Case Number: CH-21-0196
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: Feb. 23, 2021
Background: In July 2020, journalist Marc Perrusquia submitted a public records request to the city of Memphis seeking body camera footage from three separate incidents of alleged use of excessive force by city police officer Colin Berryhill. The Memphis Police Department had reviewed the video footage while conducting an administrative investigation into the incidents and concluded that the officer’s use of a taser violated the police department’s excessive force and taser policies.
The city denied Perrusquia’s request, stating that “no responsive records exist at this time due to an Administrative investigation,” despite the fact that the city said in a publicly released case summary that the investigation had, in fact, been closed.
Perrusquia, a veteran Memphis journalist whose reporting has examined use of force by MPD officers, challenged the city’s response, asking for a legal basis for the denial. On behalf of Perrusquia, Paul McAdoo, the Reporters Committee’s Local Legal Initiative attorney in Tennessee, wrote a letter to the city’s chief legal counsel, Jennifer Sink, requesting access to the officer’s bodycam footage. In a phone call, Sink said the requested records were exempt from disclosure because the MPD’s administrative investigation could possibly lead to criminal charges against the officer and was therefore exempt under a state rule of criminal procedure. This lawsuit followed.
Perrusquia’s petition claims that the city’s refusal to provide Perrusquia with the requested bodycam footage violated the Tennessee Public Records Act. The lawsuit argues that there is no exemption for municipal administrative investigations and that none of the body camera-specific exemptions apply. The petition also argues that state rule of criminal procedure does not make the requested records exempt from production under the Tennessee Public Records Act because there is no pending or contemplated criminal action against the officer.
Beyond requesting that the court order the city to disclose the bodycam videos, the journalist is seeking a declaratory judgment that all of the requested records are public under the state’s public records law and that the city violated the law by failing to disclose them.
Quote: “The City of Memphis’s refusal to release the bodycam footage requested by our client raises serious transparency concerns,” McAdoo said. “Public access to police bodycam footage is a crucial aspect of police accountability.”
Update: After Perrusquia filed his suit, the city of Memphis issued a new written policy that all administrative investigations in which a Memphis police officer is found to have used excessive force will now be referred to the Shelby County District Attorney. That policy change, along with the city’s decision to produce the requested public records at no cost, prompted Perrusquia to dismiss the case in May 2021.
2021-02-23: Petition for access to public records
2021-02-23: Exhibit A
2021-02-23: Exhibit B
2021-02-23: Exhibit C
2021-02-23: Exhibit D
2021-02-23: Exhibit E
2021-02-23: Exhibit F
2021-02-23: Exhibit G
2021-02-23: Exhibit H
2021-02-23: Exhibit I
2021-02-23: Exhibit J
2021-05-06: Notice of voluntary dismissal
2021-05-11: Order of voluntary dismissal