MEMPHIS, Tenn — Six candidates in the 2023 Memphis mayoral race took to the stage at Memphis Music Room on Monday, September 11, for a debate hosted by ABC24.
The debate covered school board issues, the process and motives behind releasing video after fatal incidents involving law enforcement, downtown businesses and more. Let's verify four major claims made by the candidates during the debate.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), the Shelby County District Attorney’s office, the Memphis Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Memphis Commission and previous information shared by Memphis Shelby County Schools (MSCS).
Is releasing body camera footage against state law?
Our first verify check relates to the March video release of Gershun Freeman, a Shelby County jail inmate who died in custody last October after an altercation with corrections officers.
During Monday's debate, Sheriff Floyd Bonner said, "The other DA [Glenn Funk] decided to, against state law, in my opinion, to release those tapes [of Gershun Freeman jail incident] and release those tapes to the public."
WHAT WE FOUND
Tennessee state law dictates that most TBI investigative records are confidential (T. C. A. § 10-7-504).
However, state law does provide for the release of TBI investigative records in investigations of fatal officer-involved shootings that occur on or after May 4, 2017 (T. C. A. § 38-8-311).
This is misleading. While it is Sheriff Bonner’s opinion that it’s against state law, according to a Shelby County spokesperson, the DA has the discretion to release video footage of an officer-involved shooting death, and law enforcement can release video footage of an incident that resulted in death at their discretion.
School board member Michelle McKissack claimed this about the handling of Joris Ray's scandal and the search for his replacement:
"I'm one of nine. I was leading at a time where you have to build some consensus."
Yes, this claim is true, but it needs context. While McKissack was the school board chair and needed a consensus of eight others, many of the details, under her leadership as chair, about why the board made its decision to pay Dr. Ray a nearly $500,000 severance were never shared publicly.
Was the New Daisy not operational until the Downtown Memphis Commission took over?
Candidate J.W. Gibson called out Paul Young's leadership as president of the Downtown Memphis Commission.
"Big projects have failed under your leadership, like Lowes Hotel and Grand Hyatt, and the future of 100 North Main is questionable," Gibson said. "And Beale Street has a lot of vacancies."
Young responded in kind to Gibson.
"You would definitely know about vacancies on Beale Street being that you were the person that owned New Daisy for many years and kept it in a vacant and blighted position until we reclaimed that property," Young said.
Yes, the new daisy was vacant for nearly four years. A DMC spokesperson said it closed its doors in December of 2018 and didn't reopen until January of 2023. It is now an event rental space sporadically hosting multiple events for both private businesses and nonprofits.
As for Gibson's claim about the Grand Hyatt?
While the hotel project is delayed indefinitely, it's largely because of a funding gap between the primary private developer and an incentive package.