|Members of the SCORPION police unit in Memphis|
Five Memphis police officers charged in the deadly police beating of Tyre Nichols last month are accused of assaulting another young Black man just three days prior, according to a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday.
Monterrious Harris, 22, filed the lawsuit against the officers and the city of Memphis, alleging the officers were among several members of the now-disbanded SCORPION police unit who allegedly punched, stomped and dragged him across concrete during his arrest on January 4.The lawsuit, filed in US District Court, alleges Harris was unconstitutionally arrested and accuses the city of failing to prevent or address an alleged pattern of policing abuses within the SCORPION unit.
This is the latest chapter in the sad story of SCORPIONS' failure to fulfill its stated purpose: to foster safety in areas of the city where residents had reason to be concerned about crime. Write CNN reporters Nick Valencia, Elizabeth Wolfe, and Pamela Kirkland:
When the specialized policing unit was launched in 2021, it was championed by the city and police department as a tool to tackle some of Memphis’ most violent crimes. But it was quickly shut down after videos of Nichols’ violent and deadly arrest ignited nationwide protests and led to five SCORPION unit officers being charged with murder, assault and several other charges in connection with Nichols’ death. Two of the fired officers plan to plead not guilty, their attorneys said.
The five officers – Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith – were among the team of officers that arrested Harris at an apartment complex, according to a police affidavit and the lawsuit.
We have reported multiple times on the tendency of law-enforcement officers to produce official reports that are at odds, sometimes wildly so, with what actually happened. (See here, here, and here.) That appears to be an issue in the Monterrious Harris case:
The account given by police in the affidavit – which does not mention officers physically struggling with Harris during the arrest – and the account given in the lawsuit strongly contradict one another. The lawsuit accuses the arresting officers of providing a “falsified” affidavit about the details of Harris’ arrest.
According to the lawsuit, Harris had arrived at an apartment complex to meet his cousin, who sat in the car with him briefly but got out to get a jacket. While the cousin was gone, the lawsuit says, the officers, who were wearing ski masks and didn’t immediately identify themselves, confronted Harris.
After his arrest, police alleged they found a handgun in the car and that Harris was in possession of Xanax and marijuana, the affidavit shows. The lawsuit says the handgun was placed in the car by Harris’ cousin – who the suit says is licensed to own the firearm – when he came to sit in the car, and did so without Harris’ knowledge.
“At no time did Mr. Harris even know that his cousin was armed or that there was a firearm in his vehicle,” the lawsuit says.
Harris was charged with being a convicted felon in possession of a handgun, criminal trespass, evading arrest, possession of a firearm during a dangerous felony, possession of a controlled substance, tampering with or fabricating evidence, and possession of drug paraphernalia, according to the lawsuit and affidavit.
The lawsuit alleges the arrest violated Harris’ constitutional rights including the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure and due process of law. It is seeking $5 million in damages and punitive damages against the defendants.
According to the lawsuit, the officers -- without identifying themselves -- asked Harris to exit his vehicle, and then punched, stomped, and dragged him on concrete before taking him into custody. The complaint includes photographs of Harris' injuries. From CNN:
Harris’ head was bleeding, his left eye was swollen shut and his legs were swollen and bruised when he arrived at the jail, the suit says. It adds that he was not given medical treatment until a nurse or intake specialist at the jail ordered that he be taken to a hospital.
Robert Spence is Harris' attorney, and he states that the SCORPION officers are not just a "few bad apples" in the Memphis PD. Reports CNN:
The lawsuit alleges the police department and the city of Memphis allowed the SCORPION unit to operate like a “gang of vigilantes” without adequate training or supervision.
It alleges that the city hired officers for the unit who didn’t have the experience or education typically required of such specialized units and subsequently failed to provide them with training to do the tasks required of them.
The lawsuit also details several accusations of misconduct against the unit, including that its officers were trained by the department to falsify affidavits that provide the factual basis for arrests.
“The Scorpion Unit was not a rogue unit or a unit comprised of a ‘few bad apples,’” the lawsuit says. “All of its actions were performed at the behest of the Memphis Police Department and Defendant City of Memphis.”
“These officers weren’t out here just acting rogue,” Harris’ attorney Robert Spence told CNN. “They’re wearing bodycams. I mean, they’re recording this with impunity. … They’re not afraid that anybody’s going to see it.”