By Adrian Sainz
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis police chief on Saturday disbanded the city’s so-called Scorpion unit, reversing an earlier statement that she would keep it intact and citing a “cloud of dishonor” from the officers who beat Tyre Nichols to death.
Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said she listened to Nichols’ relatives, community leaders and uninvolved officers in making the decision.
Referring to “the heinous actions of a few” that dishonored the unit, Davis said it was imperative that the department “take proactive steps in the healing process.”
“It is in the best interest of all to permanently deactivate the Scorpion unit,” she said in a statement. She said the officers currently assigned to the unit agreed “unreservedly” with the step.
The unit is composed of three teams of about 30 officers who target violent offenders in areas beset by high crime. It had been inactive since Nichols’ Jan. 7 arrest.
Scorpion stands for Street Crimes Operations to Restore Peace in our Neighborhoods.
Protestors marching though downtown Memphis cheered when they heard the unit had been dissolved. One protestor said over a bullhorn “the unit that killed Tyre has been permanently disbanded.”
In an interview Friday with The Associated Press, Davis said she would not shut down a unit if a few officers commit “some egregious act” and because she needs that unit to continue to work.
“The whole idea that the Scorpion unit is a bad unit, I just have a problem with that,” Davis said.
The disbanding was announced as the nation and the city struggled to come to grips with video showing police pummeling Nichols, who was pulled over near his home.
The five disgraced former Memphis Police Department officers have been fired and charged with murder and other crimes in Nichols’ death three days after the arrest.
The five officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith — face up to 60 years in prison if convicted of second-degree murder.
Davis has said other officers are under investigation, and Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner said two deputies have been relieved of duty without pay while their conduct is investigated.
Rodney Wells, Nichols’ stepfather, said the family would “continue to seek justice” and noted that several other officers failed to render aid, making them “just as culpable as the officers who threw the blows.”
A Memphis police spokeswoman declined to comment on the role played by other officers who showed up at the scene.
Cities nationwide had braced for demonstrations, but the protests were scattered and nonviolent. Several dozen demonstrators in Memphis blocked the Interstate 55 bridge that carries traffic over the Mississippi River toward Arkansas. Protesters also blocked traffic in New York City, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon.
Associated Press reporters Aaron Morrison in New York, Travis Loller in Nashville, Tennessee, and Rebecca Reynolds in Lexington, Kentucky, contributed to this report.
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