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Excessive Force

New group asks council to require more sensitivity training for police officers.

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In a federal lawsuit filed in May, Shelby County Correction Center inmate Marlon Quarles alleges he was kneed in the nose, kicked in the shoulder, and punched in the face while handcuffed to a chair in an interrogation room last September.

"By the end, I was balled up and crying like a little girl," Quarles told the Flyer during an inmate visitation at the jail. Quarles is currently awaiting trial on an identity theft charge.

Members of Quarles' family shared his story at a recent meeting of Stop Police Brutality Memphis, a new group formed in response to the jailhouse beating of transgendered woman Duanna Johnson. The officer involved in the assault, Bridges McRae, was later fired.

Quarles attempted to file a formal complaint with the sheriff's office in February. However, he received a letter in May stating that the "office was unable to prove or disprove the alleged conduct, therefore, a formal investigation was not opened."

Though a videotape of Johnson's beating was leaked to the public, there is no video of Quarles' interrogation.

"At no time after that interrogation did the inmate complain of a medical issue," said Steve Shular, public affairs officer for the Shelby County Sheriff's Office. Quarles, however, claims he sought medical attention but was denied by jail staff. According to the lawsuit, Quarles is seeking $1.7 million in damages. Quarles, who is African American, believes the alleged beating by a white Shelby County sheriff's deputy, Ray Essary, was racially motivated.

"He used racial overtones," Quarles said. "He needs some anger management classes."

A review of Essary's personnel file shows the officer admitted to striking an inmate in 1999 after the inmate "got up in his face, pointed his finger, and stepped on his foot." At the time, Essary was given a verbal reprimand for violation of rules.

Deondria Bland, Quarles' fiancée, and members of Stop Police Brutality Memphis attended a Memphis City Council meeting last week. Bland told council members Quarles' story, and group members presented a list of improvements they felt would prevent further acts of police brutality.

They would like the council to require more sensitivity training for Memphis police officers, especially when it comes to sexual orientation, gender identity, and race.

"We know that most police officers do not engage in this kind of behavior, and we want to help root out the bad officers," said Amy Livingston of Stop Police Brutality Memphis at a press conference outside the council meeting.

Livingston's group is also asking the council to fill two gay liaison positions. Liaisons between the gay, lesbian, and transgender community and the police department and mayor's office have been vacant for several years.

"I think the group has a very valid point," said City Council member Myron Lowery. "We have many fine police officers, but we need to make sure they're disciplined when appropriate. I'm not sure that's happening in all cases."

Stop Police Brutality Memphis also plans to address the Shelby County Commission about additional sensitivity training for sheriff's deputies.

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