VOL. 130 | NO. 146 | Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Memphis Police Plan to Turn Over All Fatal Police Shooting Cases to TBI
By Bill Dries
The Memphis Police Department plans to turn over all investigations of fatal shootings by Memphis police officers to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. confirmed Tuesday, July 28, that police director Toney Armstrong sent a memo to officers earlier in the day stating that would be MPD policy going forward.
“It’s so that it won’t look like it’s something out of the ordinary,” Wharton said. “(TBI director) Mark Gwyn and (Shelby County District Attorney General) Amy Weirich have been considering it for some time. This was simply a time that we felt it should be expedited so we will have a set protocol on that. I support him in that.”
But the decision to turn a case over to the TBI is made by the Shelby County district attorney general, not the police director. That was the case earlier this month when Weirich turned over the probe into the fatal police shooting of Darrius Stewart to the state agency.
Weirich’s office indicated Tuesday evening that there is no agreement yet on the policy and that details are still being worked out.
Most police shootings have been investigated by the police internal affairs bureau.
By state law, the TBI’s investigative files are sealed from public view, even after an investigation is concluded. But Wharton said he wants the TBI involved in a way in which the public would be able to see the investigative files.
“If you go back and look at that statute … there may be a way,” he said, pointing to a part of the applicable law that allows for the release of TBI investigative files with a court order.
“It doesn’t necessarily say who can seek that. But we’ll make the files public,” he added. “So I don’t think that’s going to be a big concern.”
Wharton was criticized at a mayoral candidates forum Tuesday for the decision to turn over the Stewart shooting to the TBI.
In the immediate aftermath of Stewart's death, Memphis City Council member Harold Collins called for the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the shooting. Collins again called for such a probe at Tuesday's forum, presented by the Memphis Area Women’s Council and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women Inc.
“Our people need to know the information,” Collins said, adding that a TBI investigation doesn’t meet the need for transparency.
Also in the audience was state Rep. G.A. Hardaway, who is drafting several bills that would overhaul the bureau’s role in the investigation of police shootings. That would include reversing the state law forbidding the release of investigative files.
“My bill will bring the TBI in on every shooting fatality involving law enforcement, and I believe we will be able to justify that,” Hardaway said. “They are an objective organization. They are apolitical and they are professional.”
Hardaway also said the district attorney general’s office can already provide some information on TBI investigations.
“She already has the capacity to do a summary herself of all of that information and to submit a report of her own,” he added. “She can do that now. If the public had made stronger demands in some of the controversies we’ve had in the past to push the DA on that, they would have more information.”