While the Memphis Police Department and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation try to sort through the events that led to a MPD officer shooting and seriously wounding 25-year-old Martavious Banks, they’re operating without key pieces of evidence.
That evidence? Dashcam and body armor video. And the reason it’s missing is because key officers involved turned their cameras off in the moments before they drew their guns.
Consequently, that shooting has sparked more outrage in the community and more calls for police transparency.
Dozens of protesters lined Airways Boulevard near MPD’s Airways station Wednesday night, chanting “No Justice! No Peace!” and “I’ve got my hands behind my head! Please don’t shoot me dead!”
At TSD press time, the protest had moved to Gill Avenue and Pillow Street in South Memphis, where Banks was shot. The scene soon became heated; a photojournalist said he witnessed at least five arrests.
Banks’ mother was at the scene.
Earlier in the day, a group of Shelby County Commissioners called for a change in policy that would require TBI to investigate any officer-involved shooting. Currently, policy calls for TBI to investigate officer-involved shootings that end with fatalities.
“This is about justice. This is about equality,” said newly elected District 9 Commissioner Tami Sawyer, standing alongside fellow commissioners Edmund Ford Jr., Van Turner and Mickell Lowery.
“This is about the community’s belief in our justice system,” added Sawyer, who rose to prominence as a vocal advocate for police accountability. “We hear from our constituents that they don’t have as much faith in our justice system. Especially when decisions are being made about turning off your body camera and not turning over the investigation to TBI.”
Banks, 25, was in critical condition at Regional One Health Medial Center Wednesday night, after he was shot Monday in a confrontation with officers, said Lt. Karen Rudolph, a spokeswoman for the Memphis Police Department.
On Tuesday, MPD Director Michael Rallings revealed in a press conference that officers involved had disabled their cameras – cameras purchased to help take the guesswork out of investigating police shootings after the fatal officer-involved shooting of Darrius Stewart in 2015.
Rallings announced that three officers have been suspended, and vowed to get to the bottom of the matter. He also said that other officers at the shooting scene did have their cameras activated.
“There are many questions that still need answering,” Rallings said, noting MPD would move forward with its internal investigation. “Let me assure you that I will get answers and we will hold officers accountable.”
Rudolph said Banks, who is African American, was stopped in his car by officers, and he told them he did not have an identification or insurance. Banks then reached down, and an officer advised that he saw a gun inside the vehicle, Rudolph said.
Rudolph said Banks then drove away.
Police then stopped Banks again a short distance from the first stop, Rudolph said. Banks ran away and was shot, police said.
A handgun was recovered at the scene, Rudolph said. Rallings said it was unclear if Banks fired the gun that was seen in his car. Banks had outstanding warrants for assault, driving with a suspended license and violation of probation, Rudolph said.
The male officer who shot Banks was a 26-year-old African American, Rudolph said. He did not have his body camera turned on, but it was not clear if he ever had it activated or if he turned it off, Rallings said.
Two other officers involved in the chase — one white male, one black male — deactivated their body-worn or in-car cameras, Rallings said. They also have been relieved of duty.
“I am not confident that policy was followed,” Rallings said.
The names of the officers had not been released by the time of this report.
“The Memphis Police Department made me aware today of new information related to last night’s shooting,” Shelby County Atty. Gen. Amy Weirich said in a prepared statement Tuesday afternoon. “Based upon this information and with the full agreement of the Memphis Police Department, I have asked the TBI to conduct the investigation.”
While Rallings said MPD was capable of handling the investigation properly, he welcomed TBI involvement, saying that it added “transparency.”
The group of commissioners intend to introduce a county resolution to support existing efforts in the Tennessee General Assembly.
“The optics are really bad when you have to wait for someone to die in order to do an investigation,” Ford said Wednesday. “This is just an initial step. We want to make sure every step is taken to get to justice.”
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland was out of town when the shooting occurred but said he’s been in “constant contact” with Rallings, and echoes Rallings’ determination to get answers.
“From what I understand, cameras were turned off prior to the shooting,” Strickland said in a prepared statement. “Plainly said, that’s disturbing. In my eyes, it is unacceptable and inexcusable — no question about it.
“We’re going to get to the bottom of this,” Strickland continued. “While the TBI is investigating the shooting, our administrative investigation has already started. I’ve directed our team to conduct the investigation as quickly as possible.”
(TSD Associate Publisher/Executive Editor Karanja A. Ajanaku and photojournalist Johnathan Martin contributed to this report, as did the Associated Press.)