Federal Judge Rules MPD Violated Consent Decree by Spying on Activists

Local News

A federal judge has ruled the Memphis Police Department violated a 1978 consent decree between the ACLU of Tennessee and City of Memphis by spying on political activists.

Judge Jon McCalla issued the ruling saying Memphis Police officers must be held to a higher standard.

The decision came after a trial this summer revealed MPD conducted extensive surveillance of individuals and organizations by creating a fake Facebook profile.

The court listed seven violations that are forbidden by the 1978 consent decree, including conducting “political intelligence” and intercepting electronic communications through a fake Facebook account.

Judge McCalla’s ruling requires Memphis Police do a number of things including better training for officers on rules of the consent decree. The department must also revise its definition of” political intelligence,” and create written guidelines for the use of social media searches.

 To make sure MPD follows orders McCalla is requiring an independent monitor. 

Memphis Police Director Mike Rallings released this statement after the ruling:

The Memphis Police Department has been proactive in our approach by putting methods in place, prior to the ruling, to ensure that we stay within the limits of the decree. 

We look forward to working with the court to ensure compliance. 

The City of Memphis provided a statement regarding the ruling stating:

 Prior to the bench trial, the City of Memphis voluntarily took steps to make sure the Memphis Police Department (MPD) is following the 40-year-old consent decree.  MPD now has a strict protocol for initiating an investigation that would require an officer to monitor social media platforms—and did so, well before this ruling.  The Court believes that we can do better, and we agree.

The Court noted that the violation of the consent decree was not intentional but stems from a “shared misunderstanding rather than political favoritism.”  It also points out that officers have demonstrated their dedication to protecting First Amendment rights.

While our police department continues nationally accepted best practices in policing to ensure public safety, we have no objection to working with the ACLU of West Tennessee Inc. on choosing a Court ordered monitor to ensure MPD remains in compliance with the consent decree providing safety for our citizen and protecting their privacy.

Ursula Madden

Chief Communications Officer

City of Memphis

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