Case Numbers: C2300401, C2300402, C2300403, C2300404, C2300405
Court: Criminal Court of Shelby County, Tennessee, for the Thirtieth Judicial District at Memphis
Clients: Associated Press, The Daily Memphian, Memphis Publishing Co. (The Commercial Appeal), MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, Marc Perrusquia, The New York Times Company, CNN, WATN-TV/WLMT-TV
Motion to Intervene Filed: March 20, 2023
Background: After five former Memphis police officers were charged with the murder of Tyre Nichols, the Shelby County Criminal Court entered two separate “gag” orders preventing the release of certain information related to their criminal cases.
The first order, issued orally from the bench, prohibits Shelby County from disclosing the personnel file of one of the five former officers who had previously worked as a correctional officer for the county. The second order, issued in writing on March 8, 2023, prohibits the city of Memphis from releasing “videos, audio, reports, and personnel files of City of Memphis employees related to this indictment and investigation.” The March 8 order came after the city said that it planned to disclose additional video, audio, and other records related to the city’s administrative investigation into the death of Nichols.
On behalf of a media coalition, Paul McAdoo, the Reporters Committee’s Local Legal Initiative attorney for Tennessee, filed this motion to intervene to challenge both gag orders. The motion asks the Shelby County Criminal Court to enter an order that provides the press and public access to the recording of the hearing at which the court entered the verbal gag order, reduces the verbal gag order to writing, and vacates the gag orders. The media coalition also requests an expedited hearing on the motion to intervene.
Quote: “We urge the court to vacate the two gag orders issued in this case, which unconstitutionally restrict access to important information that could otherwise be released related to a case of significant public interest,” McAdoo said. “Such orders not only threaten the press and public’s First Amendment interests, but also hinder the transparency that’s essential to fostering trust in our judicial system.”
Update: On Nov. 2, 2023, Judge James Jones, Jr. rescinded two orders prohibiting the city of Memphis and Shelby County from releasing public records they provided to the district attorney in the prosecutions related to the killing of Tyre Nichols. The judge’s order means that the city and county may release the records, except for those identified by the district attorney and defense counsel as being “Garrity” material. Generally speaking, “Garrity” material in this context is likely to be statements made by the police officers during internal investigations under the threat of termination.
2023-03-20: Media coalition motion to intervene
2023-03-20: Exhibit A
2023-03-20: Exhibit B
2023-03-20: Exhibit C
2023-03-20: Exhibit D
2023-03-20: Exhibit E