The Investigators: MPD excessive force complaints rarely get more than an internal review

The Investigators: MPD excessive force complaints rarely get more than an internal review

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Daniel Jefferson says his life changed forever five years ago. On April 2, 2015, he was driving on Hester Road in Whitehaven, and someone pulled behind him.

It was Memphis Police Officer Robert Armour. Armour was undercover and investigating Jefferson as part of a drug complaint.

“I pulled over to the side to let them go past to make sure they wasn’t trying to get me,” Jefferson said. “When I pulled over to the side, he pulled right behind me so I said ‘Damn, it’s a hit.’”

Jefferson had run-ins with police before but because of Armour’s plainclothes and unmarked vehicle, he says he didn’t realize Armour was a cop.

He grabbed his gun and fired at the officer before driving off.

Armour was hit in the leg and rushed to Regional One Health. He was later released.

Other officers took Jefferson into custody without a problem, according to an incident report. The report doesn’t include what happened next.

“Soon as I get through the door, they pick me up by my handcuffs. ‘Boom’! Slam me on the floor! I’m talking about officers came out of nowhere,” Jefferson said.

Jefferson says he was led into a recreation room at this precinct where officers beat him with ping pong paddles and folding chairs.

Memphis police launched an Internal Affairs investigation and found most of what Jefferson claimed was true.

Three officers beat Jefferson and so violated MPD’s Excessive Force Policy.

The officers were suspended without pay, removed from their task force and made to take anger management classes.

The next step to determine if the officers’ actions were criminal would be to forward the case to District Attorney General Amy Weirich’s office.

Records reviewed by the WMC Action News Five Investigators show that never happened in Jefferson’s case.

In fact, we requested all excessive force complaints filed against Memphis police officers from 2015 to 2019.

We found out of the 126 complaints that were provided to us, only two were sent to the AG’s office, including a case centered on cell phone video from Nov. 28, 2018.

After the video surfaced, an internal investigation was launched into Memphis Police Officer Michael Tippett.

He was caught on camera hitting a handcuffed suspect in the face eighteen times.

“Your actions were assaultive and appeared to be intentional and out of control,” said the internal investigation report.

The case was submitted to the Attorney General’s office but criminal charges were not filed.

The only other documented case sent to the District Attorney General is also from 2018.

Officer Brandon Jenkins was caught on video “kicking and punching a suspect while he was handcuffed to a chair”.

He was suspended without pay and made to take remedial use of force training.

He was not criminally charged and Jenkins remains on the force today.

One case among the 124 complaints that show they were not sent to the AG includes an investigation into former Memphis Police Officer William Skelton.

Skelton pepper-sprayed a handcuffed man four times then admitted it by yelling into his own body camera.

Skelton, and several other officers, also ignored the man’s cries for help.

The Memphis Police Department charged Skelton with violating its excessive force policy.

Again, the case was not sent to the Attorney General to determine if what Skelton did was criminal.

There isn’t a policy stating when Memphis Police must send its internal investigations to General Weirich’s office.

The decision is made by internal investigators with the Memphis Police Department on a case-by-case basis.

“Do you think that the Memphis Police Department is capable of policing itself?” Essica Cage, The Investigators of Memphis Police Union President, asked.

“I absolutely believe the police department is capable of policing itself,” Sgt. Cage said. “Bad officers make us all look bad, and if there is an officer who is using unnecessary or excessive force, then yeah, that officer needs to be held accountable for his actions.”

Part of that accountability could include criminal charges, said Cage.

The District Attorney General would determine that and again, our review shows the cases are rarely sent to their office.

“Because there is not a formal process in place, you may not be able to see documentation to say ‘yeah they referred to us on this’, or ‘they called us on that one,’” Cage said.

We emailed District Attorney General Amy Weirich to ask if her office reviewed cases that weren’t documented in the paperwork.

A spokesperson wrote “If MPD sent a case to us, it should be reflected in their file.”

In July, General Weirich explained how her office receives complaints.

“We are completely dependent upon law enforcement sending those cases to us,” Weirich previously said.

Out of the dozens of excessive force complaints we reviewed, no officer was criminally charged.

Six officers resigned, and only one officer was terminated.

Some faced repercussions for other policy violations.

Others were exonerated when there wasn’t evidence to prove the complaint against them.

“Do you think the process is thorough enough, fair enough to both protect the police officer and the person who is complaining?” The Investigators asked.

“Absolutely,” Cage said. “Our job here is to make sure the correct process is followed and the officers do get their due process and if it comes out they’ve used unnecessary or excessive force then they should be held accountable.”

We asked Memphis Police if the department is considering a written policy outlining when an excessive force complaint would be sent to the Attorney General.

A spokesperson wrote, “We are in discussion with the DAG’s office on how we will move forward.”

Two of the three officers found to have used excessive force in Daniel Jefferson’s case remain on the force. The third officer resigned for unrelated reasons.

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