Memphis settles lawsuit accusing police department of illegal su - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis settles lawsuit accusing police department of illegal surveillance

(Photo Source: WMC Action News 5) (Photo Source: WMC Action News 5)
MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) -

The lawsuit between City of Memphis and Fight for $15 (which included allegations that Memphis Police Department illegally conducted surveillance on citizens) ended Monday.

Both sides in the lawsuit reached a settlement, and both sides are claiming victory with the settlement.

Fight for $15 is a group of people advocating for a minimum wage increase.

The group said MPD illegally recorded members of the group in order to intimidate them and keep tabs on their activities. That issue of illegal surveillance came to a head when WMC Action News 5 uncovered a list of people who were not allowed inside City Hall without an escort.

Fight for $15 said in the settlement the City of Memphis acknowledged error in placing a Fight for $15 activist on the City Hall blacklist and agreed to suspend its unlawful targeting of Fight for $15 members.

“They tried to scare us and stop us from speaking out, but now we’ve shown the city and the police we won’t be bullied and we won’t back down,” said Ashley Cathey, a Church’s Chicken worker from Memphis and member of the Fight for $15 National Organizing Committee. “This settlement is a major victory for people across Memphis who have taken a risk to demand change. Our fight for $15 an hour and union rights is changing the country, and we won’t stop until we win."

“This settlement is a major victory for Fight for $15,” said Jerry Martin, an attorney for the Mid-South Organizing Committee. “By entering into this agreement, the Memphis Police Department’s has taken responsibility for its past actions of harassing and intimidating citizens of color who are merely exercising their constitutional rights.  We hope that this settlement ushers in a new day and represents a turning point in the relationship between Fight for $15 organizers and the City of Memphis.” 

However, City of Memphis issued a press release claiming victory in the lawsuit's settlement. The city's lawyer even said the settlement came without MPD admitting any illegal activity.

The dismissal does not involve any monetary payment.  Memphis Police Department denies that it ever engaged in any unlawful surveillance tactics of Fight for $15, nor was any such allegation ever proven.     

MPD has agreed to appoint a liaison that Fight for $15 can contact directly to discuss concerns involving permitted protests and public assemblies.  MPD intends to offer the liaison role to other advocacy groups.     

“We feel the dismissal is a win for the City of Memphis.  The lawsuit gave us an opportunity to address how law enforcement and advocacy groups communicate.  MPD will have a liaison to work directly with advocacy groups to address specific concerns involving permitted protests and public assemblies,” stated city attorney Bruce McMullen.     

The terms of the dismissal also provides MSOC with a 6 month extension of the statute of limitations to re-file its lawsuit.

According to Fight for $15, the settlement included City of Memphis agreeing to no longer engage in any of the following activities:

  • Surveilling Fight for $15 activists: MPD “will not engage in surveillance” of the plaintiffs without probable cause, public safety reasons, or other bona fide law enforcement reason.
  • Recording activists license plates: MPD will not “photograph, film, or otherwise record license plates of participants of Fight for $15 lawfully conducted rallies.”
  • Warning calls to schools and community members: MPD will not “publicly disparage future Fight for $15 lawfully permitted activities or other events by disseminating information to the public, or to individuals and entities that may be in the vicinity of a planned event.”
  • Selectively denying permits to workers: The city agreed to create a liaison between the Fight for $15 and the MPD that would “be reasonably accessible to individuals and groups, including Fight for $15 organizers and participants, applying for permits for planned events before, during and after such events.” 

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