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Journalist Agrees To Drop Public Records Lawsuit Against City of Memphis

Compromise reached as MPD changes policy, agrees to release bodycam footage at no cost

A local journalist has agreed to dismiss his lawsuit against the City of Memphis after his complaints were addressed.

The lawsuit was filed in late February by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) on behalf of Marc Perrusquia.

Marc Perrusquia

”After Marc filed his suit, the city issued a new written policy that all administrative investigations in which a Memphis police officer is found to have used excessive force will now be referred to the Shelby County District Attorney,” said Paul McAdoo, a Nashville attorney for the RCFP. “That policy change, along with the city’s decision to produce the requested public records at no cost to Marc, are the reasons Marc has decided to dismiss the case.”

Perrusquia is director of the Institute for Public Service Reporting in Memphis, but he filed the lawsuit as a Shelby County resident. He was seeking the release of bodycam footage of three “excessive force” incidents involving Memphis patrolman Colin Berryhill, who resigned in October.

A Memphis Police Department administrative investigation found that Berryhill violated MPD policies against excessive or unnecessary use of force three times between May 2018 and April 2019.

Last July, Perrusquia requested copies of bodycam footage of the three incidents. City officials denied the request, filed under the Tennessee Public Records Act, contending the footage was part of an open Internal Affairs investigation.

Two days after Perrusquia filed his suit, the police department sent the Berryhill case to District Attorney Amy Weirich, who declined to file charges. The case was dismissed in March. Last week, Perrusquia received copies of all requested bodycam footage.

On March 11, outgoing Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings issued new procedures requiring internal investigators to refer all confirmed cases of excessive force to prosecutors for review.

The new procedures came at Weirich’s urging, and followed a series of stories by Perrusquia for the Institute for Public Service Reporting and The Daily Memphian. Those stories identified repeated instances of brutal encounters that the Memphis Police Department treated as violations of policy and did not refer to prosecutors.

According to Perrusquia’s reporting, case files of 130 internal use-of-force investigations between 2015 and 2019 that MPD released through a public records request indicate the agency referred two to Weirich’s. Neither resulted in criminal charges being filed.

Written By

David Waters is Distinguished Journalist in Residence and assistant director of the Institute for Public Service Reporting at the University of Memphis.

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