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Memphis, Tennessee, police chief to serve in interim role under new mayor

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Memphis police chief who was in charge when Tyre Nichols was fatally beaten by five officers will serve on an interim basis under a newly elected mayor, officials said Tuesday.

The Memphis City Council had been set to vote Tuesday on whether to retain or replace Memphis Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis, who has been under heavy scrutiny since Nichols was beaten to death after a traffic stop near his home.

But before the planned vote, Memphis Mayor Paul Young suggested to a council committee that Davis serve as the interim chief to see what effect she can have on crime, policy and community engagement, the Commercial Appeal reported. The reappointment vote was then postponed.

The council’s executive committee, which includes all of the council’s 13 members, recommended by a 7 -6 vote to reject the official reappointment of Davis two weeks ago.

Young took office Jan. 1 after he was elected in November. He had sought Davis’ reappointment, saying he firmly believed she was the right person for the job but that he would make a change if she did not produce the results the city needs. Davis was appointed by previous Mayor Jim Strickland, who left office because of term limits.

The Memphis chapter of the NAACP had supported Davis. Activists who have called for police reform wanted Davis out.

Nichols, who was Black, was hit with a stun gun, pepper-sprayed, punched and kicked by officers after a traffic stop. The officers were part of a crime-suppression team called the Scorpion unit, which was established in 2021, after Davis took over.

Nichols died on Jan. 10, 2023 — three days after the beating — and camera footage of it was released publicly. The beating was part of a series of cases of police brutality against Black people that sparked protests and renewed debate the need for police reform in the U.S.

In all, seven officers were fired for violating department policies, resulting in Nichols’ death, while an eighth was allowed to retire before he could be fired.

Five of the fired officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — were charged with second-degree murder and other offenses in state court, and with civil rights violations in federal court. The five officers are Black.

Mills pleaded guilty in November to federal charges of excessive force and obstruction of justice. The plea is part of a larger deal in which prosecutors said he had also agreed to plead guilty later to state charges. The four other officers have pleaded not guilty to the state and federal charges.

The officers said they pulled Nichols over because he was driving recklessly. But Davis, the police director, has said no evidence was found to support that allegation.

Davis disbanded the Scorpion unit after the beating, and she was initially praised for quickly firing the officers. But Nichols’ death shined a bright light on the department and Davis. Calls for her ouster increased among activists and citizens frustrated with an increase in overall crime, which includes a city-record 398 homicides and a jump in auto burglaries to more than 14,000 last year.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced an investigation in July into how Memphis police officers use force and conduct arrests, one of several patterns and practices investigations it has undertaken in other cities. The probe is looking at how officers use force and conduct arrests, and it answers longstanding calls for such an investigation from critics of the way police treat minorities in majority-Black Memphis.

In March, the Justice Department said it was conducting a separate review concerning the use of force, de-escalation strategies and specialized units in the police department.

Davis, the city and the former officers are also being sued by Nichols’ mother in federal court. Filed in April, the $550 million lawsuit blames them for his death and accuses Davis of allowing the Scorpion unit’s aggressive tactics to go unchecked despite warning signs.

The Associated Press

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