Thursday, July 13, 2017

DOJ Reps Meet with Police Oversight Board

The DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services team met with Memphis’ citizen police oversight board today as part of its collaborative review of the Memphis Police Department.

Three of the five-member COPS crew in Memphis this week then joined the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board for the first half of its monthly meeting.

COPS Supervisor Keenon James
The Department of Justice folks are fairly close-mouthed about any conclusions and opinions they may form prior to publishing a preliminary assessment.

“It will be sometime this fall before we make a report,” said Keenon James, supervisory program specialist with the COPS office.

“We are trying to make sure we give a truly balanced and holistic assessment on things the people need to know,” James said.

When called upon by CLERB chairman Ralph White to introduce themselves, only James spoke, and all he said was:

“We appreciate the opportunity to be here and be involved in the great things going on in the city of Memphis.”  James introduced Diane Reagan and Michael Durden of the COPS office and said “…we are here to see and observe.”

Before meeting with CLERB, the COPS team split up for ride-alongs with MPD patrol officers.  James said there were no dramatic incidents while cruising Memphis streets.  

On Tuesday, three members of the COPS team met with Paul Garner, organizing director at Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, and Meaghan Ybos, founder of People for Enforcement of Rape Laws (PERL).  

CLERB vice-chairman Bruce Kramer told the board his term was up at the end of July and he did not expect to be reappointed by the mayor to serve another term. 

An attorney, Kramer sued the city and MPD on behalf of the ACLU and four individuals for violations of the 1978 consent decree between the Department of Justice and the city over police spying on citizens.

Kramer had said at an earlier meeting that Mayor Jim Strickland’s legal advisor Alan Crone called him and asked him to resign, citing a possible conflict.  The sentiment of CLERB members was then and continues to be strongly in favor of Kramer remaining on the board.

Representatives of the Neely Agency LLC made a presentation of a website for CLERB, which was required by an ordinance that became law in November 2015.  The ordinance requires that CLERB have a website that citizens can use to make complaints against police, see the status of complaints and get other information. 

“We’ve been working with them about this for more than a year,” said Collin Johnson of the Neely PR agency.  “We plan to launch the website Aug. 1.”

CLERB has not made public the terms of the contract with Neely.   This was the first meeting at which anyone from the agency has made a presentation to show a mock-up of the website.  In fact, until today we did not realize that CLERB had retained a PR agency to do a website.   

The city's contract with Neely was executed in April, 2017, after months of talks, and the cost is $14,135, as researched by Fergus Nolan of  We have not seen the scope of work.  Off-hand, the Neely folks seemed capable, and this apparently was a black-owned business contract.  However, this is a steep price for a website, and it better have some high-powered functionality and include much long-term maintenance to come close to justifying the expense.  

A current search of CLERB websites brings up three different websites -- each with inaccurate, outdated and conflicting information.   At the bottom of this post are links to the three websites.  Here is a screenshot of what we believe is the most recent of the three, which states the board consists of nine members (it's 13).  

Strickland confidant and paid advisor Crone – his title is special counsel to the mayor-senior policy advisor -- made his first-ever appearance at a CLERB meeting during the Strickland administration, and he gave a rosy little talk clearly for the benefit of the DOJ-COPS folks.

Sarcasm Alert: This was the most "transparent" that CLERB has ever been with the public and reporters, who have struggled to get minutes of meetings and other documents, as Crone’s game was see-through.  Crone operates a private law practice while receiving a salary of $91,350 from the city during the last fiscal year.

City Council liaison to CLERB Worth Morgan has not attended a meeting since May, 2016, when he was trying to delete CLERB’s limited and convoluted subpoena authority.

The inability of CLERB and its administrator Virgnia Wilson to adhere to the CLERB law and get a website in place is not the only example of CLERB moving at all glacial speed.

The board sustained – agreed with – two citizen complaints in November, those of Paul Garner and Reginald Johnson.  It took them until April to write letters of recommendation to police director Mike Rallings as they are required by ordnance. 

After Rallings rejected their  recommendations, at the May meeting CLERB members agreed to compose followup letters to Rallings with greater elaboration on their decisions.   As of today’s July meeting, those letters are still being kicked around by CLERB members who volunteered to write them, and board members discussed letting each other look at the drafts and make comments before any such missives were actually sent. 

They say no good deed goes unpunished.  Johnson had complained to CLERB that police beat and arrested him after he had called 9-1-1 on behalf of a man who knocked on Johnson’s door late at night and said he had been shot. 

Johnson said police had placed a “hazard” on his house, meaning multiple police officers show up any time there is a call from his residence – even for something as harmless as his daughter calling about an accident report as happened Feb. 20, 2017.

Johnson said he believed it was retaliation on behalf of police for his complaining to CLERB and for making statements to the media about police not investigating the murder of his son Samuel on Oct. 31, 2014.  Johnson asked CLERB to intervene with the police chief to get the designation removed from his home.

“I don’t call police about anything, I’m afraid to,” Johnson said.

The board’s sentiment was supportive of Johnson’s plea.

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