Police Brutality

Memphis' SCORPION Unit under review after Tyre Nichols' death

Criticism alleges special police units like Memphis' SCORPION team have a tendency of racial profiling and using excessive force.

Memphis' SCORPION Unit under review after Tyre Nichols' death

As more details emerge surrounding the brutal beating of Tyre Nichols, the circumstances of his death are coming to light, including the involvement of a specialized unit of the Memphis Police Department.

"I think it’s already been reported that SCORPION Unit was involved," said Steve Mulroy, Shelby County district attorney.

The Memphis Police Department’s SCORPION Unit, or Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods, was launched less than two years ago as a four-team unit of 40 officers focused specifically on “violent crime reduction." But units like these have a controversial and sometimes brutal history across the country.

Memphis, like most of the country, saw a rise in homicides in 2020. In response, the city launched the SCORPION Unit in 2021.

“The SCORPION Unit has had a total of 566 arrests, 390 of them felony arrests," Mayor Jim Strickland, (D) Memphis, said. "They have seized over $103,000 in cash, 270 vehicles and 253 weapons.”

Rev. Andre E. Johnson, of the Gifts of Life Ministries, preaches at a candlelight vigil for Tyre Nichols

Memphis Police set to release video of Tyre Nichols confrontation

Nichols died Jan. 10, three days after a confrontation with five Memphis Police officers. The officers have since been fired and charged in his death.


Strickland lauded their accomplishments in his state of the city address, but fellow officers of the department have expressed concerns.

“With these units, there’s greater competition, there’s less supervision and also you can have a unique subculture within those units, and we’ve seen issues with these type of units before," said Thaddeus Johnson, former Memphis police officer.

In New York, Baltimore, Louisville and elsewhere, community members have criticized specialized crime units for unlawful arrests, racial profiling and excessive force

These units are often focused on neighborhoods the department has classified as "hotspots" for drugs and violence, but critics say this increased scrutiny can lead to innocent community members being terrorized by officers.

The Memphis chief of police said she will be reviewing the specialized unit in the wake of Nichols' death. 

On Friday, the Nichols' family attorney Antonio Romanucci called for more decisive action.

“We are asking Chief Davis to disband the SCORPION Unit effective immediately," Romanucci said.

A portrait of Tyre Nichols

Five former Memphis officers charged in beating death of Tyre Nichols

All five are charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression.