Monterrious Harris, 22, was sitting in his car outside his cousin’s apartment in Memphis on January 4 when eight men in black hooded sweatshirts and ski masks allegedly approached the vehicle and ordered him out. “I will shoot you!” one of the men said, according to Harris. “I will shoot you!”
Harris put his car in reverse and it collided with an obstruction, according to his account. As he got out of the vehicle, he saw that the men were wearing tactical vests, so he put his hands in the air. The men then allegedly grabbed, punched, and kicked him for about two minutes, pushing his face into a concrete walkway and leaving him with a bloodied head, a swollen eye, and a gashed leg.
According to a lawsuit filed by Harris in a federal court, these men were some of the same Memphis police officers who would, three days later, pull 29-year-old Tyre Nichols out of a car and beat him brutally, resulting in his death. The killing of Nichols prompted protests around the country and a swift response from authorities, who have since fired the officers, charged several of them with murder, and disbanded their unit.
Like Nichols, who called out for his mother as the police assaulted him, Harris screamed for help as he was beaten. “But for witnesses coming outside to observe after hearing Mr. Harris’ loud screams,” his attorney, Robert Spence, wrote in the lawsuit, “Mr. Harris would likely have suffered the same fate as Mr. Nichols.”
In the weeks since Nichols’ death, multiple people in Memphis have come forward with stories of police brutality, suggesting a pattern of aggression and misconduct by the Memphis Police Department. Some of these people were arrested, including Harris, who was accused of unlawfully possessing a gun and marijuana, allegations that he denies.
Now, local prosecutors will review and possibly change or drop charges in some of these cases, after the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office announced this week that it would conduct a review of all criminal cases that came from the five officers who are now accused of murdering Nichols. “The office will review all prior cases—closed and pending,” Shelby County District Attorney Steven Mulroy said in a statement, according to CNN. He did not specify how many cases could be affected, but the number will likely be substantial. According to the Washington Post, the officers’ unit, known as Scorpion, arrested “over 2,000 violent felons” since it launched in 2021.
Prosecutors decided to review these cases after evidence emerged that a sixth officer involved in Nichols’ arrest lied about what happened. Officer Preston Hemphill, who has also been fired, falsely claimed that Nichols attempted to grab his partner’s weapon. “There is no video footage to corroborate that statement,” according to a document that the Memphis Police Department sent to the Tennessee Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission. Hemphill and the other officers appear to have made other misleading or false statements like claiming that Nichols was driving recklessly before they pulled him over.
In Harris’ case three days earlier, the officers also made claims that have since been disputed. They wrote in their arrest affidavit that Harris “tried to evade detectives on foot” and “disregarded commands” to stop—in contrast to Harris’ account that he stood still and put his hands up. According to the Commercial Appeal, the affidavit does not mention that the officers beat Harris during the encounter. Harris says the officers also lied about his charges: The gun belonged to his cousin, according to his attorney, and he did not have marijuana in his possession. The officers’ “entire encounter with Mr. Harris,” the lawsuit states, “was legally unjustified, unquestionably unconstitutional, and unacceptable in any civilized society.”
The lawsuit alleges that officers in the Scorpion unit “were routinely assaulting, using excessive force, unlawfully detaining, unlawfully arresting and/or falsely charging persons with crimes without a legal and/or constitutional justification.” It accuses the Memphis Police Department of training these officers to move body cameras during these events to “shield [their] actions from the public,” and also training them to falsify reports of what happened afterward.
As prosecutors review cases, other victims continue to come forward. Darick Lane, 32, alleges that two of the officers who killed Nichols, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith, pulled him out of a car window in June and threatened to shoot him if he moved, according to the Washington Post. Another officer, Demetrius Haley, is meanwhile accused of beating Cordarlrius Sledge while Sledge was incarcerated in the Shelby County jail in 2015, according to another lawsuit that was dismissed on technical grounds. Sledge said he was trying to hide a cellphone when Haley and two other officers attacked him, slamming his head into a sink until he blacked out. The beating was so brutal that a large group of prisoners on the cellblock wrote a letter to the corrections director to complain: “We are truly asking that this matter gets looked into before someone gets hurt really bad or lose their life because of some unprofessional officers,” they wrote.
Haley and the four other Memphis officers charged with murdering Nichols are scheduled to be arraigned next week. They also face charges of aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping with bodily injury, aggravated kidnapping in possession of a deadly weapon, official misconduct, and official oppression.