Victim of Illegal Police Surveilance Talks 40 Years Later

MEMPHIS - As the City of Memphis filed a motion Wednesday to block the Tennessee ACLU from joining one of two recent lawsuits over the controversial City Hall security list, the Local I-Team spoke with the man who uncovered a secret Memphis police surveillance program back in 1976. 

Current court battles over the controversial Memphis City Hall security list harken back about forty years ago when Vietnam Veteran turned war protester Eric Carter discovered he was the target of a secret list and police surveillance.

"I firmly believe people who are exercising their constitutional duty to speak out and to address problems with their government ought to be celebrated, and Memphis has a history of the opposite," Carter said.

Carter spoke with the Local I-Team, via Facetime, during a personal vacation in Mexico because he considers police surveillance critical.

He said an undercover Memphis police officer who Carter believed was his friend had been secretly monitoring him and keeping a file for police while Carter was a student at the University of Memphis (at the time known as Memphis State).

"It was extremely shocking," Carter said. 

Carter claims the officer said he was just one of many on a list. The discovery and Carter's request for his surveillance file triggered a lawsuit and eventually the 1978 court decree prohibiting police from certain non-criminal surveillance.

Carter says it also brought the wrath of then Memphis Mayor Wyeth Chandler who called him in at law school in Houston.

"[He was] essentially asking me if I was going to sue him and the city and did I understand  how that would  adversely affect my attendance at law school," Carter said.

Though Carter never filed suit against the mayor or city, he claims he faced expulsion until a law school dean stepped in. 

Now a successful attorney with two sons who are both judges, Carter warns against lasting negative effects from government lists.

"It is almost like a scarlet letter and as these folks go on with their lives and they do other things they carry a burden of condemnation. That is undeserved."

Carter's discovery of surveillance and request for his file from police led to the eventual discovery of a secret domestic intelligence unit inside MPD. It also triggered a lawsuit and resulted in a 1978 consent decree that prohibits police from surveillance due to a person's beliefs, associations or, free speech.

That same decree is forty years later at the heart of two lawsuits against the city. Last Thursday, the city admitted 58 people were on the security list in error though it denied the list was politically motivated.

Today's filings by the City demonstrate it continues to fight both lawsuits in court.


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