Thursday, April 14, 2016

Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board Hears First Case

Posted By on Thu, Apr 14, 2016 at 4:58 PM

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Memphian Larry Brown said Memphis Police officer Steven Brooks dragged him off his Whitehaven porch and slammed him onto the hood of a squad car on June 26th last year during a routine police visit regarding Brown's son, who was in juvenile custody.

Brown recounted his story to the city's Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) on Thursday afternoon at Memphis City Hall. It was the first case CLERB has heard since the Memphis City Council passed an ordinance last year that gave the previously dormant board more teeth. CLERB is an independent board with authority to investigate citizen complaints of police misconduct. The board doesn't have the authority to punish officers, but it can make recommendations of action to the Memphis Police Department.

CLERB heard testimony from Brown and his daughter for more than an hour before members asked the public to leave so they could deliberate about the case in executive session. City attorney Allan Wade later told the Commercial Appeal that asking the public to leave for the deliberation portion of the meeting violated the open meetings law.

According to Brown, Brooks and another Memphis Police officer, Sean Blevins, arrived at his home at 4094 Grantham at 1:30 a.m. on Friday, June 26th. At the time, Brown said he was sitting in a car in his driveway with his 20-year-old daughter listening to music and watching YouTube videos. Brown's son had been in trouble with the police earlier in the day and was in juvenile custody. 

Brown said his daughter noticed a police car had pulled up to the house, and Brown got out to greet them. His daughter stayed in the car. He said Brooks asked to speak with Brown's wife. Brown told the officer that his wife was asleep and said he could talk with him instead. 

Brown said Brooks then "got irate" and grabbed him by the arms, twisted them behind his back, dragged him to the patrol car, and slammed him onto the hood. Brown said he couldn't remember when back-up officer Blevins showed up to the scene, but he said he had no complaint with that officer, calling Blevins' demeanor "cordial." However, he said Brooks became combative as soon as Brown refused to wake his wife.

"He said if I said something else, he was going to take my black ass to jail," Brown told the board. The officer in question — Brooks — is black. Blevins is white.

Brown said the officers were at his house to inform his wife that she needed to pick their son up from juvenile court in the morning, but he suspected that, since he and his son have different last names (his son and wife have the same last name), that they didn't understand that he was the father. Eventually, Brown, while still being held against the hood of the police car, yelled for his daughter, who was still sitting in their car in the driveway, to wake up the wife.

Brown wasn't charged with anything. CLERB members grilled Brown for nearly an hour, and they also interviewed his daughter, who witnessed the interaction from inside the car where they'd both been sitting before the police arrived. CLERB board chair Ralph White asked Brown if he'd been drinking that night, and Brown admitted that he'd had a beer earlier in the day, around 3 or 4 p.m. He said he wasn't drunk during the police interaction. He did admit, however, that when he went to the police precinct to file a citizen complaint against Brooks later that week, he was sent home because his breath smelled like alcohol. Brown said he'd drank the night before he went to file, but he claimed he wasn't still drunk that morning.

After hearing Brown's story, the public was dismissed from the meeting so the CLERB could go into executive session to discuss the case. A conclusion had not been reached at the time of his posting.

CLERB, which has been in place since 1994 but inactive since 2011, investigates complaints of force, verbal abuse, harassment, arrest, illegal search or entry, intimidation, improper firearm use, or other issues with police.

Last November, the city council voted to give the board indirect subpoena power. The board was previously unable to require that police officers involved in a case appear before the board. They also could not require the city to hand over documents pertaining to a case. But the up-to-date CLERB ordinance gives the board the ability to subpoena officers and documents through a Memphis City Council liaison. 

The CLERB ordinance also allows for the hiring of an investigator and an administrator to oversee investigations into alleged police misconduct. Since CLERB is an all-volunteer board, its previous incarnation was unable to put enough time into investigations.

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