Updated Jul 27, 2023 - Politics & Policy

DOJ opens civil rights investigation into Memphis Police Department

The Department of Justice's seal on a podium.

Photo: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Department of Justice is investigating the Memphis Police Department (MPD) to determine if it has a pattern or practice of committing systemic violations of the Constitution or federal law, it announced Thursday.

Why it matters: The new investigation is separate but related to the DOJ's investigation into the MPD's use-of-force and de-escalation policies after the death of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man​ who was fatally beaten by former MPD officers.

  • The DOJ is also investigating whether Nichols' civil rights were violated during his fatal encounter with police officers, which began with a traffic stop.
  • Five former MPD officers have pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping and other charges over Nichols' death.
  • MPD Police Chief Cerelyn Davis has previously said that video footage of the stop, which includes graphic, violent content, did not contain any evidence that officers had probable cause to pull Nichols over.

Driving the news: The new investigation will focus more broadly on MPD's "use of force and its stops, searches and arrests, as well as whether it engages in discriminatory policing," according to the announcement.

  • It will in part interview Memphis residents to learn about their experiences with the police department.
  • The DOJ said Davis, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and the city's interim Chief Legal Officer Michael Fletcher have promised to cooperate with the probe.

What they're saying: Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, said that public and private information prompted the probe.

  • A review indicated that the MPD "may be using an approach to street enforcement that can result in violations of federal law, including racially discriminatory stops of Black people for minor violations."
  • "Unlawful policing undermines community trust, which is essential to public safety," Clarke said.

The big picture: Previous DOJ civil rights investigations into the Minneapolis Police Department and Louisville Police Department found that both had violated the Constitution and federal law and had engaged in patterns of unlawful racial discrimination and excessive force.

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