Memphis, TN. – 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 just 15 months ago by Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis and Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland according to the Tennessee Star.
The officers claimed that Nichols was stopped because they observed him driving recklessly. On Friday, Chief Davis said there was no evidence to support that claim.
Watching the video is painful to watch, not only because of the violence inflicted on Mr. Nichols, but it appears that the involved officers knew very little about best practices in policing.
The incident begins with Nichols sitting in the drivers seat of his stopped vehicle when one of the five officers approached. Rather than 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.
The actions look foreign to any law enforcement professional watching and some of the pieces are beginning to come together as to why that is.
Mark Perrasquia of the University of Memphis Institute for 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 disbanded the SCORPION Unit on Friday but there are many more questions that should be answered.
Chief Davis is receiving praise from most of the mainstream media for her handling of the incident while Attorney Ben Crump calls her handling a model for other chiefs but after watching a bunch of cops jump out of plain vehicles, wearing plain clothes and talking like gangsters, who acted like they called in sick for defensive tactics class, we have more questions than answers and we hope that Davis will do just that in the coming weeks.