Tyre Nichols: ‘Elite’ police units in spotlight after brutal killing by Scorpion officers

When Tyre Nichols was fatally beaten by a group of Memphis police officers it brought increased scrutiny on the elite unit the men belonged to.

And one day after videos of the violent incident was released, the city’s police department announced that it had disbanded the “Scorpion” team.

Scorpion, which stands for “Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods” was introduced in October 2021 as the homicide rate in the Tennessee city spiked.

The unit, which had four groups of 10 officers, would saturate “hot spots” in unmarked cars and make traffic stops as part of investigations into homicides, assaults and other crimes.

Nichols was stopped by one such team earlier this month, and the videos show how he was beaten and assaulted with batons and Taser weapons.

Following the death of Nichols, Memphis man Cornell McKinney detailed his own encounter with a Scorpion unit just days before.

Mr McKinney alleged that he was pulled over on 3 January by officers in unmarked cars who pointed a gun at him and threatened to “blow his head off.”

He says that he complained to the Memphis Police Department but never heard back.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is working with the Nichols family, told ABC’s This Week on Sunday that he believed the officers being part of the Scorpion unit had contributed to the death of Tyre Nichols.

“We certainly do. We know that there were other members of the community that had been assaulted by this Scorpion Unit. One young man who said he was assaulted just four or five days before Tyre was killed, simply going to get pizza,” said Mr Crump.

“He said they attacked him, pulled him out the car, yelled profanity at him and put a gun to his head. And he tried to report them twice to the Memphis Police Department. His calls were not returned. And it is our belief that just maybe had they paid attention to him that Tyre Nichols may not have been killed in this tragic manner.

Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith have been charged with second-degree murder. The officers were fired last week after an investigation into Mr Nichols’ death.

This combo of booking images provided by the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office shows, from top row from left, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, bottom row from left, Desmond Mills, Jr. and Justin Smith.


The former officers are each facing additional charges, which are aggravated assault – acting in concert; aggravated kidnapping; official misconduct and official oppression, according to the Shelby County District Attorney’s office.

The police department announced the firing of the officers on 20 January.

The five police officers charged in the killing of Tyre Nichols will be arraigned in mid-February. Court records show they are scheduled to appear for a “bond arraignment” on February 17, Fox News reported.

Their arraignment hearing will be presided over by Shelby County criminal court Judge James Jones.

Memphis is not alone in having issues with its “elite” unit of officers.

Over the decades scandals have hit such units in cities like Atlanta, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Newark and Milwaukee among others.

In Baltimore, at least 13 officers from the Gun Trace Task Force were convicted of robbing residents, stealing and selling drugs, and falsifying reports and overtime claims.

It cost the city $13m to settle claims from victims and hundreds of cases the officers had worked on were thrown out.

In the late 1990s the Rampart scandal in Los Angeles saw more than 70 officers in the Community Resources against Street Hoodlums program, or CRASH, implicated in planting false evidence, stealing and selling drugs, bank robbery and perjury.

Five of the officers ended up being terminated by LAPD and it cost the city $125m in settlements.

Last year New York City mayor Eric Adams reinstated a controversial NYPD plainclothes unit with officers dressed as civilians to target street crime. The unit had been scrapped in 2020 after its tactics were declared unconstitutional.

It was a plainclothes unit in the city that was involved in the 1999 shooting of 23-year-old immigrant Amadou Diallo.

He was shot 19 times when officers wrongly believed he was reaching for a gun, when in fact he was trying to get his wallet. All of the officers were later found not guilty at trial.

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