When the southwestern Tennessee city of Memphis recorded a record high number of homicides for the second year in a row in 2021, many called for action.
Attention turned to the Memphis Police Department to address the murder rate, which led to the creation of the Scorpion Unit in October 2021.
“MPD’s new Scorpion unit activated!” read a post on the department’s Facebook page, along with a video clip showing a group of officers wearing tactical vests during the roll call.
The name stands for Street Crime Operations to Restoring Peace in Our Neighborhoods – but officers from the same department are in charge Tire Nichols’ brutal attack He was pulled over this month on suspicion of reckless driving.
Warning: This article contains violent images
“Scorpion Force was involved,” Shelby County, Tennessee District Attorney Steve Mulroy confirmed Thursday in announcing murder charges against five officers.
Police Commissioner Cerelyn Davis called the attack “heinous, reckless and inhumane” and announced a review of specialized units across all police departments, including Scorpion, in response to Mr Nichols’ death.
Devices designed for ‘crime suppression’
The Scorpion unit was created in October 2021, after a record 346 homicides were reported in 2021, up from 332 the previous year.
The unit is made up of 40 officers divided into four 10-person teams tasked with solving violent crimes and investigating auto theft and gangs.
Last January, Mayor Jim Strickland touted the department as part of an effort to address the high homicide rate, saying that in its first three months, it made hundreds of arrests and seized hundreds of vehicles. Cars and weapons.
Its actions were hyped up on the police department’s Facebook page: arrests began with traffic stops, escalated into more serious confrontations, and ended with arrests for drugs and firearms.
‘Police do everything they can to arrest people’
Mark LeSure, a former Memphis police officer who will retire in 2021, said he’s starting to see a flood of relatively inexperienced officers assigned to specialized units as other members of the force resign.
Mr. LeSure added that the units do not have enough senior staff to train new officers.
“Newcomers are put into specialized departments where they don’t have a business,” he said.
Of the five officers involved in the attack on Mr Nichols, two were aged between 24 and 32 and had been on the job for several years, while the others had not been older than six years.
Mr LeSure said he was told by some of his former colleagues who still work in the department that the Scorpion department, set up after his retirement, was known for having a “zero tolerance” policy on crime – which he said meant officers “do what they do”. “They can arrest people.”
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Police initially said Mr Nichols was pulled over for reckless driving on January 7 and there was a “confrontation” in an attempt to detain him.
However, Ms Davies said a review of the incident could not “substantiate” the reckless driving claims.
He died three days after the attack.
“Units are an excuse to harass everyday residents”
E. Winslow Chapman, the police chief from 1976 to 1983, said that under his leadership, officers without at least seven years of service were not considered for professional units.
“You’re using officials to send a message that we’re here and we’re not going to tolerate criminal activity anymore … and it’s easy to overdo it, which is clearly done in this case,” Mr Chapman said.
Chelsea Glass, a Memphis community organizer and advocate for criminal justice reform, called Scorpion a street crime-fighting force that relies on traffic stops as an excuse to find violent criminals and weapons.
“They harass everyday residents, which they call high-level policing,” he said.
“But it’s really just a stop and search at the wheel. It doesn’t matter what name you type.”
What do we know about officials?
The five officers were charged with second-degree murder, misconduct by an officer, aggravated kidnapping, oppression of an officer and aggravated battery.
Here’s what’s known about each.
Demetrius Haley, 30
Haley joined the Memphis Police Department in August 2020.
He previously served as a corrections officer with the Shelby County Department of Corrections and was charged with assaulting an inmate.
The lawsuit against him was dismissed because the prisoner failed to complete all the paperwork.
Tadarrius Bean, 24
Bean, who was also hired in August 2020, had previously worked at a fast food restaurant and a telecommunications company, AT&T, according to his LinkedIn profile.
It said he studied criminal justice and law enforcement at the University of Mississippi from 2016 to 2020 and interned with the campus police department.
Emmett Martin III, 30 years old
Martin was hired by the Memphis Police Department in March 2018.
Pastor Joshua Harper of Memphis, who follows Martin on social media, said the man described in the court filing “was not someone I knew.”
“I was just shocked for a second because I knew he was a police officer and I knew that behind the badge, when anyone has power and authority, anything can happen,” Harper said.
Desmond Mills Jr., 32
Mills was hired by the Memphis Police Department in March 2017.
He was nicknamed “The Box” while playing American football at West Virginia State University.
Kipshaw, one of his former coaches, said: “When I read the news, I was shocked. I coached for a long time, you never know. I told my wife, ‘That guy is in the West for us. Playing for Virginia”.
Justin Smith, 28
Smith was hired by the Memphis Police Department in March 2018.
After his arrest, Smith posted a $250,000 bond and was released Thursday night.