Memphis Police Department Disbands Unit Whose Members Brutally Killed Tyre Nichols

Eliminating the unit had been one of the Nichols’ family’s main demands.

Protesters marching on Saturday in Memphis, TennesseeGerald Herbert/AP

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The Memphis Police Department has disbanded the so-called Scorpion Unit, whose members abused and fatally beat Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, earlier this month. Those five officers have now been fired and charged with murder.

Community leaders and Nichols’ family had called on Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis to eliminate the unit, which worked in high-crime areas of Memphis. “It is in the best interest of all to permanently deactivate the Scorpion Unit”—which stands for Street Crimes Operations to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods—the department said in a statement on Saturday. Davis has called the former officers’ actions “heinous, reckless, and inhumane.”

Davis had launched the unit, which had about 40 members, in 2021. Its members sometimes wore plain clothes and drove unmarked cars. Officers in the unit agreed with the decision to disband it, according to the department. 

On Friday, the city released bodycam footage of the five officers brutally beating Nichols after pulling him over in a traffic stop. As Mother Jones senior reporter Samantha Michaels wrote on Friday:

They order him on the ground, and he complies, sitting down. “Get on the fucking ground!” one officer yells. “Tase him!” another yells.

“All right, I’m on the ground,” Nichols says, fairly calmly, as they continue to threaten to tase him. The officers order him to lie down, and put his hands behind his back while continuing to scream at him. Nichols says, “You guys are really doing a lot right now. I’m just trying to go home.”

They appear to push Nichols further onto the ground, on his stomach. “Spray him,” an officer says again, and a brief scuffle ensues that’s hard to see on camera. Nichols rises and escapes down the street as at least one officer deploys a taser.

After a brief chase, the officers wait behind and call for backup. Another cop car arrives and heads in Nichols’ direction, sirens blaring. “I hope they stomp his ass,” one of the officers left behind says.

Mother Jones senior reporter Julia Lurie added on Saturday that the footage revealed that the Memphis police department had grossly misrepresented the attack in the statement it released the day after Nichols was beaten. The department had initially stated:

Officers pursued the suspect and again attempted to take the suspect into custody. While attempting to take the suspect into custody, another confrontation occurred; however, the suspect was ultimately apprehended. Afterward, the suspect complained of having a shortness of breath, at which time an ambulance was called to the scene.

Eliminating the Scorpion Unit had been one of the Nichols’ family’s main demands for reform. Two lawyers for the Nichols family, Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, called getting rid of the unit “a decent and just decision.”

“We must keep in mind that this is just the next step on this journey for justice and accountability, as clearly this misconduct is not restricted to these specialty units,” they added. “It extends so much further.”

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