A federal judge said the Memphis Police Department violated a consent decree by spying on protesters through the department’s political spying program. U.S. District Judge Jon McCalla said the city failed to train Memphis police officers on “political intelligence.”
A federal judge ruled that the Memphis Police Department violated a consent decree between the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee and the city of Memphis by spying on protesters through the department’s political spying program. U.S. District Judge Jon McCalla said the city failed to train Memphis police officers on “political intelligence,” which is prohibited by the consent decree. Sanctions were imposed by the court to “ensure future compliance,” including having officers revise their policy on political intelligence, reports the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
The court appointed an independent monitor to supervise the sanctions. The lawsuit was filed in February 2017 in response to Memphis’ publication of a list of people who required a police escort while visiting City Hall. The list included members of the Black Lives Matter movement, the mother of Darrius Stewart, a teen killed by Memphis police, representatives from local nonprofit organizations, and other local political organizers. “This important decision ensures that activists in Memphis can continue to fight the good fight without fear of unwarranted police surveillance,” said the ACLU’s Hedy Weinberg. The city said the court noted the consent decree violation was “not intentional” but comes from a “shared misunderstanding rather than political favoritism” and that officers have demonstrated actions to protect First Amendment rights. Earle Fisher, a prominent pastor who has been a fixture at most of the events that were under police surveillance, said he hoped to hear a more apologetic response from the city. The ruling, he said, is a step in the direction of transparency and accountability, and away from a system that decides when and where people can speak out or protest.