Eight men wearing black, hooded sweatshirts and ski masks seemed to appear out of nowhere as Monterrious Harris sat in his car outside his cousin’s Memphis apartment on Jan. 4. They shouted profanities and ordered him out of the car. "I will shoot you!” one of the men said. Harris said he threw his car into reverse. Then he saw tactical vests worn by the men and realized they might be law enforcement. He got out and raised his hands. The officers swarmed him with punches. Among the Memphis police officers who surrounded Harris were the same five men charged with fatally beating motorist Tyre Nichols at a traffic stop just three days later, reports the Washington Post. Harris has sued the city of Memphis and the officers, alleging that they violated Harris’s civil rights and sanctioned an unconstitutional system of policing. Harris is among several people who have come forward since Nichols’s killing to describe violent tactics by the Memphis Police Department, which is now confronting deepening questions about the supervision and training of its officers.
The SCORPION unit involved in the Nichols and Harris cases used a “hot-spot” strategy that now is under scrutiny, along with the broader culture of a department that has struggled to hire officers as crime has risen. “The unit did good work,” said Police Chief Cerelyn Davis. The unit arrested more than 2,000 violent felons and seized more than 800 illegal guns, she said. “This group, we believe, went off the rails that night.” In an effort to bring in more recruits, department officials eased physical fitness requirements and softened restrictions on hiring applicants with criminal convictions. The short staffing and long hours took a toll in an environment in which there were not enough seasoned managers in the department. Said one officer who recently left: “If you’re constantly overworked, constantly around bad guys — rapists, robbers and guys that want to do people harm — and you don’t have that buffer in senior leadership saying, ‘Don’t take this stuff personally,’ it really will envelop you. “Honestly, this was inevitable, whether it was these guys or somebody else.”