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Perrusquia v. The City of Memphis

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  1. Freedom of Information

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.”

Filings:

2021-02-23: Petition for access to public records

2021-02-23: Memorandum of law in support of 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