UPDATE: CLERB Ordinance Passes; New Language Retains Subpoena Power


Worth Morgan
  • Worth Morgan
UPDATE (8/9/16, 7:33 p.m.): The Memphis City Council passed an ordinance retaining CLERB's subpoena power, but board members must subpoena through their council liaison. And those subpoenaed will appear before the Memphis City Council.


The issue of whether or not the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) should have the power to subpoena witnesses and documents in cases of police misconduct is up for its final vote today at Memphis City Council on Tuesday afternoon

But the ordinance's wording has changed to retain the citizen board's subpoena power through a city council liaison. An older revised version would have stripped the board of that indirect power completely, but Memphis United and the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center has put up a strong campaign against that change. According to the new language, which was introduced today by city council sponsor Worth Morgan, anyone subpoenaed would be compelled to attend a Memphis City Council meeting, which CLERB members would then attend. 

The original CLERB ordinance passed last year gave the board indirect subpoena power, but Morgan — also the CLERB council liaison — had recently introduced new language to remove that power, saying such power would violate the city charter. But Morgan has apparently worked out a compromise that retains the board's subpoena power but changes the meeting at which those subpoenaed would be compelled to attend.

The new language up for vote today reads: "In order to carry out its functions, the board is authorized to request through its Council liaison, a subpoena to effectuate an investigation or compel attendance by an officer or witness for a hearing before the Memphis City Council. Upon investigation and fact finding, the Council liaison shall present a resolution to the full City Council to obtain the requested subpoena. Should the Council liaison fail to support the request of the board for the subpoena within the next two council meetings following the date of the request, the board Chairperson may make a recommendation to the City Council Chair. In the event the Council fails to issue the requested subpoena, the board reserves the right to file a complaint with the local and state ethics commissions, Tennessee Human Rights Commissions, or the Department of Justice to investigate the case before the CLERB board."

The CLERB is a volunteer board tasked with hearing cases of police misconduct that were not sustained by the Memphis Police Department's own Internal Affairs complaint process. The board can recommend punishment for officers to the police director, but it cannot enforce penalties.

The CLERB was active from 1994 to 2011 but eventually fizzled out. The original board lacked power to subpoena witnesses and documents. However, last fall, the Memphis City Council voted to allow the board to indirectly subpoena officers and paperwork through the board's liaison on the council.

The Mid-South Peace & Justice Center sent out an email Monday night, thanking Morgan for his compromise.

"We would like to thank Councilman Worth Morgan for working with us to ensure that CLERB has the power and authority to provide accountable and transparent oversight of police to the people of Memphis, Tennessee," read the email.  

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