Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Stacy M. Brown

The DOJ had previously agreed to review the Memphis Police Department’s specialized units at the request of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis.

Originally appeared in NNPA

Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney Kevin G. Ritz for the Western District of Tennessee have launched an investigation to determine a pattern of civil rights violations allegedly committed by the Memphis Police Department.
The investigation comes in the wake of the fatal police beating of Tyree Nichols, the 29-year-old Black man who police beat, tasered, and pepper-sprayed during a traffic stop earlier this year.
Nichols died three days later, sparking a civil rights probe.
Clarke and Ritz said authorities are looking into conduct within the police force that might violate the Constitution or federal civil rights statutes.
“The tragic death of Tyre Nichols created enormous pain in the Memphis community and across the country,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland stated.
“The Justice Department is launching this investigation to examine serious allegations that the City of Memphis and the Memphis Police Department engage in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct and discriminatory policing based on race, including a dangerously aggressive approach to traffic enforcement.
“We are committed to working cooperatively with local officials, police, and community members to conduct the thorough and comprehensive review that the residents of Memphis deserve.”
Clarke emphasized that the Nichols case did not solely prompt the investigation.
Instead, she claimed that numerous reports of officers allegedly escalating encounters with community members and using excessive force sparked it.
“There are also indications that officers may use force punitively when faced with behavior they perceive to be insolent,” Clarke stated.
The DOJ had previously agreed to review the Memphis Police Department’s specialized units at the request of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis.
Clarke highlighted a concerning disparity, noting that despite Memphis being a majority Black city, the police department’s traffic enforcement disproportionately targeted the Black community.
She noted that officers were accused of using force against individuals already restrained or in custody, often resulting in serious physical injuries.
The scope of the new investigation will encompass the department’s overall conduct, Clarke insisted.
The DOJ will determine whether the police department engaged in unlawful stops, excessive force, and racially discriminatory policing practices against the city’s Black residents.
Nichols’ family has filed a $550 million lawsuit against the city of Memphis, Police Chief Davis, the five officers involved in Nichols’ death, two additional officers, and three Memphis Fire Department employees.
The lawsuit accuses the city of negligence in hiring Chief Davis and blames her for lax hiring processes.
It also addresses the development of the SCORPION Unit’s “oppression style of policing” and inadequate training.
The five officers facing criminal prosecution for Nichols’ death were members of the SCORPION Unit and have pleaded not guilty to murder and other charges.
“I know this community is still hurting after the tragic death of Tyre Nichols,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta remarked.
“At the Justice Department, we are committed to using all our tools to help ensure that Memphis residents have a safe community and can trust in the actions of law enforcement,” Gupta continued.
Clarke added that every person is entitled to constitutional and non-discriminatory policing.
“Based on an extensive review of publicly available information and information provided to us, there are grounds to open this investigation now,” Clarke said.
“We have reviewed information that indicates that the Memphis Police Department may be using an approach to street enforcement that can result in violations of federal law, including racially discriminatory stops of Black people for minor violations.
“The Justice Department will conduct a thorough and objective investigation into allegations of unlawful discrimination and Fourth Amendment violations. Unlawful policing undermines community trust, which is essential to public safety.”