MPD declines to take action against 'excessive force' cases

Published: May. 10, 2017 at 8:46 PM CDT|Updated: May. 12, 2017 at 11:27 AM CDT
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Tension is mounting between Memphis Police Department and the city's civilian police review board.

The point of contention centers around four citizen complaints the review board determined were examples of excessive force. Despite the board's ruling, MPD Director Mike Rallings wrote letters declining to take action in three of the four cases.

But, they're not the only ones.

Since 2011, only 33 of the 359 police brutality complaints investigated by MPD Internal Affairs Bureau were ruled 'sustained'. That's less than 11 percent.

Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) met Thursday to talk about the letters and MPD's decision.

"If we look at it again and review it, we are going to send it back to him," CLERB Chairman Rev. Ralph White said. "How is the police going to police the police?"

CLERB is a last-ditch effort for people accusing police officers of excessive force. Their cases come before the board after going through MPD's Internal Affairs Bureau.

"These people are looking for just some rest," White said. "One of our complainants we've found he has been harassed in his home. These kinds of things can't be."

CLERB does not have any ultimate authority. The board is just allowed to make recommendations.

"People just feel they want to be heard - just for somebody to say, 'Hey, I'm listening to you'," White said.

In the four cases the board determined to be examples of excessive force, it recommended actions like sensitivity training, officer reprimands, and a review of MPD policy and procedures.

"For him [Rallings] to come back and say none of these are going to be sustained; we are going to go with these as it is, it was very again disappointing to us," White said.

White said he hopes this will be a wake-up call to Memphis City Council. He hopes council members will see this and help give the board more authority or help get some kind of action for people who feel abused by the system.

"Establish a real working relationship between the citizens review boards and police, police directors," White said.

CLERB leaders said the board would re-evaluate the rulings Rallings rejected. CLERB may then send updated requests to Rallings.

These four cases represent just a small number of the dozens of excessive force complaints MPD gets every year.

One such case belongs to Reginald Johnson, who said he went from a good Samaritan to a victim of police brutality after calling Memphis Police Department to report that his neighbor had been shot.

He said he was only doing what he thought was right by calling police to get some help for someone who needed it.

The video shot from Johnson's home security system shows a bloody gunshot victim calling out for help. Johnson said he called 911.

At one point, the victim steps onto Johnson's front porch and attempts to go inside the house. It appears officers are motioning for him to stay outside. The victim complies and stays outside, but officers leave him by himself as they then enter Johnson's house.

Johnson said that was when he started getting beat up by the police.

"They kept beating me until I gave up," he said. "Just hit my head. Hit my head on the floor."

Johnson said the officers claimed Johnson was resisting, but he says that's not true.

"He kept on hollering, 'Stop resisting,' and I wasn't resisting and I said, 'I'm the one who called you all,' and he never did stop," Johnson said.

Inside the Internal Affairs file, it said Johnson tried to hit the officer, "The officer went into a wrestler's stance and pushed into Mr. Johnson."

After the incident, Johnson had his brutality complaint reviewed by MPD's Internal Affairs Bureau where his case was ruled "not sustained."

Johnson said he never swung at the officer.

"To go downtown and spend the time that I did in jail for something that I didn't do, it hurts," he said.

Johnson said all he wanted to do was clear his name.

CLERB disagreed with MPD's Internal Affairs Bureau. It ruled in Johnson's favor, but now that Director Rallings responded by declining CLERB's recommendations, what recourse does Johnson have?

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