The Memphis, Tenn., Police Department (MPD) has been accused of creating fake social media profiles so they could spy on local Black Lives Matter activists.
According to documents unsealed by the city late last week, officers kept dossiers and presentations detailing the lives of Memphis-area protesters as well as their known associates.
The Appeal first reported on the documents.
Activist Keedran Franklin said he knew he was being surveilled by police because he was typically the first person arrested at demonstrations.
He told The Guardian that he often noted unmarked police cars sitting outside of his office but said officers never approached him.
The documents indicate just how frequently police surveilled Franklin, who is a veteran organizer with the Memphis Coalition of Concerned Citizens and Black Lives Matter.
The documents, which were released after a lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Tennessee, reportedly include private information about activists, like photographs, addresses and mental health histories.
The ACLU lawsuit alleges that MPD also distributed those files to local businesses and the country school district.
The information was also created into a slideshow for police trainees and featured activists who were never arrested at a protest or accused of breaking the law, The Guardian reported.
Memphis denied any wrongdoing and said in a statement that “no one’s Constitutional rights have been violated.”
The city’s chief legal officer, Bruce McMullen, said the ACLU’s lawsuit is based on a 40-year-old consent degree that is outdated.
“The consent decree was drafted before the internet — before smartphones, body cameras, or any type of digital cameras. MPD's observance of posts made on social media is consistent with best practices of law enforcement agencies across the country and is nothing more than good police wor,” McMullen said in a statement.
The city said that police began monitoring social media posts after a series of social unrest following the 2014 Ferguson, Mo., protests and the fatal 2016 shooting of officers in Dallas.
“Monitoring these public social media posts is simply good police work, which has allowed us to make operations plans to protect both demonstrators and counter-demonstrators, keeping everyone safe without violence,” Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings said in a statement.
Franklin told the newspaper, however, that the surveillance is interfering with his day-to-day life.
He said he doesn't carry a weapon because he feels that he could be shot by police if they knew he was armed.
“Me coming out of my house is a possible death threat for me at this point,” Franklin said.
The Guardian reported that the ACLU’s lawsuit is scheduled to be heard by a judge on Aug. 20.