Not Guilty

December 7, 1973

Eight law officers were found not guilty yesterday of killing Elton Hayes and beating his companion.

Defendants and attorneys burst into tears as Criminal Court Judge W. Otis Higgs Jr. read the verdict returned by an all-white, all-male jury which deliberated 3 ½ hours.

"I'm happy its over … I'm just happy it’s over," exclaimed Michael J. Dougherty, the Memphis Police Department patrolman who took the brunt of prosecution attempts to place blame for the death of the 17-year-old black youth.

Hayes’ died in 1971. Authorities said he died of injuries incurred in a traffic accident, but witnesses alleged the officers had beaten the teen to death. The incident led to two days of violence in the city — looting and firebombings — and a rare curfew.

At the trial in the death of Elton Hayes. The photograph is stamped December 6, 1973. Elton Hayes was beaten to death in October 1971 after a car chase through South Memphis into what was then unincorporated Shelby County. Two other teenagers Calvin McKissack and George Barnes, the driver of the truck were beaten but not seriously injured. The only people on the scene when they were stopped were Memphis Police officers and Shelby County sheriff's deputies. Eight law enforcement officers were indicted on murder and assault charges. All were acquitted. Hayes funeral sparked several days of rioting across the city -- the last instance of racially based civil disorder in Memphis. (Dave Darnell/The Commercial Appeal)