A light fixture at MPD’s traffic division on Union Avenue. Photo by Brandon Dill for MLK50

A Memphis resident testified before city officials about the strange circumstances surrounding a police visit to her home.  

Members of the Memphis Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) meet on a monthly basis to make judgements on alleged cases of police brutality, and on Thursday, they received the case of Anita Hill and the events that led to her son being allegedly beaten by police. 

On Jan. 16 2020, the Memphis Police Department received a call that a woman named Yolanda Hill (no relation) had been kidnapped, and police were dispatched to an address believed to be inhabited by her ex-boyfriend, Daniel Jefferson. 

Video footage presented at the meeting showed two police officers meeting Anita Hill at her front door as they asked for Yolanda Hill’s whereabouts. Anita Hill quickly told police officers that Yolanda Hill was located at the residence and called her to the door to prove she was not missing.  When police entered the residence, tensions quickly escalated, leading to Jefferson being cuffed as he struggled against an officer. 

“Chill out, we’re just trying to talk to you,” said one police officer. “What the f– is wrong with you?”

Jefferson continued to argue with the police officer before tensions escalated to a physical confrontation.

“This motherf– just spit blood into my face,” said the officer. “Oh my god, Imma kill him, I swear to God.”

Jefferson was then arrested for resisting arrest and assaulting an officer. He later filed a complaint against the two arresting officers, alleging he had been beaten while in handcuffs. 

“Why did you beat my son like that?” asked Anita Hill. “I could hear him say, ‘Mama, I don’t want to be in jail for my birthday.’”

The Memphis Police Department issued punishments to the two officers and placed them under unpaid administrative leave, but CLERB members were conflicted over whether the officers deserved the punishment.

This wasn’t a clearcut case of police brutality, said board members. Police initially responded to calls of a kidnapping, which can be classified as a felony. Although board members argued over whether the police use of excessive force was justified, they agreed extenuating circumstances were that they had led them to believe a woman was potentially in a dangerous situation and Jefferson had allegedly made attempts to flee. 

“Police officers are human beings and given these extenuating circumstances they were just as emotional as you, Miss Hill,” said Dr. David Acey, CLERB vice-chair. “They have families, they have children, so these police officers were emotional and got reprimanded for it.”

This was a strange situation, remarked CLERB. Board members normally make judgement calls regarding excessive and deadly force, injuries occurring while in police custody, harassment by police, improper arrests, inadequate investigations or any other improper conduct by a member of the Memphis Police Department. But in this case, the two officers have already been reprimanded. 

“This is a little bit of a unique situation that I have not seen before since serving on this board,” said  Asia Diggs Meador, an attorney. 

Board members ultimately voted to uphold the Memphis Police Department’s decision to issue punishment.