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Prosecutors will review all cases of the ex-officers charged in Tyre Nichols' death

This combination of images provided by the Memphis Police Department shows, from top row from left, officers Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, bottom row from left, Desmond Mills, Jr. and Justin Smith.
Memphis Police Department via AP
This combination of images provided by the Memphis Police Department shows, from top row from left, officers Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, bottom row from left, Desmond Mills, Jr. and Justin Smith.

Tyre Nichols' death is putting Memphis police under scrutiny in more ways than one, as Tennessee prosecutors say they will conduct a review of all the cases handled by the five former police officers who have been charged in it.

The Shelby County District Attorney's Office confirmed in an email to NPR that it will review closed and pending cases connected to Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III, Justin Smith and Tadarrius Bean, who have all been fired and charged with second-degree murder.

"This is still an active and ongoing investigation," the office said, without elaborating on specifics.

The former officers have been added to county's list of law enforcement officers whose credibility has been questioned, the DA's office confirmed.

Four of the officers had prior violations at work, as NPR has reported. All but Bean had been reprimanded or suspended in recent years, either for failure to report the use of physical force, failure to report a domestic dispute or for damages sustained to their squad cruisers, according to Memphis police files.

The officers worked for a controversial special unit known as SCORPION, which the city disbanded in the wake of Nichols' death. It made 566 arrests between October 2021 and January 2022, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said last year.

City residents have since come forward to share their experiences of other aggressive encounters with the unit — including 22-year-old Monterrious Harris, who filed a federal lawsuit this week suing the city and those same five police officers for allegedly beating him without cause just three days before they pulled Nichols over.

Nichols — a 29-year-old father and FedEx worker — died Jan. 10, three days after officers beat him during a traffic stop. Nichols and the five former officers charged in his killing are Black.

Body camera footage of the brutal incident, released late last month, cast a spotlight on the city's law enforcement practices and renewed calls for police reform nationwide.

Fallout from Nichols' death continues

Other first responders have been fired or suspended in the weeks since Nichols' death. The police department announced that a sixth officer had been fired and a seventh relieved of duty, while the fire department fired two EMTs and a lieutenant after an internal review. Officials said Tuesday that as many as 13 police officers could end up being disciplined.

New documents released this week shed light on the alleged misconduct of the five officers charged in Nichols' death, including an allegation that Haley took photos of Nichols as he lay bleeding against a police car. It's reported that he then shared those images, including with non-police officers.

NPR's Martin Kaste told All Things Considered that the documents, which pertain to the department's internal review, "paint a picture of officers with a very unprofessional attitude."

Investigators say the officers broke department rules by using excessive force against Nichols and failing to report it, among other things. They also say officers took off their body cameras, and that several were laughing and bragging about the encounter immediately after.

Other cases could be affected

In addition to putting the officers' other cases up for review, county officials put their names on a so-called list of police officials accused of being dishonest or facing criminal charges.

That classification could prompt prosecutors to drop any cases involving their testimony, the New York Times reports, adding that some defense attorneys are compiling a roster of all officers who served in the SCORPION unit, "which could imperil hundreds of cases across the city."

Local defense attorney Brandon Hall told the Memphis newspaper the Commercial Appeal that he was in court Wednesday when he saw a prosecutor drop a case involving some of the officers in question, and expects a similar outcome in other cases.

Another defense attorney and former Shelby County prosecutor, Josh Corman, told the newspaper that prosecutors have been reviewing cases connected to the five officers and that he thinks "it would be a nightmare for any prosecutor to use them as a witness."

Meanwhile, the Memphis branch of the NAACP is praising the DA's office for taking the step of reviewing the officers' old cases.

Vickie Terry, the Executive Director of the NAACP's Memphis Branch, told Memphis TV station WREG that her office received several police-related complaints after Nichols' death (though she didn't specify whether they were about those specific officers or the SCORPION unit).

"They displayed no integrity, so it makes me afraid that others have been treated this way," she said. "If they go back and find out somebody might have been convicted for something that they did not do, you're definitely going to have to reopen cases."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.