Memphis Police Department Disbands Special Unit That Fatally Beat Tyre Nichols

The SCORPION Unit was made up of groups of about 30 officers tasked with targeting violent offenders

tyre nichols
Tyre Nichols. Photo: facebook

The Memphis police have disbanded the special unit whose officers allegedly beat Tyre Nichols to death on Jan. 7, the department announced in a Jan. 28 statement. It also called out "the heinous actions of a few" in its decision to "take proactive steps in the healing process."

The SCORPION Unit, which stands for Street Crimes Operations to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods, was comprised of multiple teams of about 30 officers tasked with targeting violent offenders. The group was deactivated on Saturday.

In the statement, which was posted on Twitter, the Memphis PD writes, "In the process of listening intently to the family of Tyre Nichols, community leaders, and the uninvolved officers….it is in the best interest of all to permanently deactivate the Scorpion unit."

It also notes the "cloud of dishonor" that's been cast on the unit in the wake of Nichols' assault and death.

The disbanding happened less than 24 hours after the release of harrowing body-cam footage that documented Nichols' violent beating at the hands of a group of SCORPION officers.

A sixth officer involved in the violent confrontation has also been "relieved from duty," according to multiple reports. Fox 13 Memphis reports that Preston Hemphil, who is white, is the officer who has been relieved — which is different from being fired — but it's unclear what led to Hemphil's relief of duty or if he will be charged in connection with Nichols' beating and subsequent death.

The Memphis Police Department said Hemphil is under investigation and new information will be released as it's made available, WREG reports. Hemphil's role in the incident was not disclosed.

Five now-fired Memphis officers, who are Black — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — have been charged in connection with Nichols' death.

They were charged last week with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, and multiple counts of official misconduct and official oppression in connection with Nichols' death, according to online Shelby County Jail records reviewed by PEOPLE. They have since been released on bond.

This combo of images provided by the Memphis Police Department shows, from left, officers Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills, Jr. and Justin Smith.
From left, officers Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills, Jr. and Justin Smith. Memphis Police Department (4)

Nichols was pulled over for alleged reckless driving on Jan. 7 around 8:30 p.m., and following the traffic stop, Memphis police say Nichols fled on foot and more than one "confrontation" ensued.

In highly disturbing video footage released on Friday, multiple officers are seen beating Nichols for approximately three minutes. When he collapses to the ground, officers continue punching him in the head. Officers also used a taser and pepper spray on Nichols. After the attack, Nichols is slumped against a vehicle. He was transported to the hospital and died three days later.

A statement from Benjamin Crump and Antonio Romanucci, two attorneys representing Nichols' family, says a preliminary autopsy shows he experienced "extensive bleeding." The statement also says police "brutalized him to the point he was unrecognizable."

Activists hold signs showing Tyre Nichols as attorney Ben Crump is seen speaking on a monitor during a press conference at Mt. Olive Cathedral CME Church addressing video footage of the violent police encounter that led to Nichols death in Memphis, TN on January 23, 2023.
Activists holding signs showing Tyre Nichols. Brandon Dill for The Washington Post via Getty

During a Friday press conference, Crump said that during the police encounter, Nichols cried out for his mother.

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"He calls out three times for his mother, his last words on this earth are 'Mom, Mom, Mom,' he's screaming for her," said Crump. "He said, 'I just wanna go home.' "

Lawyers for Nichols' family have also released a statement after the SCORPION unit's deactivation. Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci called the police's decision "a decent and just decision."

"We must keep in mind that this is just the next step on this journey for justice and accountability, as clearly this misconduct is not restricted to these specialty units. It extends so much further," they noted.

A GoFundMe created by Nichols' mother, RowVaughn Wells, has surpassed $1 million dollars.

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