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VOL. 133 | NO. 165 | Tuesday, August 21, 2018

MPD Officer Unmasked as 'Bob Smith' in Federal Hearing

Special to The Daily News

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Memphis police Sgt. Tim Reynolds is “Bob Smith” – the fake Facebook persona the veteran officer used to befriend local protesters and monitor their activities.

The revelation came during the opening day of a federal hearing on Monday, Aug. 20, where the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the City of Memphis for allegedly violating a 40-year-old consent decree prohibiting police from conducting political surveillance. Reynolds acknowledged he – along with a supervisor and another officer -- controlled the fake social media account.

Reynolds, who works for the police department’s Office of Homeland Security, was one of two witnesses to testify Monday.

Protesters blocked traffic on the busy Hernando DeSoto Bridge in July 2016 for several hours. The city is embroiled in a lawsuit alleging police violated the constitutional rights of certain protesters who were targeted for monitoring. Daily News File Photo 

On the stand, Reynolds said the police department first used the undercover account in 2009 to track gang activity. In 2016, Reynolds said, the account was used to track local protests, including the Greensward and Black Lives Matter events.

He said during 2016 as he tracked protests and posed as “Bob Smith,” he friended “possibly 200” people on Facebook, including Memphis activists Paul Garner and County Commissioner-elect Tami Sawyer.

ACLU attorney Mandy Strickland Floyd asked Reynolds about one Facebook post where posing as “Bob Smith” he vented about entitlement programs and referred to himself as a “man of color. Reynolds is a white man.

“Just for the record, you are not a man of color?” Floyd asked Reynolds.

He didn’t answer directly, but said he posted on the “Bob Smith” account to show he was a real person, and to “act human” by often posting items.

Reynolds took the stand at noon and after lunch, he resumed his testimony until 5 p.m. The ACLU attorney Floyd continued to pepper him with questions not only about the “Bob Smith” account, but also the police-prepared joint intelligence briefs, or JIBs, that initially tracked protests in the city. Those eventually evolved into information about other protests such as Black Lives Matter events across the country.

Reynolds testified that the JIBS were shared not only within the police department but also with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, government officials and Memphis Light, Gas, & Water , the Tennessee Valley Authority and private Memphis-based companies FedEx and AutoZone.

Before Reynolds Hedy Weinberg, the executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee, took the stand as the hearing’s opening witness.

Weinberg testified for two hours about the history of the ACLU with the chapters in other parts of the state including West Tennessee.

Weinberg was questioned extensively by Jennie Silk, an attorney for the city of Memphis, who wanted to know if the organization’s West Tennessee chapter was still a viable organization when the 1978 consent decree was put in place.

The city is trying to show the ACLU of Tennessee doesn’t have legal standing to sue because it was not part of the 40-year-old decree. If the city can prove that the Tennessee organization does not have legal standing, the judge can drop the 2017 lawsuit.

The 2017 lawsuit by the ACLU was triggered by the additions of names of local activists to a “city hall escort list” or “black list” requiring police to escort those on the list at all times while in City Hall. The lawsuit alleged the list was the result of political surveillance by police, violating the 1978 consent decree.

U.S. District Judge Jon P. McCalla already ruled on Aug. 10 that Memphis Police did violate portions of the decree by gathering political intelligence on protesters over the last two years.

McCalla must now weigh several areas of “genuine dispute” and decide if the ACLU has legal standing, if so the judge could impose sanctions.

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