MPD review board member says recent case highlights need for police oversight

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Who is watching the police? We’re asking that question after the Memphis Police Department announced reprimands for three officers connected to the shooting of Martavious Banks.

Banks was shot multiple times after a police chase in September 2018. Five months later, he’s still recovering.

The case caused controversy after it was discovered the officers involved turned off either their body or car cameras before the shooting. Now, local leaders are calling for more action after learning of the officers’ punishments.

“We need to have more teeth so that we can be more effective. Because the citizens feel, you know, we’re irrelevant,” said Pastor Ralph White with the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board.

Jamarcus Jeames, the officer MPD says pulled the trigger, resigned before his administrative hearing wrapped up.

Another officer received a 20-day unpaid suspension and written reprimand for not telling dispatch about pursuing Banks and deactivating his body camera. And another officer also received a 20-day suspension for not telling dispatch about the pursuit or getting permission and for turning off his body camera as well.

“The punishment, we think it’s very lax,” White said. As for the officer who stepped down. “We feel there ought to be consequences other than that, and we want to address that too with the director.”

A WREG investigation uncovered a case from 2016 when officers responded to a domestic violence call. Throughout the incident the cameras were shut off several times. A supervisor found several violations of policy, like excessive force and turning cameras off.

White says the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board is made up of professionals representing the people and should be part of conversations dealing with cases like these.

But things could get even tougher for community oversight boards in the state as new state legislation was filed in February saying boards do not have the power to issue subpoenas for documents or compel witness testimony. The bill is currently in the committee stage.

“We have subpoena power of sorts but we have to refer to our councilperson,” Pastor White said. “There’s not enough power. They want to take the little power that we do have. Ask yourself, why? What’s the problem with that?”

We’ve reached out to MPD multiple times to see if anyone could speak to us about the discipline process, but they’ve told us no one was available and they will let us know when someone was.

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