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Press Release

U.S. Attorney Kevin Ritz Delivers Remarks for DOJ Pattern or Practice Investigation of the City of Memphis and the Memphis Police Department

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Tennessee

Remarks as Delivered

Good morning.

I want to thank Assistant Attorney General Clarke for coming here to Memphis to continue what I believe is a crucial, community-wide conversation about civil rights in our city.

This morning, Assistant Attorney General Clarke and I met with the Mayor, the Chief of Police, and other City of Memphis officials to discuss what this pattern or practice investigation would entail.  I want to say that our office will be a partner with the Civil Rights Division during this investigation.

As we proceed, we are committed to engaging in a conversation with people across the entire city to answer questions and let the community know what they can expect.  This includes residents, community groups, police officers, city officials, and faith and civil rights leaders.

Here’s the thing: public safety requires public trust in law enforcement.  The police officers who risk their lives every day in the line of duty need the public to trust them. Community trust makes policing more effective and less dangerous for both officers and the people they protect.

To build and maintain that trust, law enforcement must conduct themselves constitutionally and lawfully.  Citizens, including the people of this great city, deserve constitutional and lawful policing.

In my 18 years as a federal prosecutor here in Memphis, I’ve had the opportunity to work with public servants and community leaders who are dedicated to addressing the root causes of crime in our city – people who understand that as government, our first responsibility is to protect our citizens.  That means to protect them from crime, and it also means to protect their civil rights.

I want to be clear: while the pattern or practice investigation is underway, you can still expect our team of federal prosecutors to continue to take on tough cases – whether those involve violent crime, drug trafficking, illegal guns, national security, hate crimes, or holding people in authority accountable.

That work will continue, and we will continue to partner with law enforcement agencies at the federal, state, and local level to vigorously enforce the criminal laws.  That’s a core piece of the Department’s mission.

It is also a core piece of the Department’s mission to ensure that the constitutional and federal statutory rights of all people are protected.  Pattern or practice investigations help us fulfill that responsibility.  This civil pattern or practice investigation is and will remain separate from our office’s criminal investigations and prosecutions.

It is also separate from the technical assistance being provided by the Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS Office.  Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta announced in March that the COPS Office, through its Collaborative Reform Initiative Technical Assistance Center, would be providing technical assistance related to MPD’s use of force and de-escalation practices, as well as its use of specialized units.  That work will continue in the immediate term while the separate pattern or practice investigation is ongoing.

As I’ve said often, in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, my colleagues and I uphold the rule of law, protect civil rights, and keep Americans safe.  That work is predicated on the principle that there is only one rule of law.  There can’t be one rule of law for the powerful and another for the powerless.  There can’t be one rule of law for the rich and another for the poor.  And there can’t be one rule of law for people who look like me and another for people of color.

And as much as I believe most of our partners in law enforcement work diligently and bravely under that same guiding principle, we as a community cannot afford to be silent if there are those who aren’t upholding that standard.

And so, I welcome this opportunity to let the facts lead in what I know will be an ongoing and important discussion about civil rights in our city. Together we can build a stronger Memphis—a Memphis that protects the safety and civil rights of all.

Updated July 27, 2023