Court Battles

Lawsuit alleges officers who beat Tyre Nichols beat another man three days earlier

Tyre Nichols

A new lawsuit alleges that just three days before Memphis police officers beat 29-year-old Tyre Nichols in a traffic stop that turned deadly, the same five officers were involved in violently beating another Black man during an arrest. 

The suit was filed by Monterrious Harris, who allegedly was bleeding from the head and had his left eye swollen shut after he arrived at jail following a confrontation with members of the Memphis Police Department’s Scorpion unit.  

The lawsuit adds that when Harris arrived at the jail, he had difficulty walking because his right leg was swollen and severely bruised while his left leg had a gash. A nurse evaluated him and instructed him to be transported to a hospital for treatment.

The officers named in the case — Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., Justin Smith, Demetrious Haley and Tadarrius Bean — are the same five officers who were fired in late January for beating Nichols so severely he eventually succumbed to his injuries and died in the hospital. Video footage of the incident was released to the public last month. 

The officers have since been charged with second-degree murder, among other charges.

The lawsuit filed by Harris said the confrontation occurred on Jan. 4 after he went to visit his cousin at an apartment complex. When his cousin entered Harris’s car with a licensed and registered firearm, he wedged the firearm in between the passenger seat and the center console. The lawsuit states that Harris was unaware his cousin was armed, or that the firearm was in his car.

The Memphis Police Department’s Public Affairs Office told The Hill that it does not comment on pending litigation.

Harris and his cousin spoke for four to six minutes before his cousin ran back into his apartment to grab a jacket and change his shoes before the two headed downtown while Harris parked the car in an empty parking space.

Seconds after parking, the suit alleges, Harris’s car was suddenly surrounded by “a large group of assailants wearing black ski-masks, dressed in black clothing, brandishing guns, other weapons, hurling expletives and making threats to end his life if he did not exit his car,” according to a lawsuit filed on Tuesday.

According to the lawsuit, these “assailants” were members of the Scorpion unit — but the “five or six” officers never identified themselves to Harris, nor did they ask for his license or vehicle registration. Because of this, the suit said, Harris thought he was the victim of an attempted carjacking and tried to reverse his vehicle to flee the scene. 

Unable to do so, Harris eventually exited his car, unarmed and with his hands raised. Officers then “exacted a swift, violent, and continuous physical assault on Mr. Harris that included punching, stomping, and dragging him across concrete,” according to a lawsuit, which says the attack lasted approximately one to two minutes.

Harris began to scream loudly for his cousin, the suit added, at which point residents in the apartment complex where Harris’s cousin lived heard the noise and went outside to investigate. At this point, officers ceased their beating and arrested Harris. 

Harris was charged with being a convicted felon in possession of a handgun, criminal trespass, evading arrest, intentionally evading arrest in an automobile, possession of firearm during a dangerous felony, possession of a controlled substance (and intent to manufacture, distribute/sell), tampering with fabricated evidence and possession of drug paraphernalia, all of which the suit says are false charges.

Tuesday’s lawsuit alleges that the Memphis Police Department has a history of abuse and proceeds to name multiple other Black men who were subjected to violent beatings.

It also alleges that the Scorpion Unit, which began patrolling designated areas of the city in 2021, did not have proper training or supervision and mainly patrolled African American communities. 

“With respect to automobile stops, the Scorpion Unit’s modus operandi was to target and stop young black men without any legal justification,” the suit states. “The Scorpion Unit would then draw their firearms, surround the “suspects’” vehicles, yell expletives and racial slurs at them, and then demand that they exit the vehicle or risk being shot.”

“After these young black men exited their vehicles, an assault would commence, as the Scorpion Unit, without any legal justification, would begin to physically assault, pummel, tase, and point their firearms in the faces of the young black men who lived in neighborhoods in which the Scorpion Unit patrolled, despite the fact that they had committed no identifiable crimes, had not been genuinely been suspected of committing a crime, and had not resisted any lawful command.” 

Since the death of Nichols, the Scorpion unit has been disbanded, something officers assigned to the unit “agree unreservedly with,” the department said in a release on Jan. 28.

“While the heinous actions of a few casts a cloud of dishonor on the title SCORPION, it is imperative that we, the Memphis Police Department, take proactive steps in the healing process for all impacted,” the release added.

Tags Memphis police reform Tyre Nichols

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