State Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, says he will introduce legislation mandating thatTennessee Bureau of Investigation handle all fatal police-involved shootings statewide, reports the Commercial Appeal.
Such a proposal, though, causes consternation for advocates of open-government, since all TBI records are sealed by state law. Those advocates were joined by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and TBI Director Mark Gwyn, both of whom said they want such reports to be made available to the public.
“If that legislation is proposed, I want as part of that legislation to have a mechanism in there that those files can be opened,” Gwyn told The Commercial Appeal. “I think that that is what I’m going to request.”
Added Wharton: “The public has a right to hold us accountable. … How can they do that if they don’t know all the facts?”
Hardaway was prompted to introduce the bill by recent incidents in Ferguson and other cities where black citizens were killed by white police officers. The goal, he said, is to make certain that every shooting is investigated by an independent agency to remove any appearance of a conflict of interest. Typically, larger police departments such as Memphis and Nashville investigate their own shootings, although the TBI is often called in for smaller jurisdictions.
“What’s important is getting TBI in at the very beginning to take charge of the investigation,” Hardaway said. “We want to have that first phone call go out to TBI without any discussions between the D.A. and local law enforcement about whether a call needs to go out.”
On Monday, Shelby County Dist. Atty. Gen. Amy Weirich called in the TBI to handle the latest officer-involved shooting in Memphis. Late Friday night, Memphis police officer Connor Schilling shot and killed 19-year-old Darrius Stewart after a traffic stop. Schilling is white, Stewart black.