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Concern about police use of body cameras dominates City Council committee meeting

A meeting of the City Council’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday was slated to discuss a joint resolution to request TBI Investigations for all police involved shootings and support for Senate Bill 2023/House Bill 2091.

But committee members spent a large portion of the meeting asking police officials about the body cameras that were not functioning when an officer shot Martavious Banks, a 25-year-old father of two, as he was fleeing in connection with a traffic stop earlier this month.

And the meeting ended with an angry woman being escorted out of the meeting room, screaming questions about why the identities of the officers involved in the shooting have not yet been released and why Memphis Police Department Director Michael Rallings wasn’t at the meeting.

Asked why the cameras of key officers at the scene of the shooting were not working, Deputy MPD Director James Ryall said, “It was either a malfunction or they were turned off by the officers.”

Councilwoman Patrice Robinson asked if there were guidelines for punishment in the event that an officer intentionally turns off a camera. And, if so, had the guidelines been distributed to officers.

Police authorities have said three officers involved in the shooting of Banks have been suspended until the outcome of investigation. In addition to the internal MPD inquiry, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) has been asked to probe the matter.

“…If you send me home…with my paycheck, that’s not punishment, that’s a vacation,” Robinson said.

According to police, officers first stopped Banks in a car at Gill and Pillow. He drove off, then was stopped again nearby and fled on foot. He was sot during a subsequent encounter.

Police also have said a gun was found in the area but have not released details.

The officer who shot Banks did not have his body worn camera turned on, as is required. He has been relieved of duty during the investigation. Police have said two additional officers who were involved in the original stop at Gill and Pillow deactivated either their body worn cameras or in-car video systems during the pursuit from Gill to Pillow. Those two officers have also been relieved of duty pending the outcome of the investigation.

Robinson said it concerns her that officers have to worry about turning on cameras, especially in tense life and death situations.

“This is really concerning to me that you have to turn the cameras on,” she said. “It’s just a bit much.”

Council Chairman Berlin Boyd said he was puzzled about how all of the cameras were not working at the same time and he asked Ryall why.

“There are certain aspects of the case we can’t get into,” Ryall replied. Police officials have said there is some video footage from the scene of the shooting but have not given details.

Boyd said the city spent roughly $7 million on the cameras and another $4 million for storage. He said the city may be due a refund from the company if some of the cameras are not working properly.

Boyd said there are camera systems in Georgia where officers have no control and can’t turn the cameras off.

Ford said the current memorandum of understanding among law enforcement where the TBI is called in only when a person shot by police dies “is completely unacceptable.”

Ford said he is working with Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer and thinks they can have proposed legislation to bring back to the council in a couple of weeks. Sawyer said she will take up the matter before the Law Enforcement Committee, which she chairs on the commission, next week.

“At the end of the day, all we want to see is justice,” said Ford, who was elected to the County Commission during the last election.

Banks remains at Regional One Health, where he still is listed in critical condition. His shooting touched off protests in South Memphis that have had police and the community on edge.

At the end of Tuesday’s committee meeting, Pamela Moses asked whether there would be any time for public comment. When told there would not be, she pleaded for three minutes of the committee’s time.

“We have legitimate concerns and the city of Memphis has 24 hours to meet our demands,” said Moses. “..A man is about to die and you won’t give us three minutes, that’s not right.”

She was escorted out of the meeting room shouting that she wanted to know the names of the officers involved in the shooting and asking why Rallings wasn’t at Tuesday’s meeting.

The House and Senate bills would require all officer-involved shootings that result in injury or death be investigated by the TBI.

Ford said Tuesday’s meeting answered some questions but raised others, “…as far a discipline, from a slap on a wrist, all the way to being terminated, but most of the items that we need answers to are the MOU and some policies that have not been, at least in my eyes, thought out enough.”

After the meeting Sawyer agreed that the biggest issue is the memorandum of understanding that allows law enforcement agencies to do their own investigations in officer-involved shootings that do not result in a fatality.

“A lot of people had questions about what Councilman Ford and I were trying to bring forward and I think it (committee meeting) was helpful in that regard,” Sawyer said. “It answered questions for the public, for the city council to see where we were headed.

“Really we’re trying to change the memorandum of understanding. That puts pressure on all the bodies that signed the MOU with the TBI – that’s the Attorney General, the MPD and the Sheriff’s Department,” Sawyer said.

“It says that the TBI only gets involved in deaths, but we know that serious shooting injuries are also important because Martavious Banks is still in the hospital today from his shooting injuries…”

 

 

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