MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis police chief on Saturday disbanded the city’s so-called Scorpion unit after some of its officers beat to death Tyre Nichols, reversing an earlier statement that she would keep the unit intact.
Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said she listened to Nichols’ relatives, community leaders and uninvolved officers in making the decision.
Referring to “the heinous actions of a few” that cast “a cloud of dishonor” on the unit, Davis 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 the unit agreed “unreservedly” with the step.
The unit is composed of three teams of about 30 officers who target violent offenders in areas beset by high crime. It had been inactive since Nichols’ Jan. 7 arrest.
Scorpion stands for Street Crimes Operations to Restore Peace in our Neighborhoods.
Protestors marching though downtown Memphis cheered when they heard the unit had been dissolved. One protestor said over a bullhorn “the unit that killed Tyre has been permanently disbanded.”
In an interview Friday with The Associated Press, Davis said she would not shut down a unit if a few officers commit “some egregious act” and because she needs that unit to continue to work.
“The whole idea that the Scorpion unit is a bad unit, I just have a problem with that,” Davis said.
The disbanding was announced as the nation and the city struggled to come to grips with video showing police pummeling the Black motorist.
The footage released Friday left many unanswered questions about the traffic stop involving Nichols and about other law enforcement officers who stood by as he lay motionless on the pavement. It video also renewed doubts about why fatal encounters with law enforcement continue to happen after repeated calls for change.
The five disgraced former Memphis Police Department officers, who are also Black, have been fired and charged with murder and other crimes in Nichols’ death three days after the arrest.
The recording shows police savagely beating Nichols, a 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 five officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith — face up to 60 years in prison if convicted of second-degree murder.