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DOJ reviewing Memphis Police Department after Tyre Nichols death

Tyre Nichols lies on the ground
City of Memphis via AP, File
In this image from video released and partially redacted by the city of Memphis, Tenn., Tyre Nichols lies on the ground during a brutal attack by Memphis Police officers, Jan. 7, 2023, in Memphis. Documents released Thursday, March 2, showed that two Memphis Fire Department emergency medical technicians who were fired and had their licenses suspended for failing to give aid to Nichols for 19 minutes while he struggled with injuries from being brutally beaten by police did not check his vital signs or perform other basic medical examinations.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on Wednesday that it will review the Memphis Police Department’s policies and practices related to the use of force, deescalation and specialized units in the wake of Tyre Nichols’s death in police custody.

The DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) will review the department’s “policies, practices, training, data and processes” in response to a request from Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland (D) and Police Chief Cerelyn Davis, DOJ said in a press release.

The announcement comes as the city of Memphis is set to release up to 20 additional hours of video and audio on Wednesday, after completing its investigation into Nichols’s death. 

Nichols, 29, was brutally beaten by several Memphis police officers during a Jan. 7 traffic stop and died from his injuries three days later. Previously released body camera and surveillance footage from the incident sparked national outrage.

The five officers involved in the fatal beating were fired and charged with second-degree murder, to which all have pleaded not guilty. Several other police officers and fire department members involved in the case were also fired but not charged over the January arrest.

Jennifer Sink, the chief legal officer for Memphis, said on Tuesday that the city’s investigation has resulted in administrative charges against 13 police officers and four members of the Memphis Fire Department, which are set to be made public later Wednesday.

The DOJ’s COPS office will also conduct a separate review examining the use of specialized units in law enforcement more generally, DOJ said on Wednesday. 

“In the wake of Tyre Nichols’s tragic 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,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement.

“The COPS Office guide on specialized units will be a critical resource for law enforcement, mayors and community members committed to effective community policing that respects the dignity of community members and keeps people safe,” Gupta added.

The DOJ’s particular focus on specialized police units, both in the Memphis review and its more general law enforcement review, appears to be in response to the charged officers’ involvement in one such unit.

The specialized Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods, or Scorpion, unit was launched by the Memphis Police Department in November 2021 with a focus on “violent crime reduction and the saturation of hot spot areas throughout the city.” The specialized unit was deactivated in late January following Nichols’s death.

The announcement of the Memphis review came as DOJ released a damning report on the Louisville Metro Police Department following a similar review that was sparked by the police killing of Breonna Taylor in 2020.

The report says Louisville police regularly used excessive force, conducted searches without valid warrants, used no-knock warrants, discriminated against Black people in law enforcement activities and took other actions that violate the Constitution and federal law. 

Tags Cerelyn Davis Department of Justice Memphis Police Department Scorpion unit Tyre Nichols Vanita Gupta

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