Memphis police employees disciplined after body left in van for weeks
The body of a man was found in this van 49 days after the victim was shot during a robbery in the 3000 block of Yale Avenue on Dec. 18. Video shows shooting and robbery at Binghamton apartment complex.
Memphis Police Department
MEMPHIS – A vehicle storage service representative at the Memphis Police Department’s impound lot was fired and a police sergeant was demoted after failing to notice the body of a homicide victim inside a vehicle towed to the lot in late 2017.
John Powell, the lot attendant, and Lee Allison, now a patrol officer, were among nine police department employees disciplined following the incident, Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings said Friday afternoon.
The discipline was the result of an internal investigation that spanned more than a year. The investigation was launched after 33-year-old Mexican immigrant Bardomiano Perez Hernandez was found dead inside a van at the police impound lot on Feb. 5, 2018. The van had been at the lot since a shooting in the Binghampton neighborhood on Dec. 18, 2017.
‘We made mistakes’
“I was deeply concerned when I was alerted that Mr. Perez Hernandez was discovered inside a van that was towed to our vehicle storage lot,” Rallings said. “I immediately launched an administrative investigation into the handling of the scene and reviewed the policy and procedure … My officers made mistakes. We made mistakes. And we are working to make sure an incident like this does not happen again.”
Rallings said every vehicle in the lot was searched following the discovery and police department policy was changed to prevent similar situations in the future. The new procedures require the supervisor at the impound lot to inventory each vehicle before it comes into the lot. The towing form has also been updated to include more information and new crime scene training has been added for every officer.
Police previously said Perez Hernandez was reportedly drinking beer with Pablo Castor and another man when three suspects tried to rob them, then fired shots.
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Castor was critically injured but survived the shooting. Perez Hernandez was shot in the torso. The third man was not injured.
“A scene officer did look inside the van, but he did not locate any additional victims,” Rallings said. “At the conclusion of the on-scene investigation, the van was towed to vehicle storage lot.”
The man’s body was only discovered behind the front seats when Castor came to the police impound lot with his family to retrieve his van. About 49 days had passed since the shooting.
An autopsy found that Perez Hernandez died of a single gunshot wound. It’s not clear if he would have survived had he been found the night of the shooting.
Two men were arrested and charged with first-degree murder, among other charges, and are still in police custody. Police are still searching for a third suspect.
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Punishments given to 9 MPD employees
“Several officers and a vehicle storage service representative have been held accountable for their actions,” Rallings said, adding that 10 police department employees were investigated and nine, including Powell and Allison, were punished.
Officers Keeley Greer, David Wagner, Thomas Ray, Steve Theriac, Jeffrey Arthur and Lee Walker and Sergeant Kevin Williams all faced a variety of disciplinary actions.
Walker, Arthur, Williams and Theriac were all suspended without pay for 20 days and required to be retrained. The others were not suspended but received written reprimands.
Efforts to reach an employee representative with the Memphis Police Association were not immediately successful Friday afternoon.
The family of Perez Hernandez filed a lawsuit against the city that is still pending. The family’s lawyers have raised the possibility that he could have been saved with prompt medical attention.
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‘We are going to do everything we can’
“We just lost an officer. We know what it’s like to lose (someone),” Rallings said, alluding to an off-duty officer killed this week in a car crash. “I think that the family has to be suffering. Losing a father, it’s a tough situation.
“That’s why we are going to do everything we can do to hold these men that have been charged and have been arrested accountable … I want to find this third individual out there because they are responsible for the death of Mr. Perez Hernandez. Yes, we did not find Mr. Perez Hernandez in a timely manner and we’re responsible for that, but we’re not responsible for the crime that occurred that led to his death.”
In a recent court filing, the city government asked the court to block payment to the family.
“While we acknowledge mistakes were made in the handling of Mr. Perez Hernandez’s body, we firmly believe the city of Memphis is not legally responsible for his death,” the city’s chief legal officer, Bruce McMullen, said in a statement last month.
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Contributing: Daniel Connolly, The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal
Follow Desiree Stennett on Twitter: @desi_stennett.
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