The Memphis Police Department said it permanently deactivated a specialized unit and protests were planned in major cities across the country a day after the city released over an hour of video footage of the brutal beating by police officers of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols.
Four videos taken from body cameras and a security camera showed Nichols being struck with kicks, punches and blows from a baton at least 13 times in a Jan. 7 traffic stop. Officers also pepper sprayed and used a stun gun against Nichols while he cried out for his mother.
Nichols, a Black FedEx worker and father of a 4-year-old son, died three days later from his injuries in a hospital where he was in critical condition since the beating.
Five of the officers — who are also Black — were charged Thursday with second degree murder and other crimes in what civil rights attorney Ben Crump called a “blueprint going forward” for holding police responsible for misconduct due to the speed of the action by prosecutors and the police chief.
Experts and activists have said the race of the officers involved is less important than the race of the victim when it comes to a pattern of racialized police violence against Black people.
Meanwhile, members of Memphis’ Black skateboarding community and skaters nationwide were remembering Nichols for his passion for skating. A video of Nichols skating was shared by Crump on social media, and many chose to focus on that rather than the horror in the video of his treatment by police.
“It was just nice to see something positive instead of negative and to be able to remember him in a good light,” said Latosha Stone, widely recognized as the first Black woman to own a skateboard company.
SCORPION unit ‘permanently’ deactivated
The Memphis Police Department on Saturday announced it will “permanently deactivate” its SCORPION unit after officers in the unit were fired and face charges in the death of Tyre Nichols.
The officers charged in Nichols’ death include members of SCORPION, or Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods. The Institute for Public Service Reporting says all five were part of the unit.
Saturday’s news followed calls from Nichols’ family to dismantle the unit.
“These are suppression units,” Antonio Romanucci, Nichols’ family’s attorney, said. “And what they do is they wind up oppressing the people that we care about the most — our children, our young sons and daughters who are Black and brown — because they are the most vulnerable.”
WHAT ARE SPECIALIZED UNITS?:What we know about SCORPION, other cities’ units
-Christine Fernando, USA TODAY
Body cam footage shows ‘inhumane’ beating
In their initial encounter with Nichols, police body camera video shows several officers as they dragged him out of a car yelling expletives and contradictory commands, at one point demanding Nichols lie down while he was already on the ground. Throughout the first video released, Nichols appeared to remain calm, affirmatively answering the officers as they shouted at him.
As the officers push him down to the ground, with hands on his back, arms and shoulders, one says, “B—– put your hands behind your back before I break them.”
Officers order Nichols to lie down repeatedly, and he responds, “I am on the ground!”
Elected officials and other leaders have noted the level of aggression police with which police immediately met Nichols.
Nichols was able to get away while an officer tried to use a Taser on him. When officers caught up to Nichols, they delivered rounds of blows to his face, head, upper body and abdomen that appeared to soon cause severe injury until Nichols was thrashing on the ground and later struggled to hold himself up in a seated position against a squad car, subsequent videos show.
It is not until 28 minutes into the second video that a stretcher is brought for Nichols, prompting questions about why it took so long for him to receive medical attention.
After the beating, as Nichols sat propped up against a police car moaning in pain, police gathered nearby, calling Nichols names, checking on each other and laughing.
Police Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis called the incident “heinous, reckless and inhumane.”
In its first statement since Jan. 7, the Memphis Police Association late Friday said it extended its “condolences” to Nichols’ family, but didn’t condemn the specific actions by the officers accused of his murder. The association said it has “faith” in the criminal justice system.
“The Memphis Police Association is committed to the administration of justice and NEVER condones the mistreatment of ANY citizen nor ANY abuse of power,” the statement reads.
2 deputies now under investigation; police officers charged
Two Shelby County Sheriff’s deputies who appeared on the scene of the beating of Nichols are under investigation, Sheriff Floyd Bonner announced Friday.
The deputies have been “relieved of duty” pending an internal investigation into potential policy violations.
“Having watched the videotape for the first time tonight, I have concerns about two deputies who appeared on the scene following the physical confrontation between police and Tyre Nichols,” Bonner said in a statement Friday night.
Given the regular coordination between the Memphis Police Department and Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, it was not immediately clear why the presence of the sheriff’s deputies was not made public until Friday.
The probe comes after former officers Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin III and Desmond Mills Jr. have each been charged with one count of second-degree murder, aggravated assault – acting in concert, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of official misconduct and one count of official oppression, court records show.
-Laura Testino, Memphis Commercial Appeal
Ben Crump: ‘Swift justice’ in charges. Is that unusual?
Crump noted the discrepancy in how quickly charges were brought against the Black officers in this case, compared to the length of time that passed in other police killings involving white officers, such as in the 2014 murder of Black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by a white Chicago police officer.
“We look at how swiftly the district attorney brought charges against them in less than 20 days,” Crump said in a news conference. “We want to proclaim that this is the blueprint going forward for anytime any officers, whether they be Black or white, will be held accountable. No longer can you tell us we’ve got to wait six months to a year.”
Experts say it’s an unusual reaction to cases of police brutality, but note that the race of the five officers charged, who are Black, may typify the experience of Black people navigating the legal system. Also influential in the outcome is the availability of video and the fact that Nichols died.
READ MORE:Ben Crump applauded ‘swift justice’ in Tyre Nichols killing. Experts say the speed was ‘unusual.’
-Grace Hauck, USA TODAY
Weekend protests across nation after video release
Protests have been planned from coast-to-coast this weekend following Friday’s video release. Demonstrators plan to rally in New York City, Memphis and Baltimore, among other cities on Saturday.
Friday night, protests were largely peaceful throughout the nation. Dozens of people gathered in Times Square, Chicago and Washington, D.C. Friday night after Nichols’ family called for a peaceful response to the shocking videos.
“I don’t want us burning up our city, tearing up the streets, because that’s not what my son stood for,” Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, said Thursday. “If you guys are here for me and Tyre, then you will protest peacefully.”
REMEMBERING HIS LIFE:Black skateboarders in Memphis and beyond honor Tyre Nichols
In Memphis, demonstrators blocked the Interstate 55 bridge that carries traffic over the Mississippi River toward Arkansas, causing a backup of semitrucks. In New York City, emotions ran high and a protester was arrested after jumping on a police car and breaking its windshield, ABC7 reported.
Biden, Harris call on Congress to act
Both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris urged Congress to take swift action by passing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
The policing reform bill aims to bolster police accountability and would end police practices that have been under scrutiny after the deaths of Black Americans.
“Once again, America mourns the life of a son and father brutally cut short at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve,” Harris said in a statement. “The persistent issue of police misconduct and use of excessive force in America must end now.”
-Ella Lee, USA TODAY
Contributing: The Memphis Commercial Appeal; The Associated Press