A representative with the Memphis Police Department (MPD) said Tuesday that the three
officers involved in last week’s shooting of Martavious Banks either had malfunctioning cameras or they switched them off.
Deputy Director James Ryall told a Memphis City Council committee that before each shift, officers are supposed to test their body cameras to ensure they are functioning properly, and if not, then they are required to swap it for a camera that works.
Council member Jamita Swearengen said this means that officers should never be on duty with cameras that aren’t working, but Ryall said a fight or tussle could have occurred, switching the cameras off before the Banks’ shooting. This situation “could be the outlier,” he said.
Still, Swearengen said both the body cameras and the car dash cameras of all three officers shouldn’t have been malfunctioning at the same time.
Chairman Berlin Boyd agreed, saying that it seems unlikely for multiple officers to have equipment that didn’t work.
“I’m just curious as to what transpired,” Boyd asked. “What could have happened? I could see if it was one officer, but I can’t see how it would happen to several officers. That’s kind of puzzling to me that all of the officers cameras weren’t working.”
Boyd said the city spent nearly $7 million dollars on cameras and $4.5 million for video storage in order to move toward transparency.
“Let me speak from the banker's perspective,” Boyd said. “We gave you guys taxpayers’ dollars and if the system is malfunctioning, we need to have a real hard, robust discussion.”
Boyd suggested that MPD might need to implement a system that doesn’t allow officers to control their own cameras. Instead, the cameras would remain on throughout the officers’ shifts.
To date, MPD reports that 53 incidents of officers turning off their cameras have occured since the system was instituted about two years ago. Answering a question posed by several council members, Ryall said the disciplinary actions for those officers can range from a verbal warning to termination, depending on the situation.
Swearengen raised the question of why the department’s policy allows officers under investigation to be paid. Ryall said there was a due process that must take place, and that before any infraction is discovered officers “get the benefit of the doubt.”
Councilwoman Patrice Robinson echoed Swearengen’s sentiment, saying that there needs to be a policy in place that involves disciplinary actions toward officers during the investigation.
This discussion followed Councilman Edmund Ford’s introduction of a resolution requiring the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to immediately investigate all serious injuries resulting from an officer-involved shooting and not just fatal shootings.
The legislation would be a joint resolution of the council and Shelby County Commission. Commissioner Tami Sawyer, who was present at the meeting, said the legislation would “make sure that justice and equality exists in our policies” and that “investigations are handled with swift justice.”
Ford said the legislation should be drafted when the council meets again in two weeks.