Documents: Tennessee Law Enforcement and Joint Terrorism Task Force Monitored Darrius Stewart Vigil, Other Memphis BLM Events

(Author’s Note: I stumbled upon the surveillance of Memphis activists through public record requests while researching Memphis’s predictive policing programs. In light of the revelations of the City Hall “blacklist,” I’ve decided to publish what I’ve learned so far and the documents I’ve received, rather than wait for more requests to be fulfilled first to learn more, as I had planned. For the two sets of documents, visit: here and here)

Emails obtained from the Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security show that on July 15, 2016, as a small crowd gathered in front of a Hickory Hill church to hold a vigil and plant a tree in memory of Darrius Stewart, law enforcement agents from across the state of Tennessee were keeping track. According to public records, the surveillance of the Darrius Stewart vigil appears to be part of a wider attempt by Tennessee law enforcement to monitor activist events in Memphis.

Last summer, state and local law enforcement agents monitored a vigil led by Mary Stewart, whose son Darrius Stewart was shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop the year before. According to documents obtained under Tennessee’s Open Records Act, analysts from at least three law-enforcement agencies, including agents assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force, shared intelligence on the gathering for the one-year anniversary of Darrius Stewart’s death and other events and protests in Memphis.

The Memphis Police Department, Tennessee Office of Homeland Security, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and agents assigned to the Tennessee Fusion Center and Memphis Joint Terrorism Task Force participated in discussions and dissemination of information regarding various events and protests in Memphis during July 2016. It is unclear where exactly all the information originated, though at least some was gleaned from activists’ social media pages.

At 8:12 on the Friday night the Darrius Stewart vigil was held, David W. Purkey, who was then the second-highest-ranking Homeland Security official in the state and would later that month be promoted to lead the Tennessee Office of Homeland Security, emailed one of his agents asking if the gathering was “Quiet and orderly?” Two minutes later the agent replied, “yes sir…all is quiet. MPD planning to scale at 2030. I’m waiting a few before I send that out to all.”

A few hours earlier, an intelligence analyst with the Tennessee Fusion Center, who is also a member of the Memphis Joint Terrorism Task Force, was particularly interested in the number of attendees at the event. Like Purkey, she asked another agent about the day’s protests, marking the importance of the email as “high.”

Days before the event, members of the Tennessee law enforcement community were corresponding about the planned vigil, as well as other events taking place in Memphis.

An officer from the Memphis Police Department disseminated an image from activist Frank Gotti’s Facebook page about the Darrius Stewart memorial event. That Facebook post was subsequently shared with the various MPD email lists, including the Executive Staff, Command Staff, MPD Colonels and Lieutenants, Communications Supervisors, and Investigative Services. Additionally, an MPD officer also forwarded Gotti’s Facebook post to an agent from the Tennessee Office of Homeland Security.

Information about the Darrius Stewart one-year anniversary vigil, and other events, made their way from the TN Office of Homeland Security into internal Memphis Police reports, according to documents obtained through record requests. A PowerPoint presentation created by the MPD’s Special Operations Unit, which is dated to cover July 11, 2016 to July 17, 2016, indicates that there was, “Continued monitoring of intel for Darrius Stewart year anniversary,” as well as assistance with a Black Lives Matter demonstration that took place at the Commercial Appeal office on July 13, 2016. It’s not clear from the document if the information was gathered by agents embedded in the Homeland Security division of the MPD or independently.

Documents obtained from the Tennessee Office of Homeland Security also indicate that the Tennessee Fusion Center was collecting and disseminating information about the Stewart memorial, as well as other events to various law enforcement offices and agents across the state. A bulletin sent by the center says it discussed events including “protests, vigils, town hall style meetings and boycotts…” An Intelligence Analyst from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation also compiled a list of Black Lives Matter protests in Western Tennessee between July 13, and July 23, 2016.

In one bulletin from July 15, 2016 the Tennessee Fusion Center says that, “Some Memphis protest leaders are urging supporters to stop posting times and locations of events on social media.” The analyst notes that, “this is of particular concern as it limits law enforcement and public safety official’s ability to anticipate, allocate, and deploy necessary resources.”

It is not entirely clear where much of the information shared by the agencies originated, or what methods of collection were employed beyond social media monitoring.