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Off-duty police homicide morphs into robbery investigation and more

shooting-2Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong was stoic on Tuesday afternoon as Mayor AC Wharton Jr. detailed his resolve to assemble a select group of individuals with knowledge of law enforcement procedures and policies to review the department Armstrong commands.

While reaffirming his confidence in Armstrong, Wharton told media gathered in his seventh-floor conference room that, "I'm not passing judgment, but obviously something isn't working correctly. It's not a matter of frustration, it's just an objective statement."

The prompt for the statement and the gathering was the fatal shooting Monday evening of a 15 year old – later identified as Justin Thompson – by an off-duty police officer, later identified as Terrance Shaw, who has been on the force since November 2006.

About 24 hours later, Wharton's office dispatched a release that said Shaw was "the apparent victim of a robbery attempt" that concluded with Thompson dead.

It had already been revealed that The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation had been asked to investigate. Wednesday's announcement went a step further, saying that the TBI also would be delving into whether there was any prior communications between Shaw and Thompson.

shooting-1By the time Wednesday's written announcement from the mayor's office was sent out, talk already was spreading about Wharton being dissatisfied with the police department, and in some quarters, that he was unhappy with Armstrong.

Wharton's office sought to put such talk and the rumors to rest.

"I have every confidence in Director Toney Armstrong to keep our streets safe, to continue decreasing crime rates in Memphis, and to get the job done," Wharton said in the release. "With 23 years on the force, he is a proven and exceptional leader and has my full support."

It was a reiteration of sorts of what Wharton actually had said in the Tuesday session. At that time, Wharton pointed out that he had been prompted to action by the behavior of a handful of inappropriately acting officers, adding, "I have full confidence in director Armstrong. That is why he is here. The bringing of the TBI (to investigate Monday's fatal shooting) occurred without any urging or directive from me." Armstrong made that move.

A day later, Wharton said he was standing by the questions he raised about police department procedures. In raising those questions, he had let it be known that he intended to root out substandard behavior throughout the whole complement of city employees, specifically naming code enforcement in addition to police.

The nature of police work and the higher standard to which officers must be held because they wield guns and badges warranted the high-profile focus, he said.

Wharton – on Tuesday – said the public needed to know his administration was moving to deal with accountability, recruitment and hiring and the initial education and training in the police academy and then ongoing education and training, with a particular focus on ethical standards.

"I am not going to pass judgment on our processes, yet, but it is time to take a look at those processes," he said. "We have to ask the question, quite frankly, 'Is our current Internal Affairs process effective? Is it doing what it's designed to do? Is it instilling public confidence that the truth will always come out? Is it independent enough?'"

Wharton said he would announce by week's end the name of the person who would lead the review of MPD procedures and policies.

The overwhelming majority of officers do their jobs honestly, with many going beyond the call of duty, said Wharton, vowing to do more to make the actions of such officers known.

"Unfortunately, you don't read about them. At the same time, we're going to root out one by one those that wake up in the morning with something else in mind."

At the Tuesday press conference, Armstrong was asked for his reaction to Wharton's expressed concerned about behavior within the department.

"It's disappointing to me for the mayor to see the department as being in an unacceptable state," said Armstrong. "Certainly we work extremely hard to get the public's trust and confidence.

"It is so unfortunate that you have the selfish act of few that paint a picture of all of us officers that come to work on a daily basis and do not only what we ask them to do, but go above and beyond."

Earlier in the day Wednesday, Wharton was slated to meet with the mother of the slain teen, but a spokesman could not provide details. At Tuesday's press conference, Wharton, who had been out of town earlier in the day, said he had reached out to Thompson's mother.

"Without knowing the circumstances, we extend our condolences," he said at the time.

"This is a mother, we feel that. It's a loss to her, regardless of the final determination of what actually occurred out there."

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