Excessive force complaints and the Memphis Police Department

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Claudette Taylor is one of hundreds of citizens who claim Memphis Police crossed the line.

"They picked me up and threw me from here all the way over to this tub right behind you. When they threw me across here, they had my face smashed in the ground," said Taylor.

In was August of 2012 in her mom's South Memphis neighborhood off South Parkway.

Police had been rounding up gang members a few blocks away. Things were already tense when a group of officers walked down the street.

Taylor says she was talking to a neighbor, but police thought she yelled something at them.

From there it all went downhill.

Taylor says one officer threatened to arrest her.

"When he grabbed my arm, I guess he was nervous. He dropped the cuffs. The other officer was standing in the street. He hollered, 'She resisting arrest. Get her a--.' They jumped on the wall like I was gonna run. I didn't run. I still stood right here," says Taylor. "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."

"They jumped on my back with their knees and everything. My mom went to walk, and she was hollering telling them to get off me."

Taylor said it didn't stop.

"They had put two handcuffs, they drug me and told everybody, they surrounded me so nobody could take no picture of my leg.They drug me down the steps, all the way down my mom's driveway to the curb and they laid me there. I laid there for an hour and a half before the ambulance took me," she said.

Taylor was charged with inciting a riot and disorderly conduct.

"They used excessive force, unnecessary force. I didn't do anything, say anything. Standing here talking to my friend. I was 46 years old. I am in flip-flops. What did I do? I didn't say anything to them."

Taylor couldn't believe she was the one having to defend her actions.

"When I went to court, the judge threw everything out. Everything was dismissed before I even get in the courtroom," she said. "Once I left court, I went straight to internal affairs. Gave my statement. They took pictures of my leg."

That was 2012. Her case would play out for years.

Police Internal Affairs ruled Taylor's complaint was not sustained.

WREG found hers was one of 268 excessive force related complaints filed against Memphis Police from 2011 to 2016, citizens who felt their encounter with police went overboard. They filed a complaint and gave statements to the Police Internal Affairs Bureau.

"We have an entire bureau that is dedicated to investigating complaints against Memphis Police officers. Not only is it the Internal Affairs and Inspection Service Bureau responsibility, but the precincts or me. So the citizens have a number of ways to report an alleged complaint of police misconduct or an alleged complaint of excessive force," said Memphis Police Director Mike Rallings.

Our investigation also revealed out of 268 complaints, just 33 were sustained, where police found there was sufficient evidence of wrongdoing.

The other 235 cases were not substantiated, exonerated, dropped or listed as unfounded.

"Going to police about the police, they stick to their own. It will never work. Not even internal affairs. You never right," said Claudette Taylor.

"I can tell you we take the complaints seriously. We are going to investigate them, and if we find an officer has done something in violation of policy, we are gonna discipline that officer," said Director Rallings.

But Internal Affairs did not find cause to discipline the officers in Claudette Taylor's case.

"They really do need to have a place where we can go and feel safe to talk to someone other than police department and feel safe about doing it," said Taylor.

"Most of the excessive force complaints are either handled by the precinct commander or on the 12th floor which is part of my command staff, and if a citizen doesn't feel like they have gotten their complaint resolved, then they can talk to the Citizen Law Enforcement Review Board," said Rallings.

That's exactly what Taylor did. She went to CLERB, and earlier this month, they made a decision on her case.

In Part 2 of our report, WREG will show you how that turned out and why the organization designed to hear your complaints is in a struggle all its own.

Read Part Two

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