The five former Memphis police officers who were charged last week with second degree murder in the beating death of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols were part of a special, 40-member SCORPION (Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods) unit established in October 2021 by Memphis Police Department Chief Cerelyn Davis and Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, a Democrat.
Police body cam and street surveillance video of the January 7, 2023 beating of Nichols, who died on January 10 as a result of those injuries, released on Friday night raised multiple questions about violations of standard police protocol by the five former officers: Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin, and Desmond Mills, Jr. (pictured above).
The officers claimed that Nichols was stopped on January 7 because they observed him driving recklessly. On Friday, Chief Davis said there was no evidence to support that claim.
The body cam video of the beginning of the incident shows that Nichols was sitting in the drivers seat of his stopped vehicle when one of the five officers approached. Rather than following standard protocol followed in normal traffic stops and asking Nichols for his registration and drivers license, the officer opened the car door, dragged Nichols out of the car, and threw him to the ground. Subsequently, several officers surrounded the prone Nichols, yelling “show us your hands.” None appeared to possess handcuffs and, inexplicably, the officers were unable to subdue Nichols, who subsequently, again inexplicably, was able to evade multiple officers and run away from the first location, only to be chased by multiple officers to another location an estimated 100 yards away where the fatal beating was delivered.
Mark Perrasquia of the University of Memphis Institute of Public Service Reporting reported on Wednesday:
Records show the five fired officers operated on SCORPION’s Team One, patrolling hotspots throughout the city. Often, their actions led to volatile confrontations.
Such an event happened Sept. 20 when members of Team One spotted a Cadillac CTS with an expired temporary tag in Memphis’s Douglass community. When officers attempted to stop the vehicle, it made “a quick evasive maneuver”, a report said. The team then “set up a perimeter’’ and pursed the vehicle. The report lists now-fired officers Martin, Mills and Bean as detectives participating in the action.
One member of the team, Det. Wann Reed, “performed mobile surveillance on the silver Cadillac in an unmarked car,’’ the report said, noting that as he “was following the vehicle he observed the vehicle run red lights at Jackson and Hollywood and Springdale and Chelsea. Detective Reed also paced the vehicle at 70 mph in 30 mph zone while traveling northbound on Springdale’’ before coming to a stop at Hyde Park and Chelsea where three suspects then fled on foot. Available records list the apprehension of just one of them.
Though MPD policy prohibits high-speed pursuits unless a violent felony is suspected, court records documenting the three-mile chase list the arrest of a 20-year-old suspect with no criminal history who was charged with five misdemeanors. Four were later dismissed. A single charge of evading arrest remains.
The Los Angeles Times reported on Friday:
Critics are blaming SCORPION members for various abuses.
Just days before the violent arrest of Nichols, Memphis resident Cornell Walker said he was accosted by a group of SCORPION officers that included some of those who are now charged in Nichols’ death.
Walker said that when he and his friend, who were sitting in the friend’s car, were first approached by the officers, they believed they were being targeted by “young guys” who wanted to steal the car. Walker said he saw Officer Emmitt Martin III step out of an unmarked police vehicle.
“‘I need to see your motherf— hands or I’ll blow your motherf— heads off,’” Walker said Martin screamed at him and his friend.
Walker did not realize they were police at first, until he saw their badges and the word “SCORPION” on the back of their shirts.
Martin came over to their car and pulled Walker out, pointing a gun at his head from a foot away, Walker told The Times. The officer took him to the police car, where the other officers also had guns out. Walker says he saw Martin, Justin Smith and Demetrius Haley on the scene — three of the officers charged in the Nichols case.
Memphis Police Chief Davis, who was appointed to head the Memphis Police Department in June 2021 after several years in the same role in Durham, North Carolina, called last week for a thorough review of the operations of the SCORPION unit she established less than two years earlier.
The Memphis Police Department has not responded to questions about who in the department has the operational responsibility to supervise and train the members of the 40-member SCORPION unit. The organizational chart of the 2,000 officer police chart indicates that Colonel Prentiss Jolly is in charge of the department’s Organized Crime department, where the SCORPION unit resides, according to clues found in a video released by the department in November 2021.
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Michael Patrick Leahy is the Editor in Chief of The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. Follow Leahy on Twitter at @michaelpleahy.
Photo “Charged Memphis Police Officers” by Memphis Police Department.