Judge Puts Brakes on ‘Beale Street Sweep’


(CN) – Police can no longer clear people from famed Beale Street in downtown Memphis without reason, a federal judge ruled.
     Memphis police officer Lakendus Cole and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives special agent Leon Edmond filed a class action against the City of Memphis, challenging the constitutionality of the “Beale Street Sweep.”
     They define the practice as “the policy, procedure, custom, or practice by which police officers of the Memphis Police Department order all persons to immediately leave the sidewalks and street on Beale Street when there are no circumstances present which threaten the safety of the public or MPD police officers,” according to court documents.
     Cole and Edmond allege the Beale Street Sweep usually occurs during the early morning weekend hours and creates a confrontational environment. Cole says he was assaulted and arrested while he was off duty during one of the sweeps
     . Edmonds claims he was once placed under arrest on Beale Street before being released when his boss arrived on the scene.
     The city says it stopped ordering people off Beale Street in June 2012 but a jury found in January that the practice continued on or after that date. The jury awarded Cole $35,000 in damages for false arrest and excessive force, but found that Edmond’s arrest was not unlawful and did not award him any damages.
     U.S. District Judge Jon McCalla ruled earlier this month that the City of Memphis violated the constitutional rights of thousands who were subjected to the Beale Street Sweep. The judge banned the practice and ordered the removal of signage on Beale Street saying the street will be cleared at 3 a.m.
     “The court finds that sufficient evidence exists that the Beale Street Sweep is a continuing practice of the city and that class members continue to be at risk of the deprivation of their constitutional rights,” McCalla wrote. “The Beale Street Sweep is in practice not narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling government interest … accordingly, the court finds that the Beale Street Sweep is an unconstitutional custom that satisfies the requirements for establishing municipal liability.”
     Memphis police are also ordered to inform its officers via bulletin that the Beale Street Sweep is unconstitutional and to train them accordingly. A monitor has also been appointed to review certain police reports to determine whether arrests were made due to a Beale Street Sweep.
     “The City of Memphis and its agents and employees, are hereby permanently enjoined from engaging in ‘the Beale Street Sweep’ as defined in this order,” McCalla wrote. “The court notes that the ordered injunction does not prevent the MPD from conducting normal police work or clearing Beale Street under appropriate circumstances where an imminent threat exists to public safety throughout the Beale Street area.”
     Beale Street has been a popular entertainment district in Memphis since its carnival-esque heyday in the 1920s, according to its website. It is host to a number of annual parades and celebrations.

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