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Perrusquia v. Bonner

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  1. Local Legal Initiative

Case Number: CH-22-0820

Court: The Chancery Court of Shelby County, Tennessee, for the Thirtieth Judicial District at Memphis

Client: Marc Perrusquia

Petition for Access to Public Records Filed: June 6, 2022

Background: In 2020, journalist Marc Perrusquia submitted public records requests to the Shelby County sheriff’s office and Shelby County district attorney general seeking records related to a 2018 altercation at a county jail involving Memphis Police Department officer Brandon Jenkins and detainee Nechoe Lucas. Among the records sought in the request was video footage captured by a camera mounted at the Sally Port, an area where detainees are processed prior to being admitted into the jail.

Perrusquia filed his records requests after he learned through previous requests that video footage from the Sally Port showed Officer Jenkins kicking and punching Lucas in the face while Lucas’s wrists were handcuffed to a chair. The incident was the subject of an administrative investigation by the police department and a criminal investigation by the sheriff’s office. But only the sheriff’s office forwarded its case file to the district attorney’s office, which ultimately declined to prosecute the officer. (The police department suspended Jenkins for 17 days for using excessive/unnecessary force, violations of administrative regulations. Lucas pled guilty to misdemeanor assault for his part in the altercation.)

The sheriff’s office and the district attorney’s office both denied Perrusquia’s requests for the video footage. The sheriff’s office claimed an exemption for security footage, while the district attorney’s office claimed that it did not retain a copy of the materials sent to it by the sheriff.

On behalf of Perrusquia, Paul McAdoo, the Reporters Committee’s Local Legal Initiative attorney in Tennessee, filed this lawsuit against both law enforcement offices, arguing that the requested records, including the Sally Port video, are public records that are not exempt from disclosure under the Tennessee Public Records Act. The lawsuit also alleges that the district attorney’s office failed to retain the sheriff’s case file, including the Sally Port footage, after receiving it from the sheriff’s office, as is required under the Public Records Act.

The lawsuit asks the court to grant a declaratory judgment in favor of Perrusquia and order the sheriff’s office and the district attorney’s office to immediately provide the journalist with copies of the Sally Port footage. The suit also seeks an injunction against the district attorney’s office to require it to retain records it reviews in making charging decisions in the future.

Quote: “[T]here’s much more at stake here than just a video,” Perrusquia wrote about his lawsuit. “If successful, my suit could enhance the public’s ability to review decisions to not charge officers, exposing injustices when they exist but also allowing fuller examination of the complications these cases often present.”

Related: In 2021, McAdoo represented Perrusquia in a public records case seeking access to body camera footage from three separate incidents of alleged use of excessive force by officer Berryhill. Perrusquia later dismissed the case after the city disclosed the requested records, which the journalist used to report on Berryhill’s repeated use of excessive force and police agencies’ troubling habit of heavily editing bodycam footage they release to the public. The city also issued a new written policy stating that all administrative investigations in which a Memphis police officer is found to have used excessive force will now be referred to the district attorney.

In April 2022, McAdoo once again sued the city of Memphis on behalf of Perrusquia, this time for access to records documenting how the Memphis Police Department supports officers through its Performance Enhancement Program. The case is ongoing.

Filings:

2022-06-06: Petition for access to public records

2022-06-06: Memorandum of law in support of petition for access to public records