Interim MPD chief said she enforced pretextual stop ordinance. Document shows otherwise

In January, days after being sworn into office, Memphis Mayor Paul Young said he planned to enforce traffic stop reform ordinances passed by the Memphis City Council in the wake of Tyre Nichols' fatal beating by Memphis police officers.

That confirmation came just a day after it was reported by MLK50 that former Mayor Jim Strickland had not enforced them, saying the ordinances likely violated the city's charter.

After Young said his administration would enforce them, then-Memphis police Chief Cerelyn "C.J." Davis — who has since been named the interim chief — said that the department had been internally enforcing the ordinances as police policy since the city council passed them in April 2023.

"We have to have policies that mirror city ordinance, so we change the policies anyway," Davis said at that early January press conference. "We didn't have to wait for the mayor to sign or not sign. Our policies have been changed. Our offices have had roll call training, and they have been operating under those ordinances. We haven't had any issues. I think that was a point of clarification that needs to be made."

However, documents obtained by The Commercial Appeal show that Davis did not sign the policy enforcing the council's ordinances until two days after she was made the interim chief, on Jan. 25. That policy did not go into effect until Feb. 6, according to the document.

More: City of Memphis subpoenas DA's office records, communications between Nichols family, DOJ

The directive, which was 27 pages in all, said "subsections 4.2.1, 4.2.2, 4.2.3 and 4.2.4, along with corresponding definitions 5.3, 5.4, 5.7 and 5.9 were added to comply with newly created city ordinances" in its "significant changes" section.

Those sections bar the use of unmarked cars for traffic stops, vehicle registration requirements, enforcing primary traffic violations and enforcing secondary traffic violations

Those secondary violations were for having registration that expired under 60 days prior; if a temporary tag is in the incorrect place, but clearly visible; if a license plate is not securely fastened to a vehicle, but is clearly visible; if a single brake light, headlight or running light is broken; and if the car is missing, or has a loosely fastened bumper.

An officer, under the ordinance, could not pull someone over for purely a secondary violation. They could issue a citation for one of those, however, if they pulled someone over for speeding, running a traffic light or reckless driving.

Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis speaks to the city council during her reappointment proceedings in the city council committee meeting at city hall in Memphis, Tenn., on Tuesday, January 9, 2024.
Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis speaks to the city council during her reappointment proceedings in the city council committee meeting at city hall in Memphis, Tenn., on Tuesday, January 9, 2024.

The public records request, which was submitted on Jan. 22, also asked for any memos and training materials that the department created for officers after the ordinance was signed. None of those documents were provided.

A source within the Memphis Police Department, whom The CA is not naming due to fear of reprisal, confirmed the reporter's interpretation of the policy change document.

MPD did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication asking why Davis had claimed the ordinance was being enforced as an internal policy since its passage in April 2023.

That same MPD source said that the policy instituted is still in the manual, even after the ordinance was voided by a state law passed in March this year. That state law prevents municipalities from passing ordinances and resolutions that alter police traffic stop policies.

More: Tyre Nichols' parents ask Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee to veto bill limiting police reform efforts

Davis was confirmed as police chief during the Strickland administration. When Young took office, he said he planned to keep her on as chief, though members of the city council seemed apprehensive given the lack of transparency over enforcing the ordinances.

Instead of putting the nomination to a vote, Young struck a deal with councilmembers that allowed Davis to serve as interim chief for an indefinite amount of time.

Memphis City Council Chairman JB Smiley Jr., during a committee vote on Jan. 9, said "Someone was not being honest with this body," in reference to Davis saying the ordinances were enforced internally.

"I believe the past administration did not operate in good faith," Smiley told reporters after the January vote. "As for Chief Davis, and every other director, I've been very clear from the beginning of this committee meeting. When you talk to this body, you will act and speak with candor. What happened is you had Mayor Jim Strickland say one thing and you had Chief Davis say another."

That committee vote, though not determining whether Davis would be reappointed as chief, sent her reappointment to the full council with a negative recommendation.

Lucas Finton is a criminal justice reporter with The Commercial Appeal. He can be reached at Lucas.Finton@commercialappeal.com, or (901)208-3922, and followed on X, formerly known as Twitter, @LucasFinton.

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: MPD did not enforce Tyre Nichols ordinance until February, document shows