The Shelby County Commission on Monday voted in favor of a joint resolution with the Memphis City Council to ask the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to probe all sheriff- and police-involved shootings that result in serious injury or death.
The measure would amend a memorandum of understanding between the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, the Memphis Police Department, the TBI and the Shelby County District Attorney General. The memorandum currently calls for TBI investigations in officer-involved shootings that result in a death.
It was co-sponsored by Commissioner Tami Sawyer and Commissioner Edmund Ford, who also still services as a member of the city council. The requested change in the memorandum of agreement now goes before the City Council again, where Ford will push for its passage. Then the measure would go to the memorandum participants.
“My constituents – people who reached out to me from all across Memphis – want to know that there is transparency in police investigations when shootings do happen,” Sawyer said after the vote.
The joint resolution was introduced after a Memphis Police Department officer shot Martavious Banks following a police stop that degenerated into a vehicle chase and an on-foot pursuit that ended with the 25-year-old Banks critically wounded from two shots in the back. Three officers have been suspended pending an MPD inquiry and a TBI investigation. Their cameras were not operating and there is some uncertainty as to whether they were turned off, malfunctioned or were never turned on.
The South Memphis incident sparked protests and some arrests of protesters.
The Shelby County District Attorney’s office requested the TBI investigation. Subsequently, the Memphis Police Association advised officers not to speak to TBI investigators
“I think what makes the resolution even stronger is that we did add in the language requesting the Memphis Police Association to reconsider its advisement for Memphis Police Officers not the speak to Tennessee Bureau of Investigation,” Sawyer said. “…As the way it’s been been presented to us it’s cloaking police officers from the law in a way and that’s not fair to anyone.
“We need to build community trust in the police,” she said. “We need to build police trust in the community as well. We have a long way to go, but we’re just trying to get to a balanced place for both sides.”
Sawyer conceded that TBI is underfunded to take on responsibility on these new investigations, “and that’s why we will be putting this on our legislative agenda as well.”
Sawyer said TBI is evolving and that it is having to take on new responsibilities as criminal investigation has evolved.
“Even when I spoke to TBI they referenced the changes in their work, post-Ferguson is what they called it,” she said.
Ford said he would ask for the joint resolution to be in committee next Tuesday in front of the council. “I will do my best to address the issues that both sides had so that we can articulate them the same way as on the other side.
“…Looking at the dialogue on both sides, I know many of my colleagues want the same thing, they want transparency,” Ford said. “Hopefully this legislation that will be looked at by Democrats and Republicans can get the attention that it needs…”
The incident sparked protests and some arrests of protesters.
In other action, the commission adopted a resolution proclaiming a vote of no confidence in the U.S. Justice Department’s decision to terminate the Memorandum of Agreement regarding the Memphis Shelby Juvenile Court’s failure to protect the constitutional rights of the children of Shelby County.
The DOJ lifted its monitoring of the court after a site visit last month and lobbying by former mayor Mark H. Luttrell Jr. That lobbying included letters and a trip to Washington, D.C. and was supported by the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.
Sawyer said the vote of no confidence means the commission is not in agreement with the Department of Justice Civil Rights Divisions’ decision to immediately end federal oversight of the juvenile courts.
“We did not get our year of monitoring had they finished and we really feel that that was needed,” she said.