VOL. 132 | NO. 63 | Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Police Surveillance Lawsuits to Remain Separate
By Bill Dries
Two Memphis federal court lawsuits accusing the Memphis Police Department of conducting illegal surveillance of protesters will remain separate.
U.S. District Judge Sheryl H. Lipman ruled Monday, March 27, denying a motion by attorneys for the city to transfer the case of Antonio Cathey and the Mid-South Organizing Committee to federal judge Jon P. McCalla.
McCalla has a case filed by four other plaintiffs and the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee against the city of Memphis also alleging illegal police surveillance.
Because that case was filed before the Cathey case, the city’s attorney’s argued for a transfer of the Cathey case to McCalla “to ensure judicial economy and consistency.”
Both cases are the result of a City Hall list that in January Memphis Police added the names of several dozen protesters to. The list requires a police escort for anyone on it to do anything in City Hall.
The police department has since removed those names from the list. But Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings has not said how police came up with the names.
Each lawsuit claims police came up with the names on the list by surveillance of protests and protesters over the last year.
But Lipman ruled that the Cathey case pending in her court is “significantly distinct, both factually and legally from the Blanchard case” – named for plaintiff Elaine Blanchard.
“The only specific, overlapping factual allegation involves the Memphis Police Department’s alleged use of a ‘blacklist’ related to access to Memphis City Hall,” Lipman wrote.
The Blanchard case alleges the city violated a 1978 federal court consent decree governing surveillance of protesters by Memphis police. The Cathey case alleges the city violated the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of speech and similar guarantees in the Tennessee Constitution.