Otha Thurmond, 93 year-old man, Brutally Slammed & Arrested By MPD
MSPJC fought long and hard to re-establish Memphis’ Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) in 2015, to review cases when complainants aren’t satisfied with the investigation handled by MPD’s Internal Affairs. Prior to this, the only chance a person had at holding an officer accountable for misconduct was to file a complaint with MPD’s Internal Affairs, a process that amounts to police policing the police.
Even with the stronger ordinance, CLERB’s power is limited to making recommendations to the Police Director for policy and disciplinary action, but to date, Mayor Jim Strickland’s appointed police director, Michael Rallings, has shrugged off any recommendations from CLERB, refusing to even take a second look at the cases. This is frustrating to be sure, and has left many asking the question: “If MPD doesn’t have to follow CLERB’s recommendations, what’s it all for?”
This is a valid question, and there is much more work to be done to demand more from a Mayor that ran for office, in part, on police accountability and included CLERB in his campaign platform. However, it doesn’t mean that CLERB isn’t important.
Take October’s case for instance, that of 93 year-old (91 at the time of the incident), Otha Thurmond, a pillar in his South Memphis Neighborhood, was was brutally manhandled by officers and arrested. The incident occured while officers were responding to an unrelated call. Mr. Thurmond was out walking the block, as he was known to do on a daily basis, checking on things going on in the neighborhood, talking to residents, road crews, etc, and approached the officers to ask what was going on. The footage speaks for itself. The officers told him it was none of his business, told him they didn’t like him walking around with the walking stick that he used to ward off stray dogs and clear debris from sidewalks. Then as Mr. Thurmond appears to say, “you can have…[inaudible]” while holding the stick, one of the officers slammed Mr. Thurmond onto the hood of his squad car, twisted his arms behind his back, cuffed him, and placed him under arrest. Until that point, Mr. Thurmond had never even received a traffic ticket. The charges were dropped against Mr. Thurmond, and the officers involved received one day suspension, and were required to participate in some sort of sensitivity training.
The footage of what happened to Mr. Thurmond is hard to watch, but we never would have seen it without CLERB. In our experience MPD charges upwards of $300 to get a copy of such footage. Since the re-establishment of CLERB, Memphians have had the opportunity to observe dozens of cases, and view body camera footage of police misconduct incidents that would have never seen the light of day without the forum provided by CLERB. In this case, CLERB ruled in favor of Mr. Thurmond, and plan to issue a letter of apology to him for the pain and suffering he’s had to endure.
That may seem small, but over time, as more and more cases are heard, patterns will emerge that provide the data needed to push for larger reforms around police accountability and transparency. In the meantime we can all do a few things to help us get there.
Attend CLERB meetings and bear witness to the process.
Call your Mayor (901.636.6000) and City Council (901.636.6786), and demand that they take steps to support CLERB, and greater accountability and transparency for law enforcement.
Don’t be discouraged. The wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine.