A Memphis police unit has been disbanded in a “cloud of dishonour” after a video was released showing some of its officers beating a black motorist to death.
Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said she took action after a harrowing video of the officers attacking Tyre Nichols was released.
Davis said she listened to Nichols’ relatives, community leaders and uninvolved officers before making the decision.
Her announcement came as the nation and the city struggled to come to grips with the violence of the officers, who are also black.
The video renewed doubts about why fatal encounters with law enforcement keep happening despite repeated calls for change.
Protestors marching though downtown Memphis cheered when they heard the unit had been dissolved.
One protestor said over a bullhorn that “the unit that killed Tyre has been permanently disbanded.”
Referring to “the heinous actions of a few” that dishonored the unit, Davis contradicted an earlier statement that she would keep the unit. She 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 it agreed “unreservedly.”
The unit is composed of three teams of about 30 officers whose stated aim is to target violent offenders in areas beset by high crime.
It had been inactive since Nichols’ arrest on January 7.
Scorpion stands for Street Crimes Operations to Restore Peace In Our Neighborhoods.
Davis became the first Black female chief in Memphis one year after George Floyd was killed at the hands of Minneapolis police.
At the time, she was chief in Durham, North Carolina, and had called for sweeping police reform.
Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, lawyers for the Nichols family, said the move was “a decent and just decision.”
“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 five disgraced officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith — have been fired and charged with murder and other crimes in Nichols’ death, which came three days after the arrest.
They face up to 60 years in prison if convicted of second-degree murder.
The video images released Friday show police savagely beating the 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.
The video also left many unanswered questions about the traffic stop and about other law enforcement officers who stood by as Nichols lay motionless on the pavement.
“Nobody tried to stop anything. They have a duty to intervene, a duty to render care,” Brenda Goss Andrews, president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, said in an interview after viewing the video.
She also was struck by the immediate aggression from officers as soon as they got out of the car: “It just went to 100. ... This was never a matter of de-escalation.
“The young man never had a chance from the moment that he was stopped.”
Davis has said other officers are under investigation, and Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner said two deputies were relieved of duty without pay while their conduct is investigated.
Rodney Wells, Nichols’ stepfather, said the family would “continue to seek justice” and those who failed to render aid are “just as culpable as the officers who threw the blows.”
A Memphis police spokeswoman declined to comment on the other officers’ conduct.
Cities nationwide had braced for demonstrations after the video emerged, but protests were scattered and nonviolent.