The DOJ will review Memphis police policies following the death of Tyre Nichols

By Becky Sullivan (NPR)
March 8, 2023 6:13 p.m.
A candlelight vigil for Tyre Nichols in Memphis is held in January.

A candlelight vigil for Tyre Nichols in Memphis is held in January.

Scott Olson / Getty Images

The Department of Justice will review the Memphis Police Department’s use of force and de-escalation policies in the wake of the beating death of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols in January.


The review will cover "policies, practices, training, data and processes related to MPD's use of force, de-escalation and specialized units," the DOJ said in an announcement Wednesday. A public report with its findings and recommendations will follow.

The review was requested by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis.

"The department is also pleased to be able to fulfill Memphis's request for technical assistance on the police department's use of force and de-escalation policies, as well as the use of specialized units," Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement.

Separately, the DOJ said it will also review the use of specialized units within law enforcement departments nationwide.

The five officers charged with second-degree murder in Nichols's death were part of such a unit. The SCORPION Unit, the team was called, was a group of some 40 officers charged with combating violent street crime. The Memphis Police Department disbanded the unit soon after Nichols' death.


"The Justice Department has heard from police chiefs across the country who are assessing the use of specialized units and, where used, appropriate management, oversight and accountability for such units," Gupta said.

Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was stopped by Memphis police as he was driving near his home on the evening of Jan. 7. Police claimed the traffic stop was for reckless driving; documents show that officers never explained the reason for the stop to Nichols.

Nichols attempted to flee on foot, but officers soon caught him and beat him severely. He died in a hospital three days later.

Soon after his death, the Memphis Police Department fired five officers involved in the beating: Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith, all of whom are Black.

Each of the five faces several felony charges, including second-degree murder, aggravated assault and aggravated kidnapping. All have pleaded not guilty.

The DOJ's announcement comes ahead of the anticipated release some 20 hours of additional video and audio recordings of Nichols's death, along with new documents related to an administrative investigation by Memphis city officials. That release is expected later Wednesday.

In total, 13 Memphis police officers were subject to the administrative investigation by city officials, the city's chief legal officer, Jennifer Sink, said at a city council meeting Tuesday.

In addition to the five SCORPION unit officers, another two officers have been fired, city officials said this week. Another five have been suspended, and one retired before a hearing could be conducted. Internal charges against the remaining two were dropped.

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