The lieutenant retired before he could be interviewed. It’s legal: NPR
A Memphis Police Department lieutenant who was on the scene when officers beat Tire Nichols to death was able to retire with full benefits, less than a day before he was fired, according to court documents. police.
Former Lt. Dewayne Smith has been identified as the officer who retired ahead of an administrative hearing into his involvement in Nichols’ death, The Daily Memphian announced last Friday.
Smith, a 25-year veteran of the Memphis Police Department, served as supervisor of the now deactivated SCORPION Unit – the specialized police unit responsible for conducting the traffic stoppage that ultimately led to Nichols’ death.
In documents obtained by THE Daily Memphianrecords show Smith retired before a formal administrative hearing could be held to discuss the incident.
However, the fact that Smith was able to retire early and keep his full benefits before going through an inquest hearing is a precedent. In fact, it’s an all-too-common decision among law enforcement agencies across the country, experts say.
Documents show Smith had failed multiple tasks at the scene
Smith was notified of the hearing on February 22 and he submitted his retirement notice on March 1, according to The Daily Memphian. The documents show Smith had been charged with negligent duty, as well as making unauthorized public statements and violating departmental policy on his use of body cameras.
Smith also told officers to clear the scene before an investigative office could be notified. It happened shortly after he failed to “take command of the scene” or instruct officers to preserve evidence and provide details of Nichols’ beatings, the documents say.
Additionally, the documents show that Smith saw the injuries Nichols received from the five officers who beat him, but did not call for medical assistance or ask about the five officers’ use of force. .
Once Nichols yelled, “I can’t breathe,” the documents cite Smith, who said, “You took something, mane.”
So far, Smith has not been criminally charged in connection with Nichols’ death.
NPR reached out to the Memphis Police Association for a request for comment, but did not immediately respond.
Ben Crump, one of the family’s attorneys, said in a statement to NPR that the Nichols family and their legal team were “deeply troubled” that the Memphis Police Department “cleared and accepted” the retirement. of Smith.
“We call on the police and officials in Memphis to do everything in their power to hold Lt. Smith and everyone involved fully accountable and not allow Lt. Smith to cowardly avoid the consequences of his actions,” he said. Crump said in his statement.
“His cowardice of resigning and not facing his own disciplinary board to defend himself is not an end to accountability or judgment,” he added.
A ruling like Smith’s is ‘often standard practice’ in law enforcement
The administrative hearing for Smith was held earlier this month in his absence, as officials determined he should have been fired for his involvement in Nichols’ death, CNN reports.
In his retirement letter obtained by The Daily MemphianSmith said retiring from the department “was not an easy decision” as he realized “the time had come to move on”.
Members of the public might be disturbed that Smith was allowed to retire, said RaShall Brackney, distinguished visiting professor of practice at George Mason University.
“But for those of us who have worked in the criminal justice system, it’s often standard practice,” she said in an interview with NPR.
Brackney, who has years of law enforcement experience — as a former police chief in Charlottesville, Va. and decades of service with the Pittsburgh Police Department — told NPR that the Police departments often allow their officers to resign or retire before they are disciplined.
“Organizations need to be braver – police institutions often think, ‘OK, they quit, they retired. We don’t have to fight in court. We don’t have to fight for it, the problem is solved; they are no longer employees and they can no longer harm the public or the reputation of the agency,” Brackney said.
“The problem with that is he lacks courage and he says we’ll let you off the ramp so we don’t have to do what’s right,” she added.
She said that while this has been an ongoing issue for as long as she can remember, there are ways to fix the problem so that an agent may or may not be able to receive full benefits or go to another department.
Addressing legal principles such as qualified immunity — the ability to protect government officials, including police officers, when sued — could ultimately help change the status quo, for example. However, one of the last attempts to do so at the federal level, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, failed to clear the Senate after being passed by the House in the last two sessions of Congress. .
“As long as we keep the system in its current state, [officers] are going to take the position that allows them to be most successful,” Brackney said.