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Institute for Public Service Reporting – Memphis

Criminal Justice and Policing

Family of Man Shot and Killed in MPD Chase Demands Action

Officer linked to fatal shooting reportedly violated policy

Supporters comfort Ashley McKenzie Smith, mother of Jaylin McKenzie, during a news conference Tuesday (Laura Faith Kebede)

The family of a 20-year-old man shot and killed during a Memphis police chase is demanding that an officer involved in the pursuit be charged and fired.  

The family of Jaylin McKenzie called a news conference Tuesday after obtaining documents that say the officer violated policy by not turning on his body camera before he chased and exchanged gunfire with McKenzie in December. The officer reported that he forgot to re-activate the camera, according to 14 pages of personnel records obtained by the criminal justice reform group DeCarcerate Memphis and released to reporters by McKenzie’s family. 

The documents also say the officer violated policy by failing to radio supervisors for permission to pursue McKenzie, who was a passenger in a car that allegedly ran a red stop light. MPD policy allows pursuit only when an officer suspects a violent felony has occurred. 

The reports say the probationary officer with less than a year on the force received two written reprimands. 

The Institute for Public Service Reporting could not independently verify the reports late Tuesday and is not naming the officer. A representative of DeCarcerate Memphis said the reports were obtained via a public records request. 

“I am a mom and I just want to know what happened to my son,” McKenzie’s mother, Ashley McKenzie Smith, tearfully told reporters during a press conference in front of the Mt. Moriah police precinct. An ongoing review by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is taking too long, she said.   

“I can’t stay patient forever. We are mad and we want answers,” Smith said. 

Answers have been slow in coming following the Dec. 16 incident in Memphis’s Parkway Village community. A TBI news release issued the day after the incident said “preliminary information’’ suggested that “one officer and the subject exchanged gunfire, resulting in the death of’’ McKenzie.  

MPD initially said in a tweet in December that McKenzie “turned and fired at officers’’ after he ran out of the car in the 4700 block of Cochese. One unnamed officer then “returned fire, striking the suspect,’’ the tweet said. But the department has not provided any corroborating evidence, such as a police report or findings from the scene, to support that narrative.  

McKenzie and at least two others fled the car after the driver ran it off the road as police attempted to make the traffic stop, according to the initial TBI statement. Smith said she suspected her son ran because he was scared.  

“What happened next is still extremely unclear,” she said. 

MPD did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. TBI said their investigation is still ongoing. 

According to the documents released by DeCarcerate Memphis, the officer in question was relieved of duty the day after the shooting, but he reported back to the Mt. Moriah police precinct a month later. The department issued the officer two reprimands after his disciplinary hearing in April, the records say.   

“Your BWC (body worn camera) should be on and in-stand by mode while you are conducting official police duties,” his disciplinary charges said. “You failed to do that, and it did not capture a critical incident.”  

McKenzie was killed about three weeks before Memphis police officers beat Tyre Nichols to death, capturing international media attention. That incident included body and police surveillance camera footage and the investigation concluded within a month.   

Supporters at the news conference Tuesday outside Memphis Police Department’s Mt. Moriah precinct station. (Laura Faith Kebede)

Andrew M. Stroth, the family’s attorney, said he is working to ensure that the U.S. Department of Justice includes McKenzie’s case in their sweeping investigation into the Memphis Police Department’s practices.  

During the press conference, Smith laid out five demands for the Memphis Police Department and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to meet by the next planned rally Sept. 16:  

  1. Complete the investigation.  
  1. Release the names of officers on the scene the night of McKenzie’s death.  
  1. Release all video footage, including other officers’ body cameras, dashboard cameras, or street cameras.  
  1. Release the police report, any evidence of gun residue on McKenzie, and a full autopsy report.
  1. Fire and charge the officer involved.  

Smith said without transparency from the police department, “then you and I are not safe on these streets.”  

Laura Kebede-Twumasi is coordinator of The Institute’s Civil Wrongs project exploring racial injustice in Memphis and the Mid-South. She is a corps member of Report for America and covered education in Memphis for several years for Chalkbeat Tennessee.

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