FOX13 Investigates: MPD Internal Affairs investigations from summer 2020 protests

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — FOX13 reviewed several videos that are shaky, blurry and even chaotic but they bring into focus intense moments between Memphis Police officers and protesters during last summer’s call for social justice and change.

These incidents have been under review by internal affairs at MPD for months, and we’re still waiting for the results of the investigations.

It was only right before this story aired that FOX13 Investigates finally started to get some answers about three specific incidents from last summer.

MPD told FOX13 there isn’t an average time for completing an internal affairs investigation which we understand but it took countless emails from our team to get even partial updates about these investigations that stemmed from intense, even horrifying encounters between police and protesters.

Victoria Jones said May 30, 2020, was one of the scariest moments of her life.

“There’s a big burly white cop on horseback and points his baton at me and said, ‘arrest that b--tch. Get that b--tch!’,” said Jones.

Video from The Commercial Appeal from that night shows Jones in the gray hoodie. She said Memphis Police pushed her to the ground.

The chaotic moment happened after a protest near Beale Street but the video ends, as her arrest begins.

“I can’t breathe, because someone’s on my head, and I had the mask on, and I’m like ‘Oh, my God. Like I said I can’t breathe’ and I was like “oh, my God that I might die. I’m truly like I finna die,” Jones said.

This was one of at least three incidents caught on camera during protests.

On May 27, a Memphis Police officer in riot gear charges into a woman with his shield, knocking her to the ground. The incident caught the attention of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland.

“I have asked the director to investigate the case where they were trying to clear the street on Union Avenue in particular,” Strickland said during a press conference on June 1.

The same weekend as Jones’s encounter with MPD, an officer pointed a gun at a FOX13 crew covering a protest.

The next day, MPD Director Mike Rallings defended his officers’ actions in two of these incidents.

“Our officers rarely use force, and there is going to be an incident where an officer may act outside of policy. We will deal with that,” Director Rallings said during a press conference on June 1.

All three encounters went to MPD’s Internal Affairs squad for review.

More than eight months later, the police still can’t tell us what happened.

“My experience with internal affairs is they are explicitly looking how to protect the officer or how to justify the officer’s action,” said Hunter Demster, a community activist in Memphis.

Demster said he’s filed four internal affairs complaints over the last two and half years.

“I explicitly asked, you know, when will I be told what’s going to happen to the officer? And they informed me never. You’re never going to know,” Demster said. “You’re going to have to file an independent freedom of information act to get that information.”

Demster said the Mayor’s interest in some of these IA cases from last summer didn’t give him any confidence there would be some resolution.

“I think that’s kind of the norm from the Strickland administration, which controls the narrative, put people at ease, push it long enough so people forget about the situation,” Demster said.

MPD’s most recent annual report shows a total of 539 citizen complaints filed in 2019. According to the report, 53 complaints in 2019 were for excessive and unnecessary force.

Since January 6, FOX13 Investigator Kirstin Garriss asked Memphis Police about those incidents from last summer and requesting interviews with Director Rallings about the internal affairs process.

These emails went mostly unanswered but on two occasions FOX13 got short responses from the department.

A department spokesman said the cases were still open but no additional information about why the investigations were still going.

FOX13 kept pressing for answers about these three cases and requesting interviews with Director Rallings each time but they declined.

Then almost a month later, FOX13 got some answers.

In two of these cases, Jones and the one involving a FOX13 crew, MPD said the officers did not use excessive force.

However, MPD said two officers were written up for violating the body camera policy after pointing a gun with rubber bullets at our news crew.

In Jones’ case, the department spokeswoman said she tripped before she was taken into custody.

Jones denies that claim. She said she has little faith in the system

“I think there was a moment where I had to like accept that, that experience. The begging for justice was actually more traumatic for me than accepting what was happening,” she said.

MPD said information about these cases may not come until this summer when the next annual report is released. That means Jones won’t have closure for a while.

“What would feel like justice is some resources being out into communities, community members, community organizations that are committed to doing this work, but that’s the extent of justice for me,” Jones said. “I don’t expect it to come from internal affairs. Like we know that’s not an actual thing.”

FOX13 requested an interview - either in person at a safe distance or virtually with Mayor Jim Strickland for this story and we even offered to meet with the mayor anytime, anyplace for over a week leading up to this newscast.

But his staff declined our request.

A city spokeswoman told FOX13 that the internal affair investigation summaries will be available through an online dashboard within the next two months.

The Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board or CLERB was set up as an independent agency to investigate police complaints.

But CLERB doesn’t have the power to punish police officers.

The board can only make recommendations to the police director who decides whether to accept those recommendations or not.