‘Taser Face’ lands new job in law enforcement. Here’s why we won’t know how he’s policing.

A problematic, former Memphis officer was hired by a Mississippi police department where personnel files are not public.
Published: Sep. 14, 2023 at 10:57 PM CDT
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SOUTHAVEN, Miss. (WMC) - Former Memphis Police officer Colin Berryhill violated the department’s excessive force and Taser policies three times between 2018 and 2019 before he abruptly resigned. He is now working for the Southaven Police Department where the police chief gave the officer glowing reviews.

Southaven Police Chief Macon Moore said Berryhill hadn’t used his Taser at all in the nearly three years he’s been with the department. But Mississippi law prohibits personnel files from being released to journalists or any member of the public without the officer’s written consent.

“Thus, the City of Southaven Police Department is legally prohibited from releasing any personnel files of Mr. Berryhill,” said Southaven’s city attorney in an email forwarded by Chief Moore.

However, Chief Moore would discuss Berryhill’s Southaven record and allowed this reporter to take notes because he had the officer’s consent. The conversation was supposed to precede a taped interview, but Moore backed out of the taped interview when we started asking more pointed questions.

Moore said he knew about Berryhill’s record in Memphis and that he would not hire anyone with an “unacceptable” disciplinary record, pointing out that Berryhill hadn’t been disciplined.

But internal Memphis Police records show even after MPD determined Berryhill shouldn’t have used his taser in the three cases they reviewed, his disciplinary hearing wasn’t scheduled until a year later. All the while, Berryhill remained on patrol. The night before his hearing Berryhill “abruptly resigned,” according to records reviewed by Institute for Public Service Reporting and Action News 5.

A nickname emerges

When he was on patrol for the Memphis Police Department, Berryhill had earned a nickname among his brothers in blue: Taser Face.

“I think it’s very disrespectful and unprofessional,” said 42-year-old Owen Buzzard.

Buzzard was a reason why Berryhill earned his nickname. He was electroshocked by Berryhill after he was stopped by the officer on the evening of April 10, 2019.

Buzzard turned his truck around in the opposite lane of traffic moments after he left his house because he thought scrap metal had fallen off the load he was hauling.

Owen Buzzard
Owen Buzzard(Action News 5)

He pulled over when he saw Berryhill’s blue lights, but when Berryhill learned Buzzard’s license was suspended, he told him to exit his truck.

“Step out of the car for me,” Berryhill commanded, which is seen in his body camera recording. “You’re not going to jail. I’m detaining you.”

The footage shows within moments, Berryhill put Buzzard in handcuffs and began walking him to his patrol car.

“You got any weapons or anything on you?” Berryhill asked.

“No man,” Buzzard responded.

The footage shows a scuffle where Buzzard fell to the ground. Berryhill then Tased Buzzard in the abdomen while Buzzard’s hands were cuffed behind his back.

Both Buzzard and his girlfriend can be heard screaming. His girlfriend had walked the three doors down from their home to the scene.

When Berryhill called for backup, he said Buzzard was reaching into his pants, which Buzzard denies.

“I didn’t reach in my pants,” Buzzard is heard saying on Berryhill’s body camera recording. “I was pulling up my pants.”

Body cam footage of the night Buzzard was Tased
Body cam footage of the night Buzzard was Tased(Memphis Police)

When Lieutenant Kam Wong arrived on scene, the supervisor’s body camera records Berryhill’s version of events.

“I didn’t know if he had a weapon on him or not and the only thing available to me was my Taser because I was down on this side,” Berryhill is captured saying.

No weapons were found on Buzzard that night and he maintains he was simply trying to hold his pants up while handcuffed.

“And I get hit with a Taser,” Buzzard told us when we interviewed him in a South Memphis park. “I actually thought I was getting shot when I heard the gun go off.”

Buzzard didn’t know at the time of the incident that Officer Berryhill had a history of firing his Taser, or that Berryhill had earned a new nickname that night.

“By the way you’ve got a new nickname,” Lt. Wong is heard saying in his own body camera footage. “It’s Taser Face.”

“Then they laugh about it,” said Buzzard as we watched the video. “That was aggravating.”

Documents obtained by the Institute for Public Service Reporting and shared with Action News 5 show Berryhill had used his taser on three separate occasions.

The first was on a juvenile in 2018. Video shows Berryhill Tased the youth in the back after he had ordered the teen to walk away.

“I wanted until he turned around to get him and take him to the ground,” Berryhill is quoted saying in Memphis Police internal review documents.

Six days before Berryhill Tased Buzzard, Memphis Police were called to 21-year-old Joshua Cortez’s home. He’d been drinking, and said he was depressed after he’d damaged his parent’s front door. Cortez’s arms were held by four other officers, and MPD’s internal review later determined he didn’t pose a threat of violence when Berryhill used his Taser.

Only after the case involving Buzzard did Memphis Police look at all three cases and found Berryhill’s use of force excessive in each one.

During his internal review, the Memphis Deputy Chief Samuel Hines asked Berryhill why he pursued the juvenile in 2018 when the youth was walking away, just like Berryhill had told him to do. Berryhill explained he Tased the juvenile because he “would not comply.”

Berryhill also told the deputy chief during the interview, which took place six months after the internal investigation was launched, that he Tased Cortez to “incapacitate him,” and that he used his taser on Buzzard because of the “strength and suddenness [Buzzard] used to step away from” him.

Again, it took MPD one year to schedule Berryhill’s disciplinary hearing wherein he both remained on patrol and was assigned to desk duty, and the night before his hearing Berryhill “abruptly resigned.”

In his resignation letter, Berryhill said after 11-and-a-half years with Memphis Police, he and his family were moving and he start a new career in the near future.

Just one month later, Berryhill took a job a few miles down the road with the Southaven Police Department.

Officer Colin Berryhill
Officer Colin Berryhill(Southaven Police)

“Of course it concerns me,” said Claudia Williams-Hyman, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi. “Southaven, like many counties in Mississippi, doesn’t necessarily view a history with misconduct or history of violent incidents as a deal-breaker.”

In an email, Southaven Police Chief Macon Moore agreed to a recorded interview to discuss the department’s hiring practices, but requested that we talk off-camera first.

When our conversation landed on specific hires, like Officer Berryhill, the chief backed out of our interview.

The Southaven Police Department has about 155 officers on staff. The Institute and Action News 5 partnered with DeCarcerate Memphis, and found six names that matched former Memphis Police officers.

Chief Moore said most of his officers have never been in law enforcement before, but for those who have been in law enforcement, his staff speaks with their former employers. The chief said he wouldn’t hire anyone with an unacceptable disciplinary record and Moore pointed out that Berryhill was never disciplined.

But another of Chief Moore’s officers was disciplined for excessive force while working for MPD.

Former Memphis officer Brandon McLean was suspended without pay for a month in 2020 because he violated MPD’s excessive force policy after he choked and hit a handcuffed suspect then threatened to kill him seven times.

In an interview with the deputy police chief, McLean denied the beating but when asked if he could see how his “verbal statements could suggest abuse or excessive force?”

McLean said “yes” he could see “using that type verbiage could make it seem like [he] was physically abusive to the suspect.”

McLean is now a sergeant in Southaven, and Berryhill was named officer of the month in 2021.

According to Chief Moore, Berryhill’s only use of force in the nearly three years with his department has been one pepper spray deployment.

Berryhill’s personnel record in Mississippi isn’t public without his consent. We emailed Berryhill for comment but he didn’t respond.

Williams-Hyman with the ACLU of Mississippi believes that the lack of transparency makes it easy for police officers accused of or found to have exhibited poor behavior to transfer to other departments.

“Because of the lack of transparency it is very difficult to estimate how widespread the issue is,” she said.

If we are to believe Chief Moore’s word that Berryhill hasn’t deployed his Taser in Southaven, that would mean the last time he used his taser was on Owen Buzzard. Since that warm April night in 2019, Buzzard lost his home, his car, and his girlfriend.

He also says he’s suffered permanent injuries from the Taser hits.

“My medical doctor told me the twitching of that one leg is probably from that. She can’t say it 100%,” Buzzard said.

Buzzard can say with certainty he hopes to never encounter Officer Colin Berryhill again.

“I feel sorry for anybody he comes in contact with in Southaven,” he said.

If you have an experience with policing in the Mid-South you’d like to share, contact Jessica Jaglois at jessica.jaglois@gray.tv.

Southaven Police Department
Southaven Police Department(Action News 5)

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