US Department of Justice called to investigate policies, protocols at MPD

Published: Feb. 17, 2023 at 1:57 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - State Representatives G. A. Hardaway and Joe Towns, along with other local leaders gathered at the NAACP office Friday to discuss furthering an investigation into the conduct and history of the Memphis Police Department in the wake of the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols by officers.

It was announced that the U.S. Department of Justice has been called to investigate the policies and protocols of the Memphis Police Department, including its specialized units. A seven-page letter was sent by key individuals and stakeholders requesting a federal pattern-or-practice investigation.

Hardaway and Towns were joined by LaTrena Ingram, Chair of the Legal Task Force of the Ben F. Jones Chapter of the National Bar Association.

Also in attendance and supporting were Shelby County Commissioners, local clergy, representatives from civil rights organizations and community leaders.

Rep. Hardaway called the beating of Nichols “shameful,” emphasizing that the issue of police brutality “must be resolved.”

“Our efforts today are merely the beginning,” he said.

“We are here still pushing for justice for Tyre,” said NAACP Memphis Branch President Van Turner. “We are here to fight for oversight and policy... oversight looks like the Department of Justice coming in and putting forth a real investigation that looks at the pattern and practice of abuse that’s going on in this community, and a real plan and solution looks like a consent decree and order from the federal government providing that oversight and making sure we clean house and change the culture from here on out.”

The letter says first responders can be seen in video released by MPD not rendering aid to Nichols for a period of time. One former officer was also seen taking pictures of Nichols as he lay limp on the ground and against a squad car. Authors of the letter also shared concerns about mental health and law enforcement evaluations.

“We’re talking about the law enforcement agencies shopping around until they get what they want, in terms of the mental evaluation, the psychological evaluations,” Hardaway said. “That’s wrong.”

Rep. Towns called for truth, saying “we need to figure out exactly what happened.”

“Something is not right,” he added.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has asked the DOJ to review the department’s specialized units and use of force policies. State lawmakers and those behind this push say that’s not enough.

Josh Spickler, Executive Director of the criminal justice advocacy group Just City, said a review would not have the same influence over MPD as a thorough pattern-or-practice investigation, which he argues is vital for change at the department level.

“A lot of what we’re seeing now on video is happening frequently,” Spickler said.

He said the group is also working with the DOJ to further police reform in Memphis and evaluate whether department policies and protocols ought to be changed.

Rep. Hardaway noted that the city’s response to the Nichols’ case was one of peace and non-violence and that it was also “without coincidence.”

“Our young people are in the streets, our young people are leading with civil disobedience,” Hardaway said, likening the public’s activism to that of the Civil Rights Movement in the 50s and 60s.

The 5 former Memphis police officers charged with murdering Nichols appeared in court for the first time Friday morning. All five are entering a not-guilty plea.

On Wednesday, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office reached a decision in the administrative investigation into the actions of two deputies who arrived on the Jan. 7 scene. It was determined that two patrol deputies, Jeremy Watkins and Johntavious Bowers, violated SCSO regulations. Both were issued a five-day suspension without pay. No charges will be filed against the two.

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