How Independent Is TN Probe Of Memphis Officer’s Killing Young Black Man?


On a Monday afternoon in mid-July, Memphis police director Toney Armstrong and local prosecutor Amy Weirich announced that the investigation into the fatal shooting of a 19-year-old by a Memphis police officer would be turned over to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI). Three days earlier, Darrius Stewart, a young black man, had been shot and killed by Connor Schilling, a white police officer, after a traffic stop. “I’m aware that this incident is on the forefront of media coverage,” said police director Toney Armstrong,, “and I’m equally aware of the national sentiment and the appearance of this shooting: a Caucasian police officer shoots and kills an African-American male, reports the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

How independent was the investigation? The TBI was called in three days after the shooting. By that time Memphis police had already interviewed witnesses and collected evidence from the scene, including swabbing the patrol car. “When you come in late on an investigation, you’re not privy to certain things,” TBI Director Mark Gwyn acknowledged. “You’re not privy to the original crime scene. Those are obstacles that we will overcome.” Schilling refused to to talk to state investigators, and now the U.S. Department of Justice is reviewing the case. In other states, independent investigations into police shootings are routine, and once the reviews are complete, the files are public record. In 2014, Wisconsin enacted a law requiring at least two outside investigators to investigate officer-involved deaths. The investigators cannot work for the agency that employed the officer involved in the death. The investigators must provide a report to the county’s district attorney. If the DA decides not to prosecute the officer, the investigators must release the report.

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