Blanchard et al. v. City of Memphis

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(Case 2:17-cv-02120-JPM-dkv, United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee – Western Division, Judge McCalla)

ACLU-TN Attorneys: Thomas H. Castelli, Mandy Strickland Floyd

Plaintiffs: ACLU of Tennessee, Inc.; Elaine Blanchard; Keedran Franklin; Paul Garner and Bradley Watkins

Defendants: City of Memphis

During the civil rights movement, Memphis police engaged in the questionable practice of gathering domestic intelligence on demonstrators and activists in an attempt to intimidate people from exercising their right to free speech and assembly. In a lawsuit filed in 1976 against the City of Memphis, the ACLU of Tennessee obtained the first court order in the nation forbidding the maintenance of domestic intelligence units that monitor the First Amendment activities of individuals. The order prohibits the “City of Memphis from engaging in law enforcement activities which interfere with any person’s rights protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

In early 2017, in response to an open records request, the City of Memphis released a list of people who must be escorted by police when visiting City Hall. The list included names of individuals who had participated in protests, rallies or other free speech activities in the city. Many of those listed had no criminal record or history of causing disturbances at City Hall.

On February 22, 2017, four of the individuals named on the recently disclosed police escort list filed suit in federal court, alleging that Memphis is in several possible violations of the consent decree. The individuals were represented by Bruce S. Kramer and Scott A. Kramer of Apperson Crump, PLC.

On March 2, 2017, ACLU-TN joined a lawsuit to enforce the 1978 consent decree and to put a stop to Memphis police surveilling protected First Amendment activities again. Our lawsuit asked the court to find the city in contempt of court for violating the consent decree and to put safeguards in place to ensure that the consent decree is followed in the future.

On October 26, 2018, the judge ruled that by engaging in surveillance of the protected political activities of activists and sharing information gathered with other law enforcement agencies and private companies, the Memphis police violated the 1978 consent decree.

Evidence collected during the case revealed that the Memphis police had engaged in extensive surveillance of individuals and organizations engaging in protected political speech, including creating a fake Facebook profile to “friend” protesters’ accounts and gain access to private messages; distributing “joint intelligence briefs” on protesters to the U.S. Military, the Department of Justice, the Tennessee Department of Homeland Security, AutoZone, FedEx, St. Jude’s and more; and sending officers to covertly monitor protests and community events like church services, a tree planting ceremony in memory of a teen killed by Memphis police and a Black-owned food truck festival.

The court ruled that the city failed to train its officers on “political intelligence” as defined and forbidden by the 1978 consent decree. This failure led to a “shared misunderstanding of the Decree’s requirements and a significant number of violations.” The court imposed sanctions “designed to ensure future compliance” with the consent decree, including requirements that the Memphis police department revise their policy on political intelligence, train officers, establish a process for approving criminal investigations that may incidentally result in gathering political intelligence, establish written guidelines for the use of social media searches, maintain a list of all search terms used in social media collators and submit the list to the court quarterly. The court also appointed an independent monitor to supervise the implementation of these sanctions.

Related Documents

Legal Documents

Order (October 26, 2018)

Response in Opposition to The City’s Motion for Relief from Judgement or Order (October 9, 2018)

Post Trial Brief on the Issue of Standing (September 24, 2018)

Plaintiff’s Post-Trial Brief on the Merits (September 14, 2018)

Order Granting in Part and Denying In Part The ACLU-TN’s Motion For Summary Judgment and Order Denying the City’s Motion For Summary Judgment On The Issue Of Contempt
(August 10, 2018)

Order Denying City of Memphis Motion for Summary Judgment On the Issue of Standing (July 30, 2018)

ACLU of Tennessee Motion for Summary Judgment (July 24, 2018)

ACLU of Tennessee Memo in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment (July 24, 2018)

ACLU of Tennessee Statement of Facts (July 24, 2018)

ACLU of Tennessee Motion for Summary Judgment – Exhibits A-M (July 24, 2018)

ACLU of Tennessee Motion for Summary Judgment – Exhibits N-X (July 24, 2018)

ACLU of Tennessee Motion for Summary Judgment – Exhibits Y-HH (July 24, 2018)

ACLU of Tennessee Motion for Summary Judgment – Exhibits II-SS (July 24, 2018)

ACLU of Tennessee Motion for Summary Judgment – Depositions (July 24, 2018)

ACLU of Tennessee Motion to Intervene (March 2, 2017)

Blanchard v. City of Memphis Complaint (February 22, 2017)


Timeline of Memphis’ history of government surveillance in relation to the 1976 Kendrick v. Chandler lawsuit (March 2, 2017)

Press Releases

Judge Rules That Memphis Police Spying Violates 1978 Court Order (October 26, 2018)

ACLU of Tennessee Joins Lawsuit Challenging Memphis Police Spying on Political Groups (March 2, 2017)

In the News

Opinion: The Memphis Police Spied on Activists,” The New York Times (August 22, 2018)

The long, sordid history of law enforcement spying on Black Lives Matter,” The Daily Dot (August 16, 2018)

Editorial: City must stop spying (again) on citizen protesters,” The Commercial Appeal (August 13, 2018)

Courts to Memphis: No, Spying on Protesters Is Not Good Police Work,” City Lab (August 13, 2018)

How Memphis Police Created an Undercover Operation to Spy on Black Lives Matter Activists,” The Root (August 11, 2018)

ACLU wins favorable ruling from judge in advance of Memphis police spying trial,” The Commercial Appeal (August 10, 2018)

Memphis: Spying on Activists Is Just Good Police Work,” City Lab (August 9, 2018)

Do I Know You? US Police Created Facebook Profiles to Spy on Black Activists,” Sputnik News, Russia (August 6, 2018)

Editorial: Police Surveillance Requires Oversight,” The Daily News, Memphis (August 4, 2018)

“Meet ‘Bob Smith,’ the Fake Facebook Profile Memphis Police Allegedly Used to Spy on Black Activists,” The Appeal (August 2, 2018)

Memphis police accused of making fake social media accounts to spy on Black Lives Matter,” The Hill (August 2, 2018)

“Memphis police accused of using fake accounts to surveil black activists,” The Guardian (August 1, 2018)

“Police Documents Show Protest Spreadsheet and Fear of ‘Radicals,’” The Daily News, Memphis (July 31, 2018)

“Memphis Police Collected Black Lives Matter Activists’ Private Facebook Posts,” The Appeal (July 27, 2018)

“Memphis Police Spying on Activists Is Worse Than We Thought,” City Lab (July 27, 2018)

“ACLU Accuses Memphis Police of Monitoring the Private Communications of Black Lives Matter Activists,” Reason (July 27, 2018)

“The Evolution of Domestic Spying Since MLK in Memphis,” City Lab (April 9, 2018)

2019-10-02T12:25:50-05:00 July 25th, 2018|Categories: Docket|Tags: |