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DOJ to Review Memphis Police Policies as Judge Blocks Release of More Tyre Nichols Death Footage

© AP Photo / Gerald HerbertFamily members and supporters hold a photograph of Tyre Nichols at a news conference in Memphis
Family members and supporters hold a photograph of Tyre Nichols at a news conference in Memphis - Sputnik International, 1920, 08.03.2023
The federal government is going to conduct a review of the Memphis Police Department’s policies on use of force, de-escalation, and specialized units like its now-disbanded SCORPION unit, a Department of Justice official said on Wednesday.
The examination was prompted by a request from Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland in January, following nationwide protests over the death of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, a Black man who died several weeks earlier from wounds sustained during a beating by Memphis police.
“In the wake of Tyre Nichols’s tragic death, the Justice Department has heard from police chiefs across the country who are assessing the use of specialized units and, where used, appropriate management, oversight and accountability for such units," said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta.
The DOJ has already opened a civil rights probe into Nichols’ death.
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The announcement comes ahead of a planned release of 20 hours of additional police footage on Wednesday, which was blocked at the last moment by a judge upon request of one of the officers charged in Nichols’ murder. The footage cannot be released until both prosecutors and defense lawyers review them - a process with an unclear time frame.

On Tuesday, the Memphis city government announced it had completed administrative investigations into 13 police officers - five of whom have been charged with second-degree murder, official misconduct, official oppression and kidnapping - as well as four fire department employees.

The five officers facing charges are Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith; all have been fired, along with two others. At the city Fire Department, two emergency medical technicians and a lieutenant were also fired, and a fourth employee was suspended, a city council member revealed on Tuesday.

Death Sparks New Protests

Nichols, a FedEx employee and amateur photographer, died three days after a violent encounter with Memphis police, who pulled him over for alleged reckless driving on the night of January 7, 2023. Footage of the stop was released three weeks later, showing in graphic detail how a group of Memphis officers forced him from his car and pepper-sprayed him, chased him as he tried to run away, and beat him for more than three minutes. In the footage, he can clearly be heard crying for his mother, whose house was a stone’s throw away and where he was believed to have been fleeing.
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According to internal affairs documents, one of the officers, Haley, took a photo of a bloodied Nichols propped against a police cruiser and sent it to at least five people.
Nichols was taken to a hospital in critical condition, where he died three days later.
According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Nichols “succumbed to his injuries,” on which they did not elaborate, and Memphis police claimed he was hospitalized after complaining of “shortness of breath.”
An official cause of death has not been issued by the Shelby County medical examiner’s office, but preliminary findings from an independent autopsy commissioned by Nichols’ family found that he "suffered excessive bleeding caused by a severe beating.”
The five officers charged in Nichols’ murder were all members of the Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods (SCORPION) unit, a type of so-called “saturation unit” that would pack high-crime areas with a large number of officers to intimidate would-be offenders from committing violent crimes.
Release of the footage helped touch off nationwide protests against Nichols’ murder, calling for prosecution of the officers responsible and for the disbanding of the SCORPION unit and related special police formations, which are often implicated in the deaths of Black citizens.
The demonstrations were some of the largest since the nationwide George Floyd uprisings in the summer of 2020, which were set off by the 46-year-old Black man’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police in Minnesota, and which an estimated 26 million Americans protested.
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