MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A federal appeals court has upheld a judge’s ruling that Memphis could no longer conduct sweeps to clear people off Beale Street unless public safety requires it.
A three-member panel of the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals issued its ruling Monday to uphold U.S. District Judge Jon McCalla’s decision, The Commercial Appeal (http://memne.ws/2eqGBFe) reported.
When McCalla ruled in 2015, it ostensibly ended a long-running police practice in which officers “sweep” Beale Street to clear people off or push them into clubs, usually in the early morning hours of weekends.
The city appealed McCalla’s decision to the federal appeals court.
In the ruling written by Judge Julia Gibbons, the appeals court said the lower court’s ruling followed a jury decision that “the city implemented its street-sweeping policy without consideration of whether conditions throughout the Beale Street area posed an existing, imminent or immediate threat to public safety.”
A primary reason the court cited for upholding the ruling was that a citizen has the right to “travel locally through public spaces and roadways.” The city argued that the sweeps have only a minimal effect, if any, on that right. The appeals court disagreed.
“The primary purpose of the Beale Street Sweep was to impede travel, and it resulted in the broad denial of access to a popular, two-block area of a public roadway and sidewalk. This is much more than an incidental or negligible inconvenience; it clearly implicates the right to travel and should be subject to heightened scrutiny,” the ruling said.
In a partial dissent, Judge Richard Allen Griffin noted that Beale Street differs from other public roadways in that it is routinely blocked off to vehicle and vehicle traffic and requires patrons to undergo ID and weapons checks before entering. And alcohol can be consumed in public when the street is closed to traffic, he said.
“Law enforcement is tasked every day with maintaining public safety on Beale Street among thousands of intoxicated persons concentrated in a two-block area with a history of disorderly conduct, stampedes, fights, sexual assaults, and gang violence,” he said.
In that context, Griffin said, “a reasonable juror could have found that the city took into account reasonable potential threats to public safety” in deciding the sweep Beale Street in the early morning weekend hours.
The case began when two men who said they had been caught up in two such sweeps sued.
Lakendus Cole, a Memphis police officer, was arrested after he failed to leave the street during a sweep. He was also injured during the arrest, he said. A jury awarded Cole $35,000 but ruled against Leon Edmond.
Information from: The Commercial Appeal, http://www.commercialappeal.com