Memphis DA to review cases of 5 indicted officers : NPR
Memphis Police Department via AP
Tire Nichols’ death puts Memphis police under scrutiny in more ways than one, as prosecutors in Tennessee say they will conduct a review of all cases handled by the five former police officers who have been charged there.
The Shelby County District Attorney’s Office confirmed in an email to NPR that it will review closed and pending cases related to Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III, Justin Smith and Tadarrius Bean, all of whom have been fired and charged with second degree murder.
“This is still an active and ongoing investigation,” the office said, without giving details.
The former officers have been added to the list of county law enforcement officers whose credibility has been questioned, the district attorney’s office confirmed.
Four of the officers had previous violations on the job, as reported by NPR. All but Bean had been reprimanded or suspended in recent years, either for failing to report the use of physical force, failing to report a domestic dispute, or damage to their squad cruisers, according to Memphis police records.
The officers worked for a controversial special unit known as SCORPION, which the city disbanded following Nichols’ death. He made 566 arrests between October 2021 and January 2022, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said last year.
Townspeople have since come forward to share their experiences of other aggressive encounters with the unit — including 22-year-old Monterrious Harris, who filed a federal lawsuit this week to sue the town and those same five police officers for the allegedly beating without cause just three days before they arrested Nichols.
Nichols – a 29-year-old father and FedEx employee – died Jan. 10, three days after officers beat him during a traffic stop. Nichols and the five former officers charged with his murder are black.
Body camera footage of the brutal incident, released late last month, shone a light on the city’s law enforcement practices and renewed calls for police reform nationwide .
The fallout from Nichols’ death continues
Other first responders were fired or suspended in the weeks following Nichols’ death. The police department announced a sixth officer had been fired and a seventh relieved of duty, while firefighters fired two paramedics and a lieutenant after an internal review. Officials said on Tuesday that as many as 13 police officers could face punishment.
New documents released this week have shed light on the alleged misconduct of the five officers charged in Nichols’ death, including an allegation that Haley took pictures of Nichols bleeding against a police cruiser. It is reported that he then shared these images, including with non-police officers.
NPR’s Martin Kaste told All Things Considered that the documents, which relate to the department’s internal review, “paint a picture of officers with a very unprofessional attitude.”
Investigators say officers violated department rules by using excessive force on Nichols and failing to report him, among other things. They also say officers removed their body cameras and several were laughing and bragging about the encounter immediately afterwards.
Other cases may be affected
In addition to submitting the officers’ other cases for review, county officials put their names on a so-called list of officers accused of dishonesty or facing criminal charges.
This classification could prompt prosecutors to drop any case involving their testimony, the New York Times reports, adding that some defense attorneys are compiling a list of all officers who served in the SCORPION unit, “which could jeopardize hundreds of cases across the city.”
Local defense attorney Brandon Hall told the Memphis newspaper that Sales call that he was in court on Wednesday when he saw a prosecutor drop a case involving some of the officers in question, and expects a similar outcome in other cases.
Another defense attorney and former Shelby County prosecutor, Josh Corman, told the newspaper that prosecutors had reviewed cases related to the five officers and that he thought “it would be a nightmare for any prosecutor to use them as witness”.
Meanwhile, the Memphis branch of the NAACP commends the district attorney’s office for making the decision to review the officers’ former cases.
Vickie Terry, executive director of the Memphis branch of the NAACP, told Memphis TV station WREG that her office received several police-related complaints after Nichols’ death (though she didn’t say whether they concerned these specific agents or the SCORPION unit).
“They showed no integrity, so I’m afraid others have been treated that way,” she said. “If they come back and find that someone may have been convicted for something they didn’t do, you’re definitely going to have to reopen cases.”