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Criminal Justice and Policing

MPD To Send Brutality Cases To DA For Criminal Review

Reform follows IPSR stories exploring MPD’s internal excessive force investigations

Outgoing Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings has issued new procedures requiring internal investigators to refer all confirmed cases of excessive force to prosecutors for review. (Daily Memphian file)

Outgoing Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings has issued new procedures requiring internal investigators to refer all confirmed cases of excessive force to prosecutors for review.

Rallings’ policy bulletin posted Thursday March 11 to the  opens in a new windowReimagine Policing website came at the urging of District Attorney Amy Weirich following a series of stories by the  opens in a new windowInstitute 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.

Those cases include a  opens in a new window2015 incident in which three officers kicked, punched and humiliated a handcuffed prisoner; another in 2019 when an officer  opens in a new windowsprayed a chemical irritant into the face of a mentally ill man as he was restrained in handcuffs; and a 2016 case involving an officer who repeatedly  opens in a new windowelectro-stunned a handcuffed suspect with a Taser.

“You’ve done a good job digging up some of these cases,’’  opens in a new windowWeirich told The Institute last fall. She was out of town Thursday and unavailable for comment.

Set to retire next month, Rallings did not respond to a request for an interview.

Since 2015, MPD and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office have been referring all fatal officer-involved shootings to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the District Attorney’s Office for review.

But records suggest that use-of-force cases that don’t involve firearms or fatalities are seldom referred and are largely reviewed through administrative investigations that at best can lead to disciplinary action, not criminal charges.

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 just two to Weirich’s office to determine if criminal charges should be filed. However, one of those cases apparently involved an errant entry and was not referred. The other involved a 2018 case that was referred by the Sheriff’s Office – not MPD – after a Memphis patrolman allegedly beat a handcuffed prisoner in the sally port of the County Jail.

Records of a third case in 2019 show investigators arrested an officer accused of manhandling a hospital employee, though the file says the matter wasn’t referred to prosecutors. The charge against the officer was later dismissed.

Rallings’ bulletin directs personnel to start submitting all sustained cases of excessive and unnecessary force to prosecutors.

“It is the intent of the Memphis Police Department, through the adoption of this policy, to increase transparency with respect to the operations of the department, and in doing so, foster greater public trust,’’ the policy bulletin says.

“To maintain high-level, quality service; to ensure officer safety and accountability; and to promote constitutional, effective policing, MPD shall implement a procedure to submit all sustained charges of excessive or un-necessary force to the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office for review.’’

The policy includes so-called “Garrity’’ protections for officers under investigation to shield them against self incrimination.

“If an administrative investigation is submitted to the Shelby County District Attorney General’s Office for review, the Inspectional Services Bureau shall remove any compelled statements of the principal officer(s),’’ the policy says.

“… Information obtained from the criminal investigation can be shared with administrative investigators, but administrative investigators shall not disclose to criminal investigators any information obtained from their separate investigations.”

This story first appeared at www.dailymemphian.com under exclusive use agreement with The Institute. Photos reprinted with permission of The Daily Memphian.

Written By

Marc Perrusquia is the director of the Institute for Public Service Reporting at the University of Memphis, where graduate students learn investigative and explanatory journalism skills working alongside professionals. He has won numerous state and national awards for government watchdog, social justice and political reporting.

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