FOX13 Investigates: Shelby Co. law enforcement not using key tool in solving interstate shootings

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Interstate shootings are one of Memphis’ ugliest and most visible crime problems, and FOX13 Investigates has been digging into the issue for more than a year.

However, a key tool that works in other cities is not being used here.

Sharon Ward hopes and prays for justice.

“No matter how heavy this is for me, I have to do this for someone who was always in my corner,” said Ward, speaking about her son, LaDarius Spates, who was killed in October 2021 on Interstate 40 near Sycamore View Road.

Spates was one of more than 300 people shot on Memphis interstates in the past few years. His killing has not been solved and police have not identified a suspect.

In the vast majority of cases, no one was arrested, according to a FOX13 investigates analysis.

To help, Tennessee legislators changed state law to allow law enforcement agencies, anywhere in the state, to cameras capable of viewing and storing data on car license plates, and cross referencing that data with law enforcement databases.

The cameras could capture the plates of shooters, giving investigators a leg up.

“Law enforcement came to me a lot of shootings were going on at the time … they were really asking for these cameras,” said Rep. Mark White, R-East Memphis, who championed the legislation.

White revealed to FOX13 investigates that law enforcement leaders specifically asked for the technology, including former Memphis Police Director Mike Rallings, and current Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner.

Law enforcement agencies must get approval from the Department of Transportation to put unmanned cameras on interstates. The agency said no agencies have applies since the legislation became law two years.

FOX13 Investigates tried repeatedly to interview Boner about why he is not using the technology he asked for. A spokesman said Bonner declined the interview requests.

The office “uses license plate readers as both a deterrent to criminal activity, as well as an investigative resource to aid in solving crime. When placing a camera in an area, we ensure that we comply with federal, state, and local laws,” the office said in a written statement.

The statement neglected to mention why Bonner is not using the technology.

Rallings declined to comment and demurred to current police leaders.

An interview request with MPD Chief CJ Davis was also denied.

FOX13 Investigates spoke to state troopers in Illinois, using the technology in Chicago where troopers said the cameras increased their interstate shooting solve rate 30-percent when their camera network went up.

White said he “absolutely” thought the cameras should be used in Memphis.

Memphis Police said they applied to use the cameras in fall 2021. However, the Tennessee Department of Transportation said it did not receive the application or any other camera applications.