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The family of Tyre Nichols filed a $550M lawsuit against the city of Memphis and police officers this week, just over three months after the FedEx driver died following a beating at the hands of law enforcement.
Nichols, 29, was pronounced dead on Jan. 10 after five since-fired officers reportedly senselessly beat, slapped, pepper sprayed and kicked him during a traffic stop just 60 yards from his family’s home.
The suit filed Wednesday for Nichols’ mother, RowVaugh Wells, accuses Memphis Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis of starting the Scorpion crime-suppression unit that allegedly used “extreme intimidation, humiliation, and violence” to “disproportionately” target young black men.
At least two of the officers involved in Nichols’ death were part of the Scorpion squad, which was disbanded in late January. All five were also fired and charged with second-degree murder.
The reasons the officers pulled the father-of-one over have “never been substantiated,” the suit reads. It alleges that he was targeted because he was black.
In addition to Davis and the five charged officers, the lawsuit names the city of Memphis, one officer who was fired but spared criminal charges, and another officer who retired before he could be let go as defendants.
It also cites three Memphis Fire Department employees who were fired after reports emerged that they failed to render aid to Nichols after the beating.
The lawsuit writes that Nichols, who sustained severe injuries and internal bleeding, was “left unrecognizable” by the attack.
The attorneys for Nichols’ mother compared the Memphis officers to a “modern-day lynch mob” and likened the beating to the 1955 lynching death of Emmett Till.
“Unlike Till, this lynching was carried out by those adorned in department sweatshirts and vests and their actions were sanctioned—expressly and implicitly—by the City of Memphis,” the filing alleges.
The charged officers – Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills, Jr., and Justin Smith – were incriminated in part by their own body camera footage, which showed them relentlessly targeting Nichols and then ignoring him as he sat handcuffed and propped against a police car.
All five pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in February.
Martin, Haley, and Officer Preston Hemphill initially claimed that they pulled Nichols over on Jan. 7 because he was driving recklessly.
They then forced Nichols from his car and pepper sprayed him while cursing and threatening him. When Nichols broke free, police records note that Hemphill fired his stun gun.
Mills, Bean, and Smith captured Nichols a few minutes later.
Police records indicate that the three men were joined by Martin and Haley as they proceeded to punch Nichols and beat him with a baton.
Nichols’ mother seeks a jury trial and financial damages worth $550M, according to the AP, citing attorney Ben Crump.
Nichols’ death – the latest in a string of harrowing encounters between police and black individuals –prompted national outcry. His Feb. 1 funeral drew hundreds of mourners, including Vice President Kamala Harris and the Rev. Al Sharpton, who delivered the eulogy.
Days later, Nichols’ mother and stepfather were guests at President Biden’s State of the Union address.
With Post wires