US city disbands police unit involved in fatal beating

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Tyre Nichols, 29, was fatally beaten earlier this month by members of a contentious street crime section of the Memphis Police Department. In the violent metropolis, Nichols’ suspected murder sparked a surge of demonstrations.

The permanent deactivation of the Scorpion unit is in everyone’s best interests, police director Cerelyn Davis declared in a statement on Saturday. The unit’s commanders concurred “unreservedly” with Davis’ choice, she continued.

A day after the city of Memphis published body camera footage showing Nichols’ passing, Davis made his announcement. The victim is seen being punched, kicked, pepper sprayed, and hit with batons by five officers. After being dragged from his car during a traffic stop, Nichols made an attempt to escape. The officers are seen celebrating and shaking hands after handcuffing the man and placing his motionless body against a squad car.

The officers involved have been fired and charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct, and official oppression. Nichols passed away in a hospital three days after the incident. Nichols is the only white cop among the five.

Davis said in a statement last week that an internal investigation revealed the officers “violated many department policies, including excessive use of force, duty to intervene, and duty to offer help.”

The Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods, or Scorpion unit, was established in November 2021. With a concentration on gang- and drug-related offenses, its 40 or so officers were entrusted with patrolling “high crime regions” in the city.

Memphis consistently ranks at the top of lists of the most dangerous cities in the nation due to having one of the highest crime rates in the US.

In its initial two months of existence, the Scorpion team made more than 550 arrests, 390 of which were for felonies. In that time, its officers captured more than 250 firearms and more than $100,000 in illegal currency, according to a speech by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland in January. A lawyer for the Nichlols family told reporters on Friday that he had gathered testimony from numerous people who claimed to have been physically harmed by Scorpion officers. Nevertheless, allegations of brutality have followed the unit from the beginning.

Friday in Memphis, protesters blocked a bridge while yelling “Justice for Tyre.” The audience reportedly cheered as the Scorpion team was disbanded at another demonstration on Saturday.