Tyre Nichols’ family sues Memphis, police for $550M

Lawyers for Nichols' mother, RowVaughn Wells, claimed the city of Memphis and its police officers' "deliberate indifference" and unlawful actions led to her son's death.

Tyre Nichols’ family has brought a $550 million federal lawsuit against Memphis, its police force and the officers — who at the time were members of a special unit— who brutally beat the unarmed Black man and drew considerable criticism from the general public and law enforcement.

According to CNN, lawyers for Nichols’ mother RowVaughn Wells filed the lawsuit Wednesday, claiming that the city of Memphis and its police officials’ “deliberate indifference” and unlawful actions led directly to the deadly beating of her son.

“This has nothing to do with the monetary value of this lawsuit,” Wells said, according to CNN. “But everything that has to do with accountability. Those five police officers murdered my son. They beat him to death, and they need to be held accountable, along with everyone else that has something to do with my son’s murder.”

(L-R) The Rev. Al Sharpton, RowVaughn Wells and Rodney Wells are shown at the funeral service of Tyre Nichols — RowVaughn Wells’ son — on Feb. 1, 2023 at the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee. Lawyers for Nichols’ mother have filed a $550 million lawsuit against the City of Memphis and its police force. (Photo: Andrew Nelles-Pool/Getty Images)

The suit claimed that when Nichols arrived at a hospital on Jan. 7, he had no pulse and had experienced cardiac arrest, his face was “swollen to the point of being unrecognizable.” In comparison to the killing of Emmett Till in 1955, it stated, the 29-year-old FedEx employee endured a brutal beating “at [the] hands of a modern-day lynch mob.”

“Unlike Till,” the suit contended, CNN reported, “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 traffic stop involving Nichols has “never been substantiated,” the lawsuit said, alleging police yanked him from his vehicle and used excessive force against him, acting like “a pack of wolves trying to hunt down their wounded prey.”

A Jan. 26 criminal indictment followed an internal investigation that resulted in the firing of five police officers, all of whom are Black.

The five indicted officers were members of the department’s permanently disbanded SCORPION Unit, established in 2021 to address increased violent crime in Memphis. However, the lawsuit contends that the unit brought terror rather than “restore peace” to the city.

The suit called the unit an “authorized gang of inexperienced, untrained, hyper-aggressive police officers” roaming free in the Memphis neighborhood without supervision. “They were instructed to strike without warning,” it contended, “and, many times, without any valid constitutional basis.”

Demetrius Haley, Tadarrius Bean, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin III and Desmond Mills Jr. entered not guilty pleas to the charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression. In Tennessee, second-degree murder carries a sentence of 15 to 60 years in prison.

Police identified Preston Hemphill, who is white, as a sixth officer terminated for his role in Nichols’ beating for allegedly violating departmental rules about honesty and personal conduct. They also dismissed a seventh, unnamed officer.

Attorney Antonio Romanucci, one of the lawyers representing the Nichols family, said the lawsuit is extraordinary not only for the monetary damages sought, but for the breadth and depth of disregard that was shown on Jan. 7. Nichols died days later.

Attorney Ben Crump, who is also representing the family, noted that the landmark suit would do more than get justice for Nichols in civil court, CNN reported.

“It is also a message that is being sent to cities all across America who have these police oppression units that have been given the license by city leaders to go in and terrorize Black and brown communities.”

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