Police Misconduct

Tyre Nichols' family files lawsuit against Memphis police

Nichols died in January after being beaten by Memphis police officers. His family is suing the city and officers.

Tyre Nichols' family files lawsuit against Memphis police
Matthew Hinton / AP
SMS

The family of Tyre Nichols announced Wednesday they are suing the City of Memphis and the Memphis Police Department.

The lawyers for Nichols' family held a news conference Wednesday to answer questions about the suit.

Nichols died Jan. 10, three days after a confrontation with officers. In four different video clips, officers are seen spraying Nichols with what appears to be pepper spray, beating him with a baton and kicking him in the head.

At one point, one of the officers retracts his baton, telling Nichols he's going to "baton the f*** out of you," and another police officer is heard cheering him on — on video — saying "hit him, hit him."

"The disturbingly tragic events of the night were created and set in motion over a year prior when the Memphis City Council appointed Cerelyn Davis as the new police chief. The savage beating of Tyre Nichols was the direct and foreseeable product of the unconstitutional policies, practices, customs, and deliberate indifference of the City of Memphis and Chief Davis, the city’s chief policymaker for decisions related to the Memphis Police Department," the suit alleges. 

"This landmark lawsuit is not only to get the justice for Tyre Nichols in the civil courts, but it is also a message that is being sent to cities all across America who have these police oppression units that have been given the license by city leaders to go and terrorize Black and brown communities," Civil rights attorney Ben Crump said during a press briefing.

Crump said that police teams such as Memphis' SCORPION Unit are in place to "brutalize" people in Black communities. 

"This lawsuit and the amount we're suing for is a message that if you keep giving licenses to these gang-minded police officers to perpetuate acts of terrorism on Black and brown people, then we are coming to your city and we're going to bring these lawsuits in every city where there is a George Floyd," Crump said. 

SCORPION stood for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods. It was supposed to reduce crime in residential hot spots. It was disbanded in the wake of Nichols' death.

The lawsuit makes 21 different allegations against the city, police department and individual officers involved that they violated federal laws and Nichols' constitutional rights.

Five officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills, Jr. and Justin Smith — were fired and charged with second-degree murder and other crimes. Two additional officers were disciplined. 

When the police department originally sent out a statement about this case, they never mentioned that Nichols was beaten.

The Shelby County sheriff relieved two deputies of their duties pending the outcome of an internal investigation. They arrived at the scene in the moments following the beating.

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