Memphis lawmakers want to charge officers with felony for turning off body cameras

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis Police are required to turn their body cameras on during encounters with the public. But that doesn't always happen. Now, lawmakers are trying to hold officers accountable by turning the tables and charging them with a felony.

Officers have been caught hiding things recently. Most notably, in the Martavious Banks case where the department says three officers turned off their body cameras before shooting a man.

WREG is now learning the full story of what Memphis Police say happened on the night of September 17, 2018 when officers shot Banks, leaving him in critical condition.

Police say three officers deliberately hid their actions from supervisors by communicating on a radio frequency that dispatch couldn't hear and turning off their body cameras before the shooting.

The officer who pulled the trigger resigned. Three others got suspended.

Arthur Horne represents the family of Banks, 26.

"We just think the behavior is egregious and these officers received a slap on the wrist," Horne said.

Rep. G.A. Hardaway (D- Memphis) says experiences like theirs made him want to do more.

"What we want to do is take the issue of tampering with evidence, obstructing justice and put some specific language into the Tennessee code," Rep. Hardaway said.

Hardaway's proposal meant officers would face felony charges for intentionally disabling a body camera, thus ostructing justice.

But representatives with the Memphis Police Association say the officers involved in the Banks shooting have already been punished appropriately.

"Body camera policy violations should be exactly that, a policy violation, not a criminal law violation," said Matt Cunningham with the Memphis Police Association. "We feel it's not only excessive, but it adds to stress they have to deal with dangers."

He called the timing suspect and didn't think legislators should react to what he sees as a few bad apples in the department.

But when Mayor Jim Strickland spoke about the incident last year, he said there were dozens of cases of officers doing the same thing: turning off their body cameras when they should be rolling.

Hardaway says he thinks committee should be ready to vote on the bill in the next two weeks. It could then go to the full Tennessee House.

Meanwhile, the Memphis Police Association says if this becomes law, cops are threatening to quit.

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