MEMPHIS (Tenn.) (AP). The family of Tyre Nichls, who was killed after a brutal beating from five Memphis police officers on Tuesday, filed a lawsuit against the officers and city of Memphis, blaming the officers for his death, and accusing officials that they allowed aggressive tactics of a special unit to continue despite warnings.
The lawsuit accuses Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis of forming a crime-suppression team called Scorpion in order to target violent repeat offenders who live in high-crime neighborhoods. The lawsuit alleges that the Scorpion unit “used extreme intimidation, violence, and humiliation” and “disproportionately targeted young Black men,” and adds that Nichols’ death was a result of this. The lawsuit claims that the department allowed this aggressive approach and ignored complaints from other residents who were targeted by the Scorpion unit before Nichols died.
The lawsuit, filed by attorneys for Tyre Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn wells, is seeking a jury trial as well as financial damages. Police have confirmed that the five officers accused of beating Nichols belonged to this unit. After the Nichols attack, the unit was disbanded.
The city of Memphis has declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Nichols passed away three days after his brutal beating. This was just the latest of a series violent encounters that occurred between Blacks and police, which sparked protests and rekindled public debate about police brutality.
All five of the officers charged in Nichols death are Black. The officers are charged with second degree murder.
The lawsuit names the city of Memphis as defendants, along with Police Director Davis and the five officers that were fired and then charged. Another officer was fired, but not charged. A fourth officer retired before being fired. The lawsuit also names three Memphis Fire Department workers who were terminated after officials claimed they failed to provide aid to Nichols while he was lying on the ground with his injuries.
The lawsuit claimed that officers stopped Nichols as he drove his car, for reasons “that have never been substantiated.”
Nichols asked “What did you do?” and then ran from the officers when he was taken out of his vehicle “to try to save his own life and defend himself,” according to the lawsuit.
Tyre, who was still able speak, screamed for his mother – shouting “Mom!” “Mom!” was shouted into the neighborhood, hoping that someone would help him as he is being brutalized and beaten to death,” according to the report.
Just feet from his home, Nichols was beaten so badly that he was “left unrecognizable,” the lawsuit states, comparing his case to that of Emmett Till some 70 years prior and the officers to a “modern-day lynch mob.” “Unlike Till, this lynching was carried out by those adorned in department sweatshirts and vests and their actions were sanctioned–expressly and implicitly–by the City of Memphis,” it said.
The five officers recorded Nichols’s beating on their body cameras. They then ignored him for almost 30 minutes as the 29-year old, who was handcuffed but badly injured, struggled to remain upright while propped against an unmarked car.
The lawsuit claimed that Memphis police officers on the scene after the beating “smiled and laughed with their colleagues” while Nichols lay on the ground.
Tadarrius Bean is charged with second degree murder for Nichols’s death. The defendants have all pleaded innocent.
Martin, Haley and the now-fired Preston Hemphill all claimed that Nichols had been driving recklessly when they stopped him on his way home from a local park in the evening of January 7.
The men forced Nichols out of his car and pepper-sprayed and pinned him down, while threatening him with a stungun and breaking his arm. Hemphill fired his stun weapon when Nichols was able to escape, according to the police records.
Mills, Bean, and Smith captured Nichols a few moments later. According to police records, Haley, Martin and the five officers, along with Nichols, punched, kicked, pepper-sprayed and beat him using a baton. Memphis Police Director Davis said that she had not seen any evidence to justify the traffic stop and the officers’ reaction. According to the suit, the city of Memphis appointed Davis as its police chief after learning that she was a key member of Atlanta Police Department’s RED DOG Unit: “a unit that eventually disbanded because of numerous allegations of Fourth Amendment violations to the United States Constitution including illegal searches and seizures and excess force,” the lawsuit states. The suit accuses Davis that she formed an identical unit within the Memphis Police Department, which “predictably implemented” the same unconstitutional policies and customs. The lawsuit describes SCORPION as “an authorized gang of untrained police officers who are hyper-aggressive, inexperienced, and untrained.”
The lawsuit alleges that members of the SCORPION Unit “engaged in an aggressive harassment of Memphis citizens, and searched them in public” by “jumping out”. The lawsuit accuses Davis, and other supervisors at the Memphis Police Department of encouraging officers in illegal searches and seizures.
The lawsuit claims that the Memphis Police Department lowered standards for officers and made it easier for recruits to graduate the police academy, by allowing them to retake the exams multiple times when the officers who beat Nichols were hired. According to the lawsuit, in addition to being underqualified, new recruits also were not adequately trained in several areas including probable cause and traffic stops.