VOL. 132 | NO. 44 | Thursday, March 2, 2017
Protesters Pared from City Hall List as Second Lawsuit Filed
By Bill Dries
Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings and City Chief Legal Officer Bruce McMullen deny "political surveillance" by police of protesters but contend the city should not have to disclose its tactics and measures as part of protecting public safety.
Protesters on the City Hall escort list are off the list, Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings said Wednesday, March 1. But their names will remain on a no trespassing notice for Mayor Jim Strickland’s home.
And Wednesday afternoon, the city released a list of individuals who must still have a police escort if they come to City Hall that totals 26 people – a group of former city employees and others charged with specific criminal offenses. Some of them may have been on the list as early as 2010.
Every one of the 53 other people on the list of 81 when the list was made public in February – many active in local protests in the last year -- were mistakenly put on the list, Rallings said as his review of it and its criteria continues.
And city Chief Legal Officer Bruce McMullen said the city will argue in Memphis Federal Court that the city does not have to discuss any methods that led it to include protesters on the list initially.
The city is being sued in federal court for violating a 1978 consent decree that prohibits Memphis Police from recording or conducting surveillance on protesters.
And another group of citizens filed a similar suit Wednesday in federal court.
The Mid-South Organizing Committee and Antonio Cathey, a leader of the group, have been active in recent years in pushing for a $15 an hour minimum wage in Memphis. The effort has included protests at fast food restaurants.
The lawsuit alleges police not only put those protesters on the City Hall list requiring an escort to go anywhere in City Hall, but also targeted them for “improper and illegal surveillance tactics” that violate the 1978 consent decree and the U.S. Constitution.
The lawsuit alleges “intimidation tactics” including MPD inconsistently enforcing the requirement for a city permit for marches or protests that involve a certain number of people.
After an April protest, Cathey claims police patrol cars following the van he was in for about 15 minutes. At another protest that same day, Cathey claims “MPD officers used iPads to make video recordings of the protesters despite the fact that the protesters were peaceful, were complying with all laws and ordinances.”
“The video recording was done for no purpose other than to harass and intimidate the protesters and to discourage them from exercising their First Amendment rights.”
Following a February “teach-in,” open to the public, at the organization’s office in Cooper-Young, the lawsuit claims four unmarked police cars were parked around the building and that Cathey and others were followed by police after the meeting.
“The police informed Plaintiff Cathey that they would stop following them by saying, ‘When y’all are done, we’ll be done,’” the lawsuit reads.
After making several stops with police following, Cathey twice asked police what they were doing. He says, in the lawsuit that one police officer told him “We’re just trying to make sure everyone stay safe.” At another stop, when he asked police if they were following orders, an officer said, “That’s none of your business,” according to the complaint.
McMullen said the city would file its response Wednesday to an earlier federal lawsuit filed by four people on the City Hall list alleging a violation of the 1978 consent decree on police surveillance.
The city’s response will claim the city does not have to disclose how police came up with the names of protesters that went on the no trespassing authorization for Strickland’s home or the City Hall list – which he and . Strickland has said after a “die-in” protest in December on the lawn of his home, he went to police and based on their advice signed an “authorization of agency,” as it is known, for his home.
Strickland has also said he did not come up with the 41 names on that authorization, leaving that to police. The authorization included more names on it than the dozen or so people who participated in the die-in. Strickland has said he doesn’t know how police came up with the names.
Another 14 people, many if not all of them involved in a January pipeline protest blocking the entrance to Valero refinery, were added to the City Hall list the day after the protest in which several people were arrested. Their names were among those removed Wednesday from the City Hall list or book.
“We do not have to disclose our police tactics or intel(ligence) that came about with creating the security book and putting people in the security book,” McMullen said. “I think it applies to authorization of agency as well.”
“If you talk about police procedure and tactics that they do to ensure public safety, we are not going to release that intel information,” he added. “As you can imagine, it could be exploited to the detriment of public safety if we do that.”
McMullen and Rallings continued to specifically deny “political surveillance.”
“The police department does not conduct political surveillance,” McMullen said. “Do police do police work and look out for individuals that might affect public safety? Yes.”
Rallings said the police department protects rights to protest and First Amendment rights of free speech and expression.
“I have lost count of how many protests there have been. There have been very few incidents where we have done any of the things we are accused of,” he said.
He and McMullen also talked of a “fine line” between such surveillance and the presence of numerous cameras in public places and on police.
“The public demanded body-worn cameras. So we spent millions of dollars on deploying body-worn cameras. The public asked that we continue to deploy Sky Cop video cameras, in-car video systems. So when you say surveil, that is used very loosely,” Rallings said. “This is not politically motivated. We are doing it to protect the rights of our protesters – from not only individuals that may show up with a nefarious purpose, but from shutting down a business, shutting down the bridge or doing anything else that disrupts individuals normal way of life.”