Memphis police chief disables Scorpion unit after Tire Nichols’ death
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Memphis police chief on Saturday disbanded the city’s so-called Scorpion Unit after some of his officers beat Tire Nichols to death, reversing an earlier statement that she would keep the unit intact.
Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said she listened to those close to Nichols, community leaders and officers not involved in the decision-making.
“It is in everyone’s interest to permanently disable the Scorpion unit,” she said in a statement. She said officers currently assigned to the unit “are wholeheartedly in agreement” with the move.
READ MORE: Memphis authorities release video footage of Tire Nichols’ death
The unit is made up of three teams of approximately 30 officers who target violent offenders in high crime areas. He had been inactive since Nichols’ arrest on January 7.
In a Friday interview with The Associated Press, Davis said she wouldn’t shut down a unit if a few officers did “a blatant act” and because she needed that unit to keep working.
“The idea that the Scorpion unit is a bad unit, I just have a problem with that,” Davis said.
The disbandment was announced as the nation and city struggled to come to terms with video showing police beating the black motorist.
Footage released Friday left many questions unanswered about the traffic stop involving Nichols and other law enforcement officers standing by as he lay motionless on the sidewalk.
The five disgraced former Memphis Police Department officers, who are also black, were fired and charged with murder and other crimes in Nichols’ death three days after the arrest.
Footage shows police savagely beating Nichols, a 29-year-old FedEx employee, for three minutes while shouting swear words at him in an assault the Nichols family’s legal team likened to the infamous beating of 1991 police against Los Angeles motorist Rodney King. Nichols calls out for his mother before his limp body is pressed against a police car and the officers trade punches.
READ MORE: Tire Nichols is remembered as a kind and cheerful soul with a creative eye
The five officers – Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith – face up to 60 years in prison if convicted of second degree murder.
Davis said other officers are being investigated, and Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner said two deputies were relieved of their duties without pay while their conduct was under investigation. ‘investigation.
Rodney Wells, Nichols’ stepfather, said the family would ‘continue to seek justice’ and noted that several other officers had failed to render assistance, making them ‘just as culpable as the officers who brought shots”.
A Memphis police spokeswoman declined to comment on the role played by other officers who showed up at the scene.
Cities across the country had prepared for demonstrations, but the protests were scattered and nonviolent. Several dozen protesters in Memphis blocked the Interstate 55 bridge that carries traffic over the Mississippi River into Arkansas. Protesters also blocked traffic in New York, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon.
Blake Ballin, Mills’ attorney, told The Associated Press in a statement on Saturday that the videos “produce as many questions as they have answers.”
Some of the questions will focus on what Mills “knew and could see” and whether his actions “crossed the lines that were crossed by other officers in this incident,” Ballin said.
Davis acknowledged that the police department lacked supervisors and said the absence of a supervisor during the arrest was a “major problem.” Municipal authorities have pledged to provide more.
Questions have swirled around what led to the traffic stoppage in the first place. An officer can be heard saying that Nichols would not stop and then swerved as if intending to hit the officer’s car. The officer said when Nichols stopped at a red light, officers jumped out of the car.
But Davis said the department could not substantiate the reason for the stoppage.
“We don’t know what happened,” she said, adding, “All we know is that the force applied in this situation was exaggerated.”
LOOK: Tire Nichols’ death highlights excessive use of force by police
After the first officer brutally pulls Nichols out of the car, Nichols can be heard saying, “I didn’t do anything,” as a group of officers begin to tackle him to the ground.
An officer is heard shouting, “Tasez him! Taste it!
Nichols said calmly, “OK, I’m on the ground.”
“You’re really doing a lot right now,” Nichols says. “I’m just trying to get home.”
“Stop, I’m not doing anything!” he shouts a few moments later.
Nichols can then be seen running as an officer fires a Taser at him. His mother’s house, where he lived, was only a few houses away from the beating, and his family said he was trying to get there. The officers then begin to pursue Nichols.
More officers are called and a search ensues before Nichols is caught at another intersection. The police beat him with a truncheon, kicked him and punched him.
Security camera footage shows three officers surrounding Nichols as he is on the street pinned between police cars, with a fourth officer nearby.
Two officers hold Nichols to the ground as he moves, then the third appears to kick him in the head. Nichols collapses more completely on the sidewalk with the three officers surrounding him. The same officer kicks him again.
The fourth officer then approaches, draws a baton and holds it at shoulder level while two officers hold Nichols upright, as if he were seated.
“I’m going to hit you,” an officer can be heard saying. His body camera shows him raising his baton while at least one other officer holds Nichols. The officer hits Nichols in the back with the baton three times in a row.
READ MORE: Tire Nichols’ family speak out after viewing video of his violent arrest
The other officers then appear to hoist Nichols to his feet, with him falling like a doll, barely able to stay upright.
An officer then punches him in the face, as the officer with the baton continues to threaten him. Nichols stumbles and turns, still restrained by two officers. The officer who punched him then walks to the front of Nichols and punches him four more times. Then Nichols collapses.
Two officers can then be seen atop Nichols on the ground, with a third nearby, for about 40 seconds. Three other officers then rush in, and one can be seen kicking Nichols to the ground.
It took more than 20 minutes after Nichols was beaten and on the sidewalk before medical attention was provided.
While waiting for an ambulance, officers joked and aired grievances. They complained that a portable radio had been destroyed, someone had lost a flashlight, and several officers had been caught in the crossfire of the pepper spray used on Nichols.
Throughout the videos, officers make statements about Nichols’ behavior that are not supported by the footage or that the district attorney and other officials say did not occur. In one of the videos, an officer claims that during the initial traffic stop, Nichols grabbed the officer’s gun before running away and almost had his hand on the handle, which is not shown in the video.
After Nichols was handcuffed and leaned against a police car, several officers say he must have been stoned. Later, an officer says no drugs were found in his car, and another officer immediately retorts that Nichols must have dropped something while he was driving away.
During a speech Saturday in Harlem, the Reverend Al Sharpton said the beatings were particularly egregious because the officers were also black.
“Your darkness will not stop us from fighting you. These five cops not only dishonored their names, they dishonored our race,” Sharpton said.
Associated Press reporters Aaron Morrison in New York, Travis Loller in Nashville, Tennessee and Rebecca Reynolds in Lexington, Kentucky contributed to this report.