- The SCORPION unit of the Memphis PD has been under fire after the beating death of Tyre Nichols.
- The five officers charged with his murder belonged to the unit, which was put under investigation.
- As protesters gathered for a second night, the department announced it was being ‘deactivated.’
MEMPHIS, TENN. — The Memphis Police Department will ‘permanently deactivate’ its SCORPION Unit, the department announced Saturday, as protesters gathered for a second night of demonstrations over the killing of Tyre Nichols by five of the team’s officers.
Footage of the fatal beating was released to the public on Friday.
The city had already announced it would hire an outside firm to investigate the unit, which stands for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace In Our Neighborhoods, and was launched in 2021 to fight street crime.
Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy confirmed at a press conference on Thursday that the officers charged with murder after 29-year-old Tyre Nichols was beaten to death were part of the police force’s SCORPION Unit.
“It is clear that these officers violated the department’s policies and training,” Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland announced Thursday.
The police force’s other specialized units would have their training, policies, and operations reviewed, Strickland said at the time.
In announcing the unit’s disbandment, the Memphis Police Department said it made the decision after listening to Nichols’ family, community leaders, and “uninvolved officers.”
The news came as demonstrators gathered near City Hall.
“The scorpion unit, that’s cool. That means we’re doing something right,” said Casio Montez.
But many activists said it wasn’t enough.
“The unit that murdered tyre has been permanently disbanded” one woman said into Bullhorn. “I’m sure his mother is proud of that.”
At a press conference at the Mt. Olive CME Church in downtown Memphis, Nichols’ parents and their lawyers had called on the Memphis Police Department to disband the SCORPION Unit and similar specialized squads.
“These often aggressive encounters flat out destruct trust between police and the communities they are sworn to protect and serve,” Ben Crump, an attorney for the family, wrote in an open letter on Thursday. “But as we saw in the tragic and unnecessary death of Tyre Nichols, [they] can also lead to physical injury or death when the culture of unchecked, pro-active policing overtakes common sense.”
Attorney Antonio Romanucci, who is also representing the Nichols, said communities around the US have “saturation units” like the SCORPION Unit.
He said he expected that the review would find a disparity in use of force between that unity and regular patrol officers at the department.
These units, he said, are given “whispered impunity.”
At the church, Memphians chanted “call out the culture” and “Justice for Tyre Nichols”
Pastor Earle Fisher, who’s been fighting for the end to police brutality in Memphis for 15 years, is part of a group of activists who have been helping the district attorney plan the timing of the charges and the release of the video footage.
Sitting at a cafe about 10 minutes from the church, Fisher told Insider at he feels confident that wasn’t the first time the SCORPION Unit had been violent.
“It’s a systemic cultural problem within policing in Memphis and across the country,” Fisher said. “Its an infection within the infrastructure itself.”