One cop fired, another off the street after videotaped beating - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Janice Broach and Ben Watson

One cop fired, another off the street after videotaped beating

The beating was caught on tape by a surveillance camera at the CJC. The beating was caught on tape by a surveillance camera at the CJC.

Video obtained by Action News 5 and first aired Tuesday shows a Memphis police officer beating a suspect at 201 Poplar in an apparent case of police brutality.

The video, recorded February 12th, shows Duanna Johnson in the booking area at the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center after an arrest for prostitution. On the tape, a Memphis police officer walks over to Johnson - a transsexual - and hits her in the face several times.

According to Johnson the officer was attempting to call her over to be fingerprinted. Johnson said she chose not respond to the derogatory name the officer called her. On the tape, the officer can be seen hitting Johnson several times with handcuffs wrapped around his knuckles. The tape shows another officer holding Johnson's shoulders as she tries to protect herself. After she is sprayed with mace, Johnson was eventually handcuffed and left on the floor.

Wednesday, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton was not ready to comment about the video.

"Don't ask me to comment when I don't have the facts," Herenton said. "When I can get some facts on the situation I'll talk to you about it. I don't know anything about it."

Though the mayor was not aware of what happened, Johnson's attorney said a letter was sent in March describing the incident to Herenton, Police Chief Larry Godwin, and others.

(Click here to read the letter.)

"An event has occurred that I have not been briefed on," Herenton said. "Somebody is going to brief me, and then we can talk about it."

Meanwhile, gay and lesbian groups expressed outrage at the videotape.

In an email to Action News 5, the Tennessee Transgender Political Coaltion called the jailhouse beat down a cowardly attack.  The group said the video captured the brutality of the attack and the indifference Johnson suffered by members of the Memphis police and the attending nurse.

Dr. Marissa Richmond, President of the TTPC called the attack a "hate crime" and demanded the police officer involved be charged with dereliction of duty.

An email from the Tennessee Equality Project said the video raised serious questions about the kind of diversity traning provided to employees of the Memphis Police Department.

The officer shown hitting Johnson in the video is Bridges McRae, who became a commissioned police officer four years ago. A look at his personnel record shows many commendations and many excellent reviews. His only reprimands were for wearing a baseball cap with his uniform and not showing up for a court date. McRae is on none-enforcement status pending a hearing.

The officer shown holding Duanna Johnson is James Swain. He was a probationary officer who joined the force this year. Wednesday, a police spokesperson said he was no longer employed by the police department.

A copy of the tape was reviewed by both the FBI and the District Attorney's office, the latter of which dropped all charges against Johnson. An FBI investigation into possible civil rights violations is still underway.

Since the video of the jailhouse beat down first aired on Action News 5, we have learned more about the other people who were in the in-take area at the jail during the incident, particularly the nurse who was called to help.

The Shelby County Sheriff's Department tells Action News 5 that a nurse employed by the Sheriff's Department was called to assess the situation.

The nurse asked Duanna Johnson if she was okay, and noticed Johnson had been sprayed with mace.

A spokesman for the Sheriff's Department said the nurse determined Johnson was not in an emergency situation, and then left the room to make arrangements for the Memphis Police Department to transport Johnson to The Med for treatment.

Later, the nurse returned to provide the officer medical care for a scratch on the back of his head.

Johnson was in the custody of the Memphis Police Department during her time in the in-take area.

The Sheriff's Department also stressed that none of their deputies or employees were involved in this incident in any way, but did give statements about what they witnessed.

Wednesday morning, the following statement was released by the Memphis Police Department:

The Memphis Police Department does not condone any misconduct of a police officer that will compromise official law enforcement duties or the rights or safety of our citizens.

As it relates to the February incident that occurred at the jail facility, the police department has been conducting a thorough internal investigation. The details surrounding the complainant, witnesses and law enforcement officials’ statements are part of an ongoing investigation and can not be released at this time.

As a standard departmental policy, a full, impartial hearing will be held with the accused officer.

Memphis Police can confirm the work status of the two primary officers involved in this complaint. Officer J. Swain was a probationary officer and has been separated from the Memphis Police Department. Officer B. McRae has been placed on non-enforcement status pending an administrative hearing.

Memphis Police can also confirm the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been notified and requested to look into the complaint further.


Detective Monique Y. Martin
Memphis Police Department
Office of Public Information/Media Relations

Click here to send an email to Janice Broach.
Click here to send an email to Ben Watson.

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