Memphis disbands SCORPION unit after Tire Nichols’ death
The Memphis Police Department announced on Saturday that it “permanently deactivatehis SCORPION unit after officers from the unit were fired and face charges in the death of Tire Nichols, according to a statement from Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis.
Law enforcement officials in Memphis, Tennessee have released disturbing footage of the fatal beating of Nichols, a 29-year-old black man who died three days after a traffic stop on January 7. The video shows officers using a Taser on Nichols, hitting him with a baton and kicking and kicking him in the head.
The five officers charged in Nichols’ death include members of SCORPION, or Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods. The Institute for Public Service Reporting says all five were part of the unit.
“Officers currently assigned to the unit wholeheartedly agree with this next step,” the statement read. “As the heinous actions of a few cast a cloud of dishonor over the SCORPION tile, it is imperative that we, the Memphis Police Department, take proactive steps in the healing process for all affected.”
Here’s what you need to know:
BEN CRUMP APPLAUSES “SWIFT JUSTICE”:Experts say the speed of the charges was “unusual”.
VIDEO OUTPUT:Video shows Memphis police violently beating Tire Nichols during traffic stop
Tire Nichols’ family demanded the disbandment of the SCORPION unit
Saturday’s news followed calls from Nichols’ family to disband the unit.
Antonio Romanucci, Nichols’ family lawyer, said SCORPION and other specialist police units are targeting the “most vulnerable” as he called on law enforcement nationwide to review their saturation units.
“These are suppression units,” he said. “They are saturation units. And what they really turn out to be is oppressive units. And what they do is they end up oppressing the people we care about the most – our children, our young sons and daughters who are black and brown – because they are the most vulnerable.”
POLITICIANS REACT:Politicians and activists decry Tire Nichols’ fatal traffic stop after video leaked
Specialized police units in other cities face scrutiny and outrage
Specialized police units have also drawn attention elsewhere in the country in scandals spanning decades:
NATIONAL PROTESTS:Protests in Memphis, Chicago, NYC; more anticipated after the release of the Tire Nichols video
Why did Memphis start the SCORPION unit?
Amid soaring homicide rates, the Memphis Police Department launched SCORPION in late 2021 as a 40-person unit with teams in so-called “hotspots” for crime, according to video announcing launching the unit.
Two months after the launch, Strickland applauded the unit in its State of the City address, saying the team was responsible for 566 arrests between October 2021 and January 23, 2022.
Why specialized units can turn into “uncontrolled police”
Philip Stinson, a professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, said the purpose of saturation units is often to publicize police presence and intimidate residents by “jostling an area, being visible and taking quick action to make many arrests”.
But Stinson said these specialist units are “troubling in many ways” because they can “have many aspects of street justice, many aspects of runaway policing”.
In surveillance footage, officers involved in Nichols’ murder appear to be wearing “quasi-military uniforms” rather than typical police uniforms, and some of their vehicles appear to be unmarked, Stinson said.
If officers are in plainclothes or using unmarked cars, they “may feel they have covered anonymity in order to commit mischief,” said Keith Taylor, adjunct assistant professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Specialist units may feel ‘untouchable’ and need more supervision, experts say
Celebrating specialized units can make many of its members feel “untouchable,” fueling issues of excessive use of force, said Duane T. Loynes Sr., professor of urban studies and environmental studies. African women at Rhodes College in Memphis.
Taylor, a former assistant commissioner with the New York Police Department, said specialized units are needed in some cases, but need to be carefully monitored. “When you don’t have supervision, you can have deadly consequences.”
Hans Menos of the California-based Center for Policing Equity also said Team SCORPION may have acted with little oversight and targeted communities of color.
Davis acknowledged the police department lacked supervisors and said city officials have pledged to provide more.
“The lack of supervision in this incident was a major issue,” Davis said.
Contributor: Laura Testino, The Commercial Appeal; Craig Shoup, Nashville Tennessee; Rick Jervis and Jessica Guynn, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
Contact Christine Fernando at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern.