MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Reimaging Policing. Two words you heard time and time again by Memphis’ top leaders as they vowed to revamp the police department and a board that oversees it.
That board, the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board, met earlier this month.
They reviewed body camera footage from a Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Memphis in May 2020. An officer took a female protestor into custody.
“Have you seen me get rowdy? So why are you treating me like this?” asks the protestor.
The encounter is hard to see at times due to the angle and it being nighttime.
What’s clear is the woman is put into handcuffs. Officers wrote in court documents that she was told multiple times she was “obstructing motor vehicle traffic” and that she “stood in the roadway.”
The situation gets tense as they try to put her in the backseat. Officers say she “screamed threatening comments,” she was “resisting” and “kicking multiple officers.”
The woman, Likisha Clark, disputes that. She said officers wouldn’t tell her why she was being arrested, which is why she resisted. She claims they used excessive force.
“I don’t understand why I was treated in this manner,” Clark said to the CLERB board in June.
She asked CLERB to take a look at what happened since they are an independent entity that investigates allegations of police misconduct.
CLERB reviews complaints of police misconduct by looking at records and body camera footage. It talks to the complainant and gets the officer’s side of the story from internal affairs documents. CLERB can ask officers to come to the meeting, but it doesn’t have subpoena power
Ultimately, it decides if there was misconduct and submits a recommendation to the police chief. The chief then decides whether to accept that recommendation or look at the case again.
“We wanted CLERB to have more teeth,” Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner said.
Turner sat on that mayor’s Reimagining Policing Advisory Council. He felt if done right, CLERB would provide oversight and build trust.
“It will instill a confidence in law enforcement. It will allow the community to have a voice,” Turner said.
The city couldn’t give CLERB subpoena power due to a state law. Instead, it promised to improve the board by spending $20,000 on marketing and communication, provide more training and hire someone part time for administrative and website support. According to the ordinance, the board is supposed to maintain a website that approved minutes and post their recommendations within a certain time frame.
However, the website hasn’t added minutes since January’s meeting and the only recommendations it’s posted are from 2017 and 2018.
CLERB is supposed to meet monthly, but we’ve learned that hasn’t been happening.
Through an open records request, we found out the following:
In May, a CLERB spokesperson said there was no meeting because the complainant asked to reschedule.
We pressed the mayor’s administration about it on June 13. They said they sent our request to a CLERB representative.
On Thursday, that representative sent a statement from the board president arguing they’ve “convened every month this year” and the goal is to “hear and make a recommendation on a case each time” they meet.
His reasoning for April’s meeting was different than the open records request. But he added the website now has updated minutes and meetings.
“I haven’t seen or heard any underlying matters. Everyone is eager to serve,” said CLERB’s council liaison Rhonda Logan.
She remains confident in the board.
“I don’t have any doubt we will do what we were asked to do and do it well,” she said.
June’s meeting marked the second case heard in six months. It included a lengthy discussion that involved asking Clark questions as well as questioning police and the narrative officers provided to the court.
In the end, the board was split on whether the officer used excessive force.
To see when the board meets again, click here.