Police director says she ‘listened intently’ to Nichols’s relatives, community leaders.
The Memphis police chief on Saturday disbanded the city’s so-called “Scorpion” unit, reversing an earlier statement that she would keep it intact and citing a “cloud of dishonour” from the officers who beat Tyre Nichols, a Black motorist who died three days after the traffic stop altercation.
Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said Saturday that she “listened intently” to Nichols’ relatives, community leaders and uninvolved officers in making the decision.
Referring to “the heinous actions of a few” that dishonoured the unit, Davis said it was imperative that the department “take proactive steps in the healing process.”
“It is in the best interest of all to permanently deactivate the Scorpion unit,” she said in a statement. She said the officers currently assigned to the unit “agree unreservedly” with the step.
The unit is composed of three teams of about 30 officers who target violent offenders in areas beset by high crime. It had been inactive since Nichols’ Jan. 7 arrest.
Scorpion stands for Street Crimes Operations to Restore Peace in our Neighbourhoods.
Protestors marching though downtown Memphis cheered when they heard the unit had been dissolved. One protestor said over a bullhorn “the unit that killed Tyre has been permanently disbanded.”
In an interview Friday with The Associated Press, Davis said she would not shut down a unit if a few officers commit “some egregious act” and because she needs that unit to continue to work.
“The whole idea that the Scorpion unit is a bad unit, I just have a problem with that,” Davis said.
She became the first Black female chief in Memphis one year after George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis. At the time, she was the Durham, N.C., police chief and responded by calling for sweeping police reform.
Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, lawyers for the Nichols family, said the move was “a decent and just decision for all citizens of Memphis.”
“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. It extends so much further,” they said.
The disbanding announcement comes a day after footage was released of officers savagely beating Nichols, a 29-year-old FedEx worker, for three minutes while screaming profanities at him in an assault that the Nichols family legal team has likened to the infamous 1991 police beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King.
Nichols calls out for his mother before his limp body is propped against a squad car and the officers exchange fist-bumps.
Five officers, who are also Black, have been fired and charged with second-degree murder and other crimes in Nichols’s death.
Davis has said other officers are under investigation, and Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner said two deputies have been relieved of duty without pay while their conduct is investigated.
A Memphis police spokesperson declined to comment on the role played by other officers who showed up at the scene.
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