Tyre Nichols’ family sues Memphis police over beating, death

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The family of Tyre Nichols, who died three days after a brutal beating by five Memphis police officers, sued the city of Memphis, individual officers and emergency medical personnel involved in his case, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court in Memphis.

The suit, filed by lawyers for Tyre Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, seeks a jury trial and financial damages.

The lawsuit accuses Memphis Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis of starting a crime-suppression unit called Scorpion that officials said would target repeat violent offenders in high-crime areas. The lawsuit claims the Scorpion unit used “extreme intimidation, humiliation, and violence” and “disproportionately focused on and targeted young Black men.” The five officers charged with beating Nichols were members of the unit, police have said. The unit was disbanded after the Nichols beating.

Nichols was targeted by the unit only because he was a young Black man, the lawsuit states.

The city of Memphis declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Nichols died in January, three days after a brutal beating by five Memphis police officers. It was the latest in a string of violent encounters between police and Black people that have spurred protests and renewed public discussion about police brutality. The officers have been charged with second-degree murder.

The lawsuit names as defendants the city of Memphis, Police Director Davis, the five officers who have been fired and charged, another officer who has been fired but not charged, and an additional officer who retired before he could be fired. It also names three Memphis Fire Department employees who were fired after officials said they failed to render aid to Nichols as he was on the ground, struggling with his injuries.

Officers stopped Nichols while he was driving his car for reasons that have “never been substantiated,” the lawsuit said.

Nichols was beaten so badly that he was “left unrecognizable,” the lawsuit states, comparing his case to that of Emmett Till some 70 years prior and the officers to a “modern-day lynch mob.” “Unlike Till, this lynching was carried out by those adorned in department sweatshirts and vests and their actions were sanctioned—expressly and implicitly—by the City of Memphis,” it said.

The five officers’ own body cameras recorded them beating Nichols and then ignoring him for nearly half an hour as the handcuffed and badly injured 29-year-old struggled to stay upright, propped sitting against an unmarked police car.

Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith are charged with second-degree murder in Nichols’ death. They have pleaded not guilty.

Martin, Haley, and now-fired officer Preston Hemphill claimed Nichols was driving recklessly before they stopped him as he was heading home from a park the evening of Jan. 7.

They forced Nichols from his car, pinned him to the ground and pepper-sprayed him while threatening to break his arm and fire a stun gun at him. When Nichols managed to run away, Hemphill did fire his stun gun, according to police records.

Nichols was captured a few minutes later by Mills, Bean and Smith. Joined by Haley and Martin, the five officers punched, kicked and pepper-sprayed Nichols and beat him with a baton, according to police records. Memphis Police Director Davis has said she has seen no evidence justifying the traffic stop or the officers’ response.

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