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Tyre Nichols death spurs Justice Department police review

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Posted at 8:59 AM, Mar 08, 2023

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Justice Department announced Wednesday that it will review the Memphis Police Department policies on use of force, de-escalation policies and specialized units in response to the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols during an arrest.

The review was requested by the city’s mayor and police chief, the department said. In a separate effort, it will examine the use of specialized units around the country and produce a guide for police chiefs and mayors on their use, according to the announcement.

“In the wake of Tyre Nichols’s tragic death, the Justice Department has heard from police chiefs across the country who are assessing the use of specialized units and, where used, appropriate management, oversight and accountability for such units,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta.

The U.S. Justice Department has previously opened a civil rights investigation into Nichols’ death.

The city on Wednesday also plans to release about 20 hours of video and audio related to the arrest of the 29-year-old motorist who died Jan. 10, three days after his violent arrest. It will add to the already-public footage from police body cameras and a surveillance camera that has given the world a detailed look at the police pummeling Nichols.

Officials have named six officers who have already been fired in the case, and five of them now face second-degree murder charges. Those five officers’ own body cameras recorded them beating Nichols, propping the badly injured Nichols in handcuffs against an unmarked police car, and then ignoring him as he struggled to stay upright. They have pleaded not guilty.

The six officers previously fired for their roles in Nichols’ arrest and beating were members of the Memphis police’s Scorpion unit, an anti-crime task force that residents have accused of violent tactics. Davis initially defended the unit after Nichols’ death but later disbanded it. Officers who were part of the Scorpion unit but were not fired have been moved to other units, Davis has said.

Police said Nichols was suspected of reckless driving when he was arrested on Jan. 7, but no verified evidence of a traffic violation has emerged in public documents or in video footage. Davis has said she has seen no evidence justifying the stop or the officers’ response.

Discipline for those involved in the arrest has extended to the Memphis Fire Department and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, where two deputies have been suspended. The fire department said two of them “failed to conduct an adequate patient assessment of Mr. Nichols,” while the third, a lieutenant, remained in the fire engine with the driver.

The review of Memphis police’s use of force, de-escalation policies and specialized units will be handled by the Justice Department’s Collaborative Reform Initiative Technical Assistance Center, or COPS office. The office has been given more than $20 billion to advance community policing in the U.S., officials said.

The office will issue a public report outlining its findings and recommendations after the review is completed, officials said.