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Perrusquia v. The City of Memphis

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  1. Local Legal Initiative

Case Number: CH-22-0595

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: April 26, 2022

Background: In December 2020, journalist Marc Perrusquia filed three separate Tennessee Public Records Act requests with the city of Memphis for the records of three current or former Memphis Police Department officers who had been subject to disciplinary proceedings: Colin Berryhill, Eric Kelly and Justin Vazeii. Perrusquia specifically asked for the officers’ “Performance Improvement Plans,” records in which the officer, their supervisor and their work station commander agree upon a course of action to improve the officer’s job performance.

Two of the officers — Berryhill and Kelly — had been the subject of internal investigations for alleged excessive use of force on the job, while Vazeii had been investigated for violating other MPD rules.

In February 2021, the city of Memphis denied Perrusquia’s records requests, claiming that the records were exempt from disclosure under Tennessee’s public records law.

On behalf of Perrusquia, Paul McAdoo, the Reporters Committee’s Local Legal Initiative attorney in Tennessee, filed this lawsuit against the city of Memphis for access to the requested documents, arguing that the Performance Improvement Plans are indeed public records subject to disclosure. The lawsuit asks the court to order the city to turn over the requested records and require it to pay Perrusquia’s attorney’s fees and costs because the city willfully refused to release records that they knew were public.

Quote: “We think it’s … important to understand how law enforcement agencies try to help officers when they’re struggling, and these records would help show how the city of Memphis did or did not try and help these three officers,” Paul McAdoo, RCFP’s Local Legal Initiative attorney in Tennessee, told the Daily Memphian.

Related: McAdoo previously 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.

Filings: 

2022-04-26: Petition for access to public records

2022-04-26: Memorandum in support of petition for access to public records