Law enforcement officials respond to video of beating - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Anna Marie Hartman

Law enforcement officials respond to video of beating

James Swain James Swain
Officer Bridges McRae Officer Bridges McRae

Thursday, law enforcement officials responded for the first time to video of a beating inside the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center.

Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin said the taped beating does not help the image of his officers.

"It does not represent the fine men and woman of the Memphis Police Department," Godwin said.

Godwin said he first saw the video in February, just a few days after Officer Bridges McRae was accused of repeatedly punching Duanna Johnson, a trans-gender woman who had been picked up for prostitution.

"It was brought to me immediately, and of course as I viewed it," Godwin said. "We took corporate action that day."

The action was to give McRae a desk job until an administrative hearing could be scheduled. Probationary officer James Swain, seen on the tape holding Johnson while the beating took place, was fired.

"A probationary officer doesn't have civil service protection," Godwin said. "Don't have to hold a hearing - they can be released for anything."

Godwin said he does not know how the tape was leaked.  Neither does Shelby County Sheriff Mark Luttrell, who said he was looking for answers.

"Normally tapes of that type aren't released until once the investigation is completed, so I'm concerned about how they were released," he said.

Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons said Thursday that the FBI is still reviewing the case. McRae could also face criminal charges. 

"We would conceivably looking at aggravated assault and official misconduct, obviously, because he was a police officer," Gibbons said.

But the case would have to be handled federally in order for the beating to be classified as a hate crime. There are no separate state laws on hate crimes that would increase the penalty.

"Not in terms of the charges no, but it could certainly help in terms of proving our case, sure," Gibbons said.

Johnson plans to sue the Memphis Police Department, but the Shelby County Sheriff says the jail isn't liable for what happened.  According to Luttrell, that's because the beating took place in the lobby, which is reserved for the processing of inmates.
"It's our jurisdiction, but the inmates aren't ours until they actually come through that second set of doors," Luttrell said.

Godwin said he would have released details on the case himself, but not until after it was resolved.

"We have a situation that we have to deal with and we're going to deal with it and it will probably be done within the next seven days," he said.

Click here to e-mail Anna Marie Hartman.

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