Is the Memphis Citizen Review Board making a difference?

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- "I want justice first of all. I feel like the officers that did this to me, I think they need to be held accountable," said Claudette Taylor.

She didn't find the justice she was seeking after she says a group of Memphis Police officers crossed the line when they confronted her outside her mom's South Memphis home in 2012.

"I just held my breath and stood in one spot. They picked me up off the ground. It was about five police officers. They picked me up and did like this, and they slammed me all the way from there, all away across to here to this barrel, which hit my leg and tore away all the skin and flesh from my leg," said Taylor. "My feelings were hurt. I didn't think men police officers would come and do that to a woman. I really didn't."

She filed a complaint with Police Internal Affairs.

"They sent me a letter about three weeks later saying they found the police department didn't do anything wrong. So my case was taken and thrown down in the basement," said Taylor.

WREG reviewed the Internal Affairs File, including 26 witness interviews. Twenty-three of those interviews were with police officers who said Taylor was arrested because she was inciting the crowd. They say she resisted and struggled with officers, causing them all to fall to the ground, which is how her leg was injured.

They said the officers acted within the guidelines of police policy and procedure.

But this month, more than five years after the incident, Taylor is taking her case to another level: the Citizen Law Enforcement Review Board.

"I didn't do anything at all for that altercation to happen to me," she told CLERB, the group that hears the complaints that Police Internal Affairs have found unsubstantiated.

"Citizens said we are not being heard. Police are being abusive, and nothing is being done about it," said the Rev. Ralph White, who heads up CLERB and its 14 volunteers who meet monthly to review complaints.

"If we find the officers did violate the citizen's rights, then we write a recommendation to the police director and to Internal Affairs stating such," said White.

But CLERB is in its own fight, still not able to subpoena officers to come in and testify.

That's something they have to get the Memphis City Council to do.

CLERB's leader says it doesn't seem the council is interested.

"There is very little participation from them. Since I have been there, none of them have attended our meetings on a regular basis," said White. "Even the present council person that we have, he has missed the last five meetings."

That council representative on CLERB is Memphis City Councilman Worth Morgan.

"I do not attend all the meetings," Morgan told WREG. "I review all reports that come in and am kept up to date on meetings via the staff that attends. When I was a voting member, I did attend the meetings. I have never turned down a phone call, an email or a meeting with any member of CLERB or the chairman or anything like that. So if there is a wall they feel is in place, it could be because they simply are not reaching out."

But Morgan does question if the work CLERB does could not be done better by the City Council since the council has subpoena powers already and is not appointed by the mayor as CLERB members are.

"It would be more time for the council members, more involvement, but ultimately I think it would be a better effect and better result for the citizens that are appealing their internal affairs case," said Morgan.

Taylor is happy CLERB is finally hearing her case.

A witness, Taylor's neighbor Renia Diggs, watched the 2012 altercation from her porch and said she was never interviewed by Internal Affairs.

"We turned around. They had her up in the air and just dropped her. When we heard her holler, her knee was split open," said Diggs.

"Ms. Taylor wasn't yelling any obscenities at police?" a CLERB member asked.

"No, she was not. She wasn't even talking to them. No, she did not," said Diggs.

"Based on the testimony we just heard, there were at least 10 officers in her yard. That's where I struggle. Ten officers can't put one female in handcuffs without picking her up? So that's where I am struggling right there," said one CLERB member.

"I agree. I think it was excessive force as well. We need to draft our letter to Director Rallings because something has to be done. No doubt about that," said another CLERB member.

"If they had done some things that irritated or agitated some police officers, there is still a professional way to deal with it. I don't think they followed that," said White.

In the end, the board's vote was unanimous.

"We voted to sustain the charges, which mean the alleged conduct likely occurred which the individual brought before the board. It violated a rule or law and warrants disciplinary actions," said White.

They are drafting a letter to Police Director Mike Rallings, recommending disciplinary action, sensitivity training and a letter of apology to Taylor.

"An apology coming from him will mean everything to me. That hurt me more than anything to be treated like a man, and I'm a woman," said Taylor.

It will be up to the police director to act on the CLERB Board's recommendations.

CLERB says it wants citizens to know there is another avenue that doesn't involve police policing their own.

Police say the implementation of body cameras will help tremendously when it comes to excessive force complaints. The camera video should show exactly what happened and protect the citizens as well as police.

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