City Loses Appeal on 'Beale Street Sweep'

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Early-morning sweeps of Beale Street are (still) unconstitutional, so says an appeals court ruling issued Monday that upholds an earlier ruling on the matter.

The original ruling against the “Beale Street Sweep” came in 2015 from District Judge Jon Phipps McCalla of the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee at Memphis. The city appealed this ruling. That appeal was shot down in a decision Monday from the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, Ohio.

In 2012, a Memphis Police Department (MPD) officer, Lakendus Cole, was leaving a Beale Street night club. He was arrested because he refused to leave the street when police officers told him to move, as a part of what became known as the “Beale Street Sweep.”

The practice had MPD officers remove visitors from Beale Street and its sidewalks at around 3 a.m. on weekends. A court later added to the definition of the Beale Street Sweep that it was done “without consideration of whether conditions throughout the Beale Street area pose on existing, imminent, or immediate threat to public safety.” The city said it ended the practice around June 2012.

Cole was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting stop/arrest, and vandalism over $500. Court papers said “officers pressed Cole against a squad car with enough force to make two dents.”

Among other things, a jury found that the Beale Street Sweep violated Cole’s constitutionally protected right to intrastate travel, the right to “travel locally through public spaces and roadways.” The city argued against this, noting that the sweep does not infringe on intrastate travel and “even if it does, the infringement is slight and, therefore, should be reviewed.”

The jury also found that the Beale Street Sweep was the cause of his arrest and that on that night in 2012, conditions on the street did not pose an existing, imminent, or immediate threat to public safety. The city argued against this, too, noting that the sweep was, indeed, a public safety procedure.

Charges against Cole were dropped and he was awarded $35,000 in damages.

After the trial, the court granted the suit from Cole and another plaintiff, Leon Edmund, class-action status, meaning the suit could be opened up to “all persons who have been removed from Beale Street” as part of the Beale Street Sweep.

The city argued the court should not have admitted the class action suit because it would be impossible to identify all of the potential plaintiffs.


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