Shelby County Commission looking at use of force by deputies

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County Commissioners on Monday were set to consider several resolutions aimed at law enforcement reform like limiting the use of military equipment and excessive force.

The discussions come a few days after the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office apologized for using shock shields to keep protestors outside the jail building last week.

The commissioners met Monday night and evaluated three resolutions as follows:

18. ORDINANCE – SECOND READING – Ordinance to: 1) amend Personnel Policy No. 402 in order to disqualify applicants from Public Safety positions if prior work history depicts termination for excessive use of force; 2) request that the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office seeks revocation of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Certification for deputies terminated or disciplined for excessive use of force in violation of the POST Commission’s Rules and Regulations; and 3) establish a tracking system of Public Safety Officers terminated or disciplined for use of excessive force. Sponsored by Commissioner Tami Sawyer, Commissioner Mickell Lowery and Commissioner Van D. Turner, Jr. (SENT DOWN WITHOUT RECOMMENDATION IN SEPTEMBER 23, 2020 COMMITTEE MEETING) MILLS Chairman, Law Enforcement, Corrections, and Courts Committee

19. ORDINANCE – SECOND READING – An ordinance to amend the Shelby County Code of Ordinances by amending Chapter 34-Public Safety to: (1) create a new article and (2) create special authorization and use limitation for Military equipment and weaponry for Shelby County Law Enforcement Agencies. Sponsored by Commissioner Van D. Turner, Jr., Commissioner Reginald Milton, Commissioner Mickell Lowery, and Commissioner Tami Sawyer. (SENT DOWN WITHOUT RECOMMENDATION IN SEPTEMBER 23, 2020 COMMITTEE MEETING) MILLS Chairman, Law Enforcement, Corrections, and Courts Committee

20. ORDINANCE – SECOND READING – Ordinance amending Personnel Policy No. 703, in order to prohibit Public Safety Officers, including without limitation, Deputy Sheriffs, Deputy Jailers, Corrections Officers, from: using excessive force in the use of chemical agents, like tear gas, in the scope of their employment with Shelby County Government. Sponsored by Commissioner Tami Sawyer. (AMENDED AND SENT DOWN WITHOUT RECOMMENDATION IN SEPTEMBER 23, 2020 COMMITTEE MEETING)

All three resolutions did not pass, and they will be moved on to another reading, with many commissioners asking for more information and clarity.

Just because these three resolutions didn’t pass today, does not mean they will not be passed eventually, they will be revisited in the coming weeks.

As far as those shields go, Deputies said they should not have ever been on public display. The sheriff’s office said they did not use any force during last week’s protest outside of the jail.

But protestors said just seeing those shock shields were intimidating, and it was not an appropriate response.

Hunter Demster, an activist, said far too often peaceful protest is met with excessive force.

“Time and time again, you see peaceful protest are met with excessive force, with intimidating tactics with new weapons,” Demster said. “When you are having a peaceful protest and you’re met with that kind of force and intimidation, it makes people not want to come out and use their voices.”

The sheriff’s office said it recently upgraded to the newest e-shields in July 2020 but has had other “less-lethal shock shields” since a jail riot in the 1990s. Members of the Detention Response Team are reportedly the only team in the sheriff’s office permitted to use the shields, and their use is “highly regulated.”

The sheriff’s office says e-shields were bought with funds from the sheriff’s office jail operating budget. The shields reportedly cost $895 each.

In a statement, Sheriff Floyd Bonner, Jr. said, “this is a regrettable mistake and directed policy modifications that will prohibit those shields from being displayed or used outside of the jail again.”

Mickell Lowery, a Shelby County Commissioner, said he is pleased to hear the sheriff’s apology, and said now everyone must come together and decide what are the best ways to go about reform.

“I’m glad to hear the sheriff say what he said and now it’s just about how do we get on the same page of reforms, so again when Sheriff Bonner is not the sheriff, these things stay in place and no one comes up and says hey we need to have these shields on the street for everyone to see,” Lowery said.

The sheriff’s office said those shields can send a shock that is lower than the wattage of a Christmas tree light.

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