejected. So, no, you’re not getting 100% the truth.
It’s not about the truth. It’s a performance. It’s a game. A chess game. It’s strategy.
I had a Black client, and we watched the jury come out and these are all older white people. And I’m like: What does a jury of your peers mean? These people aren’t even in the same socio-economic class. So, how are they peers in any sense of the word? I’m sitting here thinking about that, but no one else is talking about it. They say there are rules and laws, but who is abiding by them?
And once you are in the system, it’s next to impossible to get out.
[After briefly separating from the PI world, Jennifer was employed at the Nashville Public Defender’s office where she continued to work, in the pursuit of justice. After seeing the overwhelming volume of cases and limitation on financial resources, for the office, she understood the magnitude of how unfair the pursuit of justice could be for a client and their defense team. The conversation shifts into the fast and frenetic pace of the General Sessions in the court system. It’s a mini-trial, only one or two witnesses may be called, and there is a very low bar for probable cause. Defendants are also not guaranteed discovery during General Sessions, and they are not given assistance with their defense (like hiring an investigator to help their case). If a client doesn’t have money, they can get a public defender (who likely has a significant number of other cases) but they can’t get a proper investigation. The burden of proof slips to the defendant — despite our justice system saying people are innocent until proven guilty. Once a case goes to criminal court, however, a defendant can be declared indigent and access funds from the AOC: Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts. And the client’s attorney will hire Jennifer on a defendant’s behalf.]
So, you are hired by the client’s attorney to run investigations for their clients?
Yes, the attorney has to hire me. It is not written into law that you are required to have these services. Which I feel is an issue. Let’s be honest, not all attorneys are doing their jobs and fighting for their clients. So, I’m optional.
[Editor’s Note: For indigent funded cases, that money is not cash-in-hand; Jennifer will bill the attorney and the judge will still need to sign off on the payment before any money changes hands. And it may take months of work to reach the hours and receive payment for them.]
What comes out of that pie? My hourly pay, my expenses, my time. The first case I took, I lost money because indigent funding refused to reimburse certain items that are vital for a proper investigation. … so, something that is part of this investigation and you’re making me jump through hoops.
You have limited hours and resources. How do you get those answers? How do you work a case?
I will sit with the binders and binders of papers and information. I will go through every hour of recording. That’s how you get to know your case. Like, you are in the business world, so your brain works totally differently analyzing things from a business perspective. If you give me a summary of something and give me the report, I’ll pick up on 500 different things that never crossed your mind. The secret to getting good information is to never tell anyone what you’re looking for.
The secret to getting good information is to never tell anyone what you’re looking for.
In this business, you have to be aggressive. People can be turned off by my aggressiveness, but that’s how I do my job. When I am fighting for someone else’s life, I don’t have time to worry about feelings — if you are following the rules, we shouldn’t have an issue. When I talk to people, I know my time is limited. So, I’m going to ask for the little details that I need. You never know what I’m looking for. So, it’s important to me to look at these things first-hand, and there are forces at work against that.
Also, with a lot of criminal cases, the crime happened years ago, you’re not dealing with things in real-time. With cold cases — people have moved, people have died, people don’t remember, people have thought about why they don’t want to get involved. Cops had months…years….to work on this case, but I don’t have the same time and endless resources.
Is there something about the job you don’t like?
Testifying! I’m a behind-the-scenes person. If you never mention my name, I’m okay with that. Just know that I went out and did what I was supposed to do.
Looking at your week, all the hours you are dedicating to your cases and clients, how much time do you dedicate to your business?
You’re reading my stress for this week! What I try to do is have an office day where I work on all of that, but I get so consumed doing the research that I’m not sure how productive I am in my office hours.
You are dealing with a lot of heaviness day-to-day. What do you do to decompress?
I’m not sure if I do decompress. What I’ve learned is that people who do this type of work — we have a very dark sense of humor as a coping mechanism. You laugh to keep from crying. I don’t have a regime; but in my day-to-day life, I take time for myself. I will take trips (although, not recently). I can turn off my emotions and focus on the job at hand. I have empathy and sympathy, and then I remain focused on what I need to do.
Let’s talk about client acquisition. Now that you are out on your own, how do you get your name out there?
In this business, it’s mostly word-of-mouth. I did get a connection through Instagram, so that’s working, but I don’t think anyone sees my Facebook. I don’t have a functional website, but I’ve been thinking I need to have that platform for non-attorneys to contact me.
If our readers are interested in growing their understanding of the justice system and of some of the issues surrounding it, do you have any resources or reading materials that you’d recommend as a place to start that journey?
Google! Google will always tell you! But yes, there are a lot of organizations. The Tennessee Innocence Project — they talk a lot about laws and injustices in the criminal justice system.
Also, Gideon’s Army is doing great things.
[According to local media Nashville Scene, Gideon’s Army describes themselves as violence interrupters and a grassroots army for children. They specifically target the school-to-prison pipeline, breaking the generational cycles of injustice for the youth in Nashville, a zip code that has high school-to-prison rates.]
Also, check out the Black Nashville Assembly. [According to NPR, their focus is on housing, education, and public safety.] Other programs doing great things: The Equity Alliance, The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), and FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums). All are great organizations to check out, as well.
For MM readers, follow your local laws and be involved in what’s happening locally. Here in Tennessee, there’s an entity called the National Bail Fund. They do a lot of fighting to get people out of jail. They also have a program called Court Watch, where you go in and watch the courts — but the downside, is if a judge doesn’t want you in there? Guess what.
Be aware that there are injustices.
Be aware that there are injustices.
The main thing: Look at this situation like it’s you. If this was you — how would you want to be treated? Innocent until proven guilty, but everything in our system functions in the opposite direction. You can be arrested and taken to jail, and you can be denied bond or given a bond you can’t afford, you can sit two or three years waiting to go to trial. If you had a house, you lost it. If you had a car, you lost it. If you had a job, you lost it. Let’s be real: People don’t wait around for you when you’re in jail. It’s like, well, the system got you — what can we do from here?
And if you go to trial and you’re not guilty? Where are the reparations? You spent three years in jail. Go back out into society and try to figure it out. Your name has been all over the news, no one is under any obligation to go back and retract those statements or clean that up.
Okay! Remind me of the title of the book you’re reading right now?
It’s called Making A Case For Innocence by April Higuera. Tell people to read that! The author talks about the difficulties with her cases. She talks about a case where she had a client who was executed, and in that trial, they refused to test the available DNA. That’s what can make it really heartbreaking. You’ve gone back and found out all these things, and in the end, it doesn’t matter. Also: Currently, Pervis Payne, is fighting for his life on death row and it has some similarities to this story, being that there was untested DNA. People can read more about Pervis Payne’s story on innocenceproject.org and see ways that they can help.
Jennifer and Shelbi talked for over two hours. They covered topics from the justice system, systemic racism, and the current political climate. They just scratched the surface on a bevy of important topics. In addition to using Google to answer most of the important questions related to race and the justice system, here are some other resources to check out if you are just starting to educate yourself. The system won’t change, Jennifer mentioned, until the majority wants it to change — that means, right now, the majority is comfortable with a justice system that does not work for all. Get uncomfortable. Start here:
Learn more about the Merchant Maverick Opportunity Grants program and read about the other winners of this year’s grant for Black, Female Entrepreneurs.