Memphis Police Disband ‘Scorpion’ Unit That Fatally Beat Tire Nichols: NPR

Protesters march Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023, in Memphis, Tenn., following the death of Tire Nichols, who died after being beaten by Memphis police.

Gerald Herbert/AP

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Memphis Police Disband 'Scorpion' Unit That Fatally Beat Tire Nichols: NPR

Protesters march Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023, in Memphis, Tenn., following the death of Tire Nichols, who died after being beaten by Memphis police.

Gerald Herbert/AP

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis police chief on Saturday disbanded the city’s so-called Scorpion Unit, citing a “cloud of dishonor” in a newly released video that showed some of his officers beating Tire Nichols to death after he arrested the black motorist.

Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis acted a day after the heartbreaking video emerged, saying she listened to Nichols’ loved ones, community leaders and officers not involved in the decision-making. His announcement came as the nation and city struggled to deal with violence from officers, who are also black. The video renewed doubts about why fatal encounters with law enforcement continue to happen despite repeated calls for change.

Protesters marching through downtown Memphis cheered when they learned the unit had been disbanded. A protester told the megaphone that “the unit that killed Tyr has been permanently disbanded”.

Referring to the “heinous actions of a few” that disgraced the unit, Davis contradicted an earlier statement that she would keep the unit. She said it was imperative that the department “take proactive steps in the healing process.”

“It is in everyone’s interest to permanently disable the Scorpion unit,” she said in a statement. She said officers currently serving there agreed “wholeheartedly”.

The unit is made up of three teams of approximately 30 officers whose stated purpose is to target violent offenders in high crime areas. He had been inactive since Nichols’ arrest on January 7.

Scorpio stands for Street Crimes Operations to Restore Peace In Our Neighborhoods.

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 them to keep working.

“The idea that the Scorpion unit is a bad unit, I just have a problem with that,” Davis said at the time.

Davis became the first black female chef in Memphis a year after George Floyd was killed at the hands of Minneapolis police. At the time, she was a chief in Durham, North Carolina, and called for sweeping police reform.

Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, attorneys for the Nichols family, said the decision was “a decent and fair decision”.

“We must remember that this is just the next step in this journey towards justice and accountability, because it is clear that this misconduct is not limited to these specialist units. much further,” they said.

The five disgraced officers – Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith – were fired and charged with murder and other crimes in Nichols’ death, which occurred three days after the arrest. They face up to 60 years in prison if convicted of second degree murder.

Video footage released on Friday shows police savagely beating the 29-year-old FedEx worker for three minutes while shouting swear words at him in an assault the Nichols family’s legal team likened to the infamous beating of the 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.

The video also left many questions unanswered about the traffic stop and other law enforcement officers standing by as Nichols lay motionless on the sidewalk.

“No one tried to stop anything. They have a duty to intervene, a duty to care,” Brenda Goss Andrews, president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, said in an interview after watching the video.

She was also struck by the immediate aggressiveness of the officers as soon as they got out of the car: “It just went to 100. … It was never about de-escalation,” Goss Andrews said, adding: “The young man never had a chance from the moment he was arrested.”

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’ father-in-law, said the family “will continue to seek justice” and that those who did not render assistance are “just as guilty as the officers who carried out the beatings”.

A Memphis police spokeswoman declined to comment on the conduct of other officers.

Cities across the country had prepared for protests after the video was released, but the demonstrations were scattered and non-violent. 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 AP in a statement on Saturday that the videos “produce as many questions as they have answers.”

Some of them 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.

It’s unclear why the traffic stoppage happened in the first place. An officer can be heard on video saying Nichols would not stop and then swerved as if intending to hit the officer’s car. The officer says when Nichols stopped at a red light, the officers jumped out.

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.”

After the first officer roughly 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.

Someone is heard shouting, “Tase it! Tase it!”

Nichols calmly said, “OK, I’m down” and that he was just trying to get home. Moments later, he yells at them to “stop.”

Nichols is then seen running as an officer fires a Taser. The officers begin to pursue Nichols.

More are called and a search ensues before Nichols is caught at another intersection. His mother’s house, where he lived, was only a few houses away and his family said he was trying to get there.

The police beat him with a truncheon, kicked him and punched him. The attack continues even after he collapses.

It takes more than 20 minutes thereafter before any kind of medical attention is provided.

While waiting for an ambulance, the officers joke and grieve. They complain that a portable radio was destroyed, someone lost a flashlight, several officers were caught in the pepper spray used on Nichols.

Throughout the videos, they make claims about Nichols’ behavior that aren’t supported by the footage or that the district attorney and other officials say didn’t happen. In one, an officer claims that during the first traffic stop, Nichols grabbed the officer’s gun 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, one says that no drugs were found in Nichols’ car, and another immediately retorts that he must have left something while 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 won’t stop us from fighting you. These five cops not only dishonored their names, they dishonored our race,” Sharpton said.


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