Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Department of Justice Outlines Memphis Police Assessment

The Department of Justice COPS office today provided us with its "goals and objectives" for the collaborative review it is conducting with the Memphis Police Department.

This voluntary effort was first announced last October.  In March, the DOJ put out a release that said the collaborative review had been cancelled.  The City of Memphis then put out a release saying, We just forgot to sign some paperwork -- we are still good to go.

Now, seven months later and after two public listening sessions conducted by the COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) office of the DOJ and their work behind the scenes, we have this statement of goals and objectives.

COPS outlines three main subject areas: 1--Community oriented policing practices in the department: 2--Use of force and deadly force; 3--Oversight, accountability and transparency.

Under oversight, accountability and transparency, topping the list is "citizen complaint investigations."  The city revived its Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board in 2015.  While the board has been hearing cases, its existence remains controversial in some quarters -- its own City Council-appointed liaison Worth Morgan publicly said we don't need it -- and police and the police union are perpetual opponents.

Here is a link to the COPS website with information about collaborative reviews of Memphis and other cities. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Memphis Police Souped-Up Spy Van: Is It Coming to Your Neighborhood Soon?

This is what happens when The Watchers Watch Us -- illegally spying on private citizens. Memphis Truth Commission documents with photos and facts an MPD "spy van."

MPD's Souped-Up Spy Van: Coming to a Gathering of Law-Abiding Citizens Near You?  
In fact, Memphis police have apparently spent $598,000 in just these two contracts (below) to outfit the van or enhance their surveillance tools. This is the tip of the iceberg in amounts they spend on surveillance of citizens.

Memphis Truth Commission lays it out in its investigation.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Citizen Police Oversight Board 'Insulted,' Fires Back at Police Chief and City Council Rep

Stung by rejection from the police chief and dismissed by their City Council liaison, members of Memphis’ citizen police oversight board dug in their heels and insisted their mission matters. 

At the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board’s monthly meeting today, the board voted to ask City Council Chairman Berlin Boyd to replace councilman Worth Morgan as the liaison from council to CLERB.  They also voted to ask police director Michael Rallings to require police officers to appear and testify when the board hears citizen complaints of police abuses.

“I was insulted.  All of us should have been,” CLERB Chairman Rev. Ralph White said of Rallings’ letters of rejection to four cases in which CLERB said citizens were mistreated and recommended that Rallings discipline officers.
CLERB members applaud after affirming they wanted attorney Bruce Kramer (center) to remain on the board.  Kramer said Mayor Jim Strickland's attorney had asked him to resign, since Kramer is representing plaintiffs in two lawsuits against the city. Kramer told the board he would resign if they felt his presence was a conflict. Board members emphatically said they wanted Kramer to stay. 
Morgan last attended a CLERB meeting June 14, 2016, and at that time he was pushing a new ordinance which would have stripped CLERB of a path to subpoena evidence and testimony.

Morgan recently told the press that he saw no reason for CLERB to exist.  He was appointed CLERB liaison last year by then-council chairman Kemp Conrad, with the apparent intention to cripple CLERB, somewhat like Donald Trump cabinet appointees. 

CLERB can only make recommendations to the police director; the citizen board has no power or authority to require sanctions or even notations in an officer’s personnel file.  Upon hearing how Rallings had rejected CLERB’s findings, some citizens asked if  CLERB is meaningless, anyway, without authority.  However, CLERB can at minimum and with media coverage shine light on how police treat citizens and how MPD brass view citizen complaints.

Rather than slinking away in defeat, CLERB members were defiant after Rallings blew off the board’s months of work.  The board also voted to resubmit the same cases to Rallings with more detailed information outlining how they had arrived at their decisions.  

"We have to convince him.  I think we need to tell the story as we hear it from the person who is talking to us," said CLERB member Casey Bryant, a lawyer.   

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Police Director's Letters Expand on His Denial of Four Citizen Complaints

Memphis Director of Police Services Michael Rallings has rejected four citizen complaints sent to him by the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board in mid-April. Letters from Rallings responding to each case expand upon his decision and are linked below.   
Police Director Michael Rallings

CLERB board members were dismayed by the director's not accepting a single one of their recommendations after the citizen oversight board had heard testimony, watched videos and weighed statements since November.  CLERB's decisions were unanimous in all four cases.

Complainants said they were disappointed but not surprised.  Some complainants' cases had been simmering as long as six years while they bided their time hoping for someone besides police to hear their story.  Most complainants said they would be satisfied with an apology from Rallings acknowledging that police can make mistakes like anyone.

"A decent apology would go a long way," said James Bolden, who testified that police threw him down and arrested him when he reflexively grabbed his groin area as police aggressively searched his body. 

Here are the letters from the police chief to the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board.

Cover Letter to CLERB, link to 4 letters from police director 
Videos with excerpts from the four cases are on

Monday, May 8, 2017

Rallings Rejects All CLERB Complaints, Sources Say

Memphis director of police services Michael Rallings has rejected the recommendations of the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board that he take corrective action in the cases of four citizens who complained police mistreated them, according to sources close to CLERB.  

Paul Garner testifies at Nov. 17, 2016, CLERB meeting
Thus, the citizen police oversight board, which was revived in November, 2015, after a long grassroots campaign by citizens looking for transparency and accountability from police internal affairs investigations, has come full cycle.   The four cases are the first ones sent to Rallings, and now CLERB members have the police chief's response and disposition to citizen oversight of police. 

CLERB meets Thursday May 11 at 4 p.m. on the fifth floor of City Hall.  So that the aggrieved citizens and the public can see Rallings' complete response, CLERB should release those letters immediately by sending a press release to the media and by posting them on the city's website.  

Freedom of Information Act requests of the city to provide those documents have not been fulfilled, although MPD central records has been moving its office Friday and  today.  However, several public records requests involving CLERB, going back to early March, have not been fulfilled, either, for such things as CLERB annual and quarterly reports.  According to CLERB administrator Virginia Wilson, letters went out to Rallings on or before April 13.  Per city ordinance, the police director must reply within 10 days. CLERB chairman Rev. Ralph White apparently received Rallings' letters Friday afternoon, May 5. 

Although Rallings' response was disappointing to citizens who first filed complaints with MPD internal affairs (Inspectional Services Bureau) and to CLERB board members, it was not a complete surprise.  Police typically do not believe anyone is qualified to oversee their actions other than members of law enforcement.  City attorney Mary Grambergs, who is assigned to CLERB, reported at April's meeting that she had met with Rallings and that he said board members needed more training. 

Below are excerpts from our earlier story which summarizes the cases and the citizen board's recommendations.  

April 21, 2017 Story Highlighted

CLERB Awaits Police Director's Response to Citizen Complaints

.....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. 

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.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Valero Cases Dwindle as Judges Cite First Amendment Rights

Seema Rasoul high-fives attorney Jason Ballenger upon learning her case was dismissed 
-- Moore Media Images
Shelby County General Sessions Court judges yesterday dismissed two cases and expressed sympathy for protesters' First Amendment rights before sending four cases on to the grand jury from the Valero Refinery MLK Day action Jan. 16, 2017.

"This is a tough one," said Judge Ronald Lucchesi at a preliminary hearing on the charge of obstructing a highway or passageway against Erick Conner of Oklahoma.  "I sympathize with the protesters.  Our constitution gives them a right to protest. But, it has to be done within the law.

"The state has met their burden of proof," Lucchesi said. "But, it would not be too far afield for me to say they had not met their burden of proof."

At preliminary hearings of seven defendants spread among four courtrooms, prosecutors sought to establish there was probable cause for the arrests.  Despite sympathetic comments from Lucchesi (Division 12) and Division 7 Judge William Bill Anderson, they and Division 13 Judge Louis Montesi Jr. sent Conner's and three other cases on to the grand jury, which must decide to indict or not.

Defending the Earth: Olivia Ramirez of Osage tribe and (below)
Erick Conner of Muscogee tribe in Oklahoma --Moore Media Images

Conner, Olivia Ramirez of Oklahoma, Katherine Hanson of Missouri and Spencer Kaaz of Memphis were chained through 55-gallon drums filled with concrete to protest the 440-mile Diamond Pipeline, which will transport domestic sweet crude from Cushing, OK, to the Valery Energy refinery on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Those are the only four cases remaining of the original 12 persons arrested by Memphis police on the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.


Charges of obstructing a highway or passageway against independent journalist Rachel Gay of Missouri and Seema Rasoul of Memphis were dismissed without costs.  Gay, representing Hive Swarm News & Media, was shooting video and standing on the sidewalk along Mallory Avenue, which police had shut down and thus was not trafficked by the usual stream of tanker trucks. Rasoul also was standing on the sidewalk, but she was not recording and not bound to a barrel.

Gay's charge was dismissed, said attorney Michael Working,  based on "media shield laws," which are supported by the First Amendment.

Clay Ayers of Memphis was one of five remaining defendants of seven who had chained themselves to each other through pipes in the concrete-filled barrels, and he pleaded guilty to the Class C misdemeanor charge of obstructing a highway or passageway to put the matter behind him, Working said.  Case disposition went down as one day of "time served" credit, and Ayers will pay $272 in costs and be done with the matter.

"This is a minor charge, like jaywalking," said Working.

Working's firm is representing the Valero defendants pro bono, or for no fees.

Jessica Reznicek, Clay Ayers at Valero Refinery
--Hive Swarm Media Photo
Working and lawyers Jason Ballenger and Seth Segraves had asked police to produce footage from body-worn cameras.  Police have not provided any footage, Working said, but they are not required to at this stage of the cases.  However, police have internally reviewed footage from a few officers who were wearing cameras.


"This is the first case of using body cam footage to vindicate defendants," said Working, who surmised that what police saw supported some defendants' cases. "So, it's not just an interesting environmental case.  It's an interesting legal case."

Those who were bound to the barrels -- calling themselves water protecters and representing environmental activists Arkansas Rising -- were initially charged with disorderly conduct, obstructing a highway or passageway and criminal trespass, all Class C misdemeanors.  Prosecutors dismissed the disorderly and trespassing charges and only the obstructing a highway or passageway charges remained for Tuesday's preliminary hearings.

Tankers lined up while MPD shut down access to Valero
--Moore Media Images
Working explained that prosecutors had a problem with charging both trespassing on private property and obstructing a public space like a sidewalk -- it's either but can't be both, he said.  Prosecutors thus chose to drop the trespassing charge and go with obstructing the sidewalk.

Valero terminal operator Raymond Radach was trotted around among four courtrooms to testify against defendants.


Radach acknowledged, however, that tanker trucks had room to come and go around the protesters, who were positioned in the entry and exit driveways of the refinery on Mallory Avenue.   He said the decision to shut down Mallory Avenue and cut off all truck traffic was made jointly by MPD and Valero management.  Police also shut down exit 9 on I-55, which left truckers backed up for several hours waiting to get filled with gasoline or diesel fuel at the Valero pumping station.

Prosecutors argued that the protesters' actions led to police deciding to shut down all traffic on Mallory. Ballenger argued that the statute required prosecutors to show there was an "unreasonable inconvenience" caused by the protesters.  

"There is a reason why the statute doesn't just say an inconvenience," Ballenger said.  "They have freedom to assemble and to protest.  The statute has to be interpreted narrowly.

"It may be bad PR for Valero," Ballenger said, "but that's not an unreasonable inconvenience.  The tanker trucks on the street were empty.  There was no hazard.  It was Valero and MPD who decided to stop the trucks."

Deputies with zip tie handcuffs Feb. 15, 2017
--Moore Media Images
The courthouse atmosphere was less tense than the defendants' previous appearance date Feb. 15, 2017, when more than 30 Shelby County deputies and tactical officers formed a phalanx at the foot of elevators outside general sessions courtrooms.  The sheriff's department apparently was reacting to a Facebook post by Arkansas Rising which called for "court solidarity" with the defendants and urged sympathetic persons to show up and provide moral support.  

Having whittled down the charges, prosecutors also appeared less fervent than in mid-February when it seemed as though they were pressing to make an example of the Valero defendants. For instance, prosecutors in February had continued cases against Gay and Rasoul, although such charges as against them are usually dismissed before reaching the preliminary hearing stage.  

About 15 friends and family and supporters, some wearing Arkansas Rising T-shirts, showed up in solidarity with the defendants.  Defendants Conner, Ramirez, Gay and Hanson had traveled overnight from respectively Oklahoma and Missouri for the court date.  

Of the original 12 persons arrested, cases against all five who were not in barrels have been dismissed -- this included  journalist Gay and live-streaming observer Paul Garner.  Of the seven chained into barrels, Ruby Montoya and Jessica Reznicek of Iowa pleaded out upon being released from Shelby County jail and paid fees and costs.

While defendants told their lawyers how much they appreciated the pro bono legal help, there was a mutual admiration component from the attorneys, who have conviction about defense of the First Amendment.

"You are doing a public service," Working told them.  


Conner, who traces ancestors to the Muscogee tribe, and Ramirez of the Osage tribe, were attired in traditional Native American garb and effects.  Their heritage gives them a special incentive to defend the Earth and water, they said.

While Memphis residents have heard much this year about black lists, A-Lists and BOLOs against political activists, courthouse sources say the sheriff's department no longer keeps a BOLO (be on the lookout) list for those entering the Shelby County Justice Center at 201 Poplar.  Formerly, persons on such lists were required to be escorted by officials when entering the building.

San-Antonio-based Valero Energy Corporation (VLO) is an international oil refining and marketing corporation with a $28.9-billion market cap.  Having acquired refiner and retailer Diamond Shamrock in 2001, Valero is a 50% partner in Diamond Pipeline LLC along with Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline (PAA). Among 15 refineries in the U.S., Canada and the UK, Valero last year averaged 2.85 million barrels a day throughput across all its units.  

The company beat earnings forecasts at its April 25 Q1 report and closed trading today at $64.90. Profit for 2016 totaled $2.3 billion. 

We contacted several New York- and Chicago-based financial analysts who follow Valero to ask their opinions on the value Valero will derive from the pipeline and to comment on any societal impact.  They all declined or refused to talk to us.  (Was it something we said?)

However, analysts have factored in efficiencies the company will gain from the Diamond Pipeline, which will free up Valero's existing Memphis pipeline for other transmissions. At a cost estimated at $900 million, the 20-inch pipeline is expected to be completed later this year.  It will transport 200,000 barrels of light sweet crude daily to the Memphis refinery.  

Here is a link to the pipeline route:

Who Will Watch the Watchers? is a Memphis-made documentary that tracks the struggles of citizens who were arrested for filming police, then sought justice at City Hall in an election year.  While following that story in real time, the film also examines the increasing ways we view police in action; citizen oversight of police; police-community tensions; Black Lives Matter, and the condition of the First and Fourth Amendments in the Trump era.  

Film trailer:

Film YouTube channel:

Film website:


Monday, May 1, 2017

Valero cases set for preliminary hearings tomorrow (May 2) in Memphis

Olivia Ramirez of Oklahoma, chained to barrels of concrete on MLK Day     --Hive Swarm Media Image

Seven of 12 persons arrested while publicly defending water over oil at the Valero Energy refinery on MLK Day in Memphis are set for preliminary hearings tomorrow May 2 at the Shelby County Justice Center, 201 Poplar Avenue.

Cases were continued from Feb. 15 when defense attorneys asked police for any body-worn camera footage they had.

At a preliminary hearing, the arresting officer usually testifies, and the judge must determine if there is probable cause to support the charge.  Defendants are not required to testify, and typically defense attorneys use the hearings to determine what evidence the prosecution has and how the state intends to prosecute the cases.  

Cases can be resolved in various ways at this juncture, ranging from dismissal of charges, to making some sort of deal for pleas and costs to advancing to trial.

Three cases against the five others arrested in front of the Valero pumping station on Mallory Drive were dismissed, and two cases were disposed of by the defendants paying costs and fines. 

Calling themselves water protectors and representing Arkansas Rising to protest the 440-mile Diamond Oil pipeline form Cushing, OK, to Valero’s refinery on the banks of the Mississippi River, five of the remaining defendants were among seven chained together through 55-gallon drums filled with concrete:  Olivia Ramirez of Shiatook, OK; Erick Conner of Glenpool, OK; Katherine Hanson of Rutledge, MO: Clay Ayers of Memphis, and Spencer Kaaz of Memphis.  They were charged with disorderly conduct, obstructing a highway or passageway and criminal trespass, all Class C misdemeanors.

Rachel Gay of Rutledge, MO, and Seema Rasoul of Memphis were charged with disorderly conduct and obstructing a highway or passageway. 

An independent journalist with Hive Swarm News & Media, Gay was filming the action when arrested Jan. 16, the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.   The disorderly conduct charge was dismissed for a defective warrant.  In arresting officer Daniel Dermyer’s affidavit, he notes that there were “20-30” persons present, and that they had not obtained a protest permit, which the city of Memphis requires for assemblies of 25 or more persons.

Gay was not part of the protest nor was she an organizer – environmental activists Arkansas Rising organized the event – so it is notable that the officer complained against Gay on the basis of no permit, and he even acknowledged that the number of people assembled may not have reached the 25-person threshold.

Neither was Rasoul chained into one of five barrels, which obstructed but did not close the Valero entrance and exit driveways.  She was arrested while she was on the public sidewalk along Mallory Avenue -- although Memphis police had shut down Mallory Avenue from all traffic including local media.  

The cases are sorted among five courtrooms:

Division 7, judge William Bill Anderson:  Spencer Kaaz, represented by Seth Segraves.  Olivia Ramirez, represented by Jason Ballenger. 

Division 11, judge Karen Massey: Clay Ayers, represented by Michael Working.

Division 12, judge Ronald Lucchesi: Seema Rasoul, represented by Jason Ballenger.  Erick Conner, represented by Ballenger. 

Division 13, judge Louis J. Montessi Jr.:  Rachel Gay, represented by Michael Working; Katherine Hanson, represented by Seth Segraves. 

Since initially being charged, disorderly conduct against Hanson has been dismissed for “no probable cause,” and criminal trespass against Kaaz was dismissed without cost.

Related videos and stories: