Police Abuse

Memphis Police to Forward all Fatal Shootings to State Investigative Agency

Fatal shooting earlier this month becomes a hot button issue in the upcoming mayoral election.


Memphis PD

The mayor of Memphis announced that the Memphis Police Department would begin to forward all investigations of fatal police shootings to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI). Previously, most cases were investigated by the police department itself, except when the country district attorney general decided to send a case to the TBI. That's what happened when a Memphis police officer shot and killed 19-year-old Darrius Stewart during an alleged altercation.

The move to have the TBI investigate all shootings is a confused one. In the aftermath of the Stewart shooting going to the TBI, the officer who killed Stewart has reportedly received death threats. Part of the reasoning in moving all fatal shooting investigations to the TBI is so that an investigation by the TBI isn't a signal that something's not right. Via the Memphis Daily News:

"It's so that it won't look like it's something out of the ordinary," [Mayor A.C.] Wharton said. "(TBI director) Mark Gwyn and (Shelby County District Attorney General) Amy Weirich have been considering it for some time. This was simply a time that we felt it should be expedited so we will have a set protocol on that. I support him in that."

One hitch is that by state law, TBI investigations remain sealed from the public even after they are concluded. However, a court order could get those files unsealed. The mayor promised all the cases sent from the Memphis police would be available to the public. One local state representative, G.A. Hardaway, also says he's working on legislation to reform the way the TBI investigates police shootings, which would, among other things, keep the files from remaining sealed after investigations end.

There's also a mayoral election in October, so the Stewart shooting has become something of an electoral issue. Via the Daily News:

Wharton was criticized for the decision to turn over the Stewart shooting to the TBI at a forum of mayoral candidates Tuesday at First Congregational Church in Cooper-Young.

Challenger and Memphis City Council member Harold Collins called for a federal investigation of the shooting by the U.S. Justice Department in the immediate aftermath of the Stewart shooting.

And he again called for such a probe Tuesday at the forum by the Memphis Area Women's Council and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women Inc.

While the Department of Justice has done a lot of good work investigating police departments and cases of police brutality around the country, sending questionable police shootings to the federal government as a matter of standard operating procedure is untenable. The DOJ is not equipped to be the regular backstop for a local government that can't get a grip on its police department, and it would be an inappropriate role for the feds. If Collins believes there is a pattern and practice of police brutality and civil rights violations in Memphis, he should say so and ask the DOJ to investigate that.

Fatal police shootings don't happen in vacuums. Collins and other politicians appear more interested in using the Stewart shooting to shore up their own support than in asking whether the Stewart shooting is indicative of systemic problems with the Memphis police department and what kind of reforms are needed. Political leaders aren't needed so much to draw attention to incidents of police brutality—activists around the country have been doing that—as they're needed to push for reform in the system. Unfortunately, the former requires little expenditure of political capital and can be a rhetorical winner, while the latter requires a modicum of courage and willingness to challenge special interests, like the police unions, that have engrained themselves deeply in the local political system.

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  1. One hitch is that by state law, TBI investigations remain sealed from the public even after they are concluded. […] The mayor promised all the cases sent from the Memphis police would be available to the public.

    These two things seem to be in conflict.

    1. […] Is that a paper shredder or a woodchipper?

    2. Not really. The mayor, being a politician, is just telling people what they want to hear. Later, when the investigations remain sealed, he’ll just throw up his hands and say it’s not his fault. Then he’ll win the next election by promising to make the investigations public (which of course he will have no intention of actually doing). Politicians are deceitful creatures that are always looking ahead to the next election.

  2. Alabama Jail Staffers Reportedly Taunted Inmate With Burmese Python

    According to the lawsuit, Redding claims Glenn brought a yellow Burmese python described as being 6 to 7 feet long into the jail.

    He says Glenn and Mittlebach had the snake in the jail kitchen where he worked as a trustee on Aug. 11, 2013. Redding told them he was afraid of snakes and didn’t want to be anywhere near it … Several hours later, following breakfast, Redding said he went back to his bunk to take a nap. Redding claims when he woke up Glenn was holding the snake within inches of his face.

    1. I never understood the “snakes as pets” thing.

      1. If you wanted something cold and emotionless and eats and shits in your house, just get a cat.

        1. and HOW do people with tattoos get jobs?

          1. They put on enough weight and then go to library school.

            1. maybe… no tattoos for me though… and I always thought it was the library work that led me to drink- therefore weight gain AFTER library school…

              I guess the end is the same result.

        2. Get married.

      2. Me neither, though my wife has several. I guess feeding them can be kind of fun, but otherwise they just curl up and hide until they get hungry again. Boring. Lizards are cool. I’ve got a few. But snakes are boring.

  3. so, cooking the books?

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