Family of Tyre Nichols Sues the City of Memphis

April 19, 2023

The family of police beating victim Tyre Nichols sued the criminally-charged police officers and the city of Memphis on Wednesday, blaming them for the 29-year-old’s death.

The five former officers—Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith—have been charged with second degree murder after Nichols suffered a beating amid what allegedly began as a traffic stop January 7 and died in a hospital three days later. 

In its lawsuit, the Nichols family asserts that city officials had allowed the special police unit to which the accused had belonged to go unchecked despite warning signs.

The Scorpion unit had been formed by Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis in 2021 in response to quickly-rising homicide numbers. It was meant to deploy some some 40 officers as a strike team in some of the most volatile corners of the city. However, Memphis residents soon complained of heavy-handed tactics, including Scorpion team officers employing punitive policing in response to relatively minor offenses.

The lawsuit claims that the Scorpion unit—which was disbanded after Nichols’ death—used “extreme intimidation, humiliation, and violence” as it “disproportionately focused on and targeted young Black men.”

The family asserts that Nichols was one of those targeted because he was Black. It also states that the reason behind the initial traffic stop that ultimately led to Nichols’ death has “never been substantiated.”

The suit was filed by lawyers for Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells. Among the legal team is prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump. The family seeks a jury trial and $500 million in damages. 

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