Friday, April 21, 2017

CLERB awaits police director's response to citizen complaints

The next chapter in the story of citizen oversight of police in Memphis will be written by director of police services Michael Rallings. 
Paul Garner testifies at Nov. 17, 2017, CLERB meeting
After hearing complaints from four citizens that police had mistreated them in various ways, the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board wrote letters to Rallings stating they determined officers had violated MPD policy and procedures, and thus they disagreed with internal affairs that the citizens’ complaints were invalid.  CLERB also recommended certain actions from the police director, such as reprimands and training.

Rallings now must respond to CLERB and within 10 days per the city ordinance under which CLERB operates.  Rallings must decide if he agrees or disagrees with the board’s findings and if so, if he is willing to institute CLERB’s recommendations regarding the officers.  CLERB can only make recommendations; the board has no power to discipline an officer or require any actions by the police director. 

In police lingo, internal affairs or the office of professional standards are the more widely known names for what MPD calls its Inspectional Services Bureau (ISB).  In the four cases, ISB had said the citizens’ complaints were “not sustained,” which means there was “insufficient evidence” to conclude the officers violated MPD policies and procedures. 

Here are summaries of the four cases and CLERB’s recommendations to the police director:

1—Paul Garner, organizing director at the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, has been arrested more than once for filming police.  Garner was the driving force behind the grass roots movement of Memphis United to bring back the civilian oversight board after it was secretly and illegally disbanded by Mayor A.C. Wharton’s administration in August, 2011. 

Police arrested Garner when he attempted to film police arresting a Manna House volunteer Oct. 21, 2013.  Garner was charged with disorderly conduct and obstruction of a highway or passageway, typical charges police apply when they arrest someone for taking their picture – which is not illegal and is protected by the First Amendment and MPD’s own policy.  Charges were dropped without costs against Garner and a Manna House volunteer, who had filmed police arresting a homeless man down the street.  Garner and the volunteer spent about 18 hours in police custody, including jail overnight.

CLERB asked Rallings to provide training to officers regarding a citizen’s constitutional rights to film police.  The board also asked that ISB ensure police follow these policies:  DR (Department Rules) 105 Adherence to Law; DR 107 Courtesy;  DR 108 Truthfulness; DR 109 Impartial Attitude; DR 117 MPD Photo ID/giving name; DR 134 Intimidation; DR 135 Harassment; DR 141 Public Recordings, and DR 601 Completing Official Reports.

 2—Reginald Johnson’s is a tale of no good deed goes unpunished.  A man knocked on Johnson’s door about 11 on the evening of Feb. 8, 2016, and said he had been shot and asked Johnson to call an ambulance.  The man stayed outside on Johnson’s front yard, but after police arrived, three of them entered Johnson’s home without permission.  Johnson said they knocked him to the floor, broke his tooth, punched him and maced him twice.  They led Johnson out of his home in handcuffs and pajamas.  Johnson was charged with disorderly conduct, but the charge was dismissed without costs.

CLERB recommended that Rallings reprimand the officers and include the citation in their personnel records.  The board also recommended that the officers have sensitivity training and procedural training, emphasizing the law regarding entering a residence without a warrant and with no extenuating circumstances or probable cause. 

3—Claudette Taylor said officers entered her yard without permission or provocation, picked her up in the air and slammed her to the ground where she cut her leg on a metal object.  They charged her with disorderly conduct, which was dismissed without costs in court. 

CLERB recommended that Rallings formally reprimand the officers and require that they undergo sensitivity training and training on MPD’s policy on “necessary force.”  The board also recommended that the officers issue a letter of apology to Taylor.

4—Truck driver James Bolden said he was locking up at his place of work about 1 a.m. after driving for more than 10 hours.  At a commercial building next door, an alarm went off, and the police showed up.  The officers beat and “aggressively searched” Bolden, although he explained that he was at his place of work and although officers later confirmed that on the phone with Bolden’s boss. 

CLERB member Bruce Kramer asked Bolden if he resisted police in any way, and Bolden said, “only when they hit me in the groin and I reached for my groin..”   Police charged Bolden with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.  Bolden hired a Mississippi lawyer and got probation.  Board members were stunned that Bolden's case was not dismissed, and Kramer added this admonition, “Don’t ever hire a Mississippi lawyer” to deal with the intricacies of criminal court in Memphis. 

City attorney Mary Grambergs, who is assigned to CLERB, reported at the board’s April 13 meeting that she had met with director Rallings, who asked for more training for the board members and more details from the board in reporting their findings.  The sentiment among board members was that they had provided plenty enough information and more than what citizens get from police when their complaints are rejected.

Although the ordinance requires that the police director respond within 10 days of receipt of a CLERB finding and recommendation letter, it is unlikely Rallings will make that deadline.  We expect he will say he needs more time or simply will take the time he believes he needs to review the cases and make his decisions.  Since CLERB took five months to get out its letters to Rallings regarding Paul Garner’s and Reginald Johnson’s cases, and since CLERB hit him with four at once, the board will have little standing to complain if Rallings takes more than 10 days. 

CLERB has completed hearing 10 cases since an amended ordinance was approved by City Council in November, 2015.  The four cited with letters to Rallings were “sustained” in favor of citizen complainants, and six were “not sustained.”  Of those not sustained, or in which CLERB did not determine internal affairs was wrong, the outcomes were not quite so clear-cut. 

In one not-sustained case a complainant said a detective from internal affairs later called him and agreed that an officer’s conduct in grabbing the man’s penis, as the citizen alleged, was wrong and “has been handled.”   Thus, CLERB was pre-empted from needing to make a decision on the case, but it was classified as “not sustained.”

In another, the board said video evidence they had hoped to see no longer existed, so they were not sufficiently convinced to rule against the officer.  In others, the board did not believe there was sufficient evidence to dispute ISB’s finding, and in some cases what the citizens sought did not quite fit with CLERB’s scope of authority, such as a citizen who primarily was seeking monetary damages which would require a civil action.

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