The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has launched an extensive investigation into the Memphis Police Department’s conduct, following the brutal assault of Tyre Nichols by five officers during a traffic stop seven months ago, Your Content has learned.
The announcement was made by Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Division.
The investigation will scrutinize the Memphis Police Department’s use of force, stop and search procedures, arrests, and potential racial discrimination in its practices. Despite Memphis being a predominantly Black city, there are concerns that traffic enforcement is disproportionately targeted at Black drivers.
The investigation was triggered by Nichols’ death but is not limited to this single incident. Nichols’ case has added to the growing list of controversial killings of Black individuals by police, amplifying nationwide demands for police reform.
“The tragic death of Tyre Nichols created enormous pain in the Memphis community and across the country,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a news release. “The Justice Department is launching this investigation to examine serious allegations that the City of Memphis and the Memphis Police Department engage in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct and discriminatory policing based on race, including a dangerously aggressive approach to traffic enforcement.”
Reports of officers escalating encounters and using excessive force, even against those already restrained or in custody, have reached the DOJ. Rodney Wells, Nichols’ stepfather, expressed hope that the investigation would lead to changes in police interactions with Memphis citizens.
The investigation will involve ride-alongs with Memphis police and interviews with officers. The police chief and mayor have been informed of the investigation and have pledged their cooperation. However, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland expressed disappointment that his request to discuss the investigation before its launch was not granted.
The five officers involved in Nichols’ case have pleaded not guilty to criminal charges, including second-degree murder. The incident, captured on police video, sparked protests and reignited debates about police brutality and reform.
The officers, all of whom are Black, were part of a crime-suppression team known as Scorpion. The unit was disbanded following Nichols’ death.
In addition to the officers charged, one white officer involved in the initial traffic stop has been fired, and another officer has retired before he could be fired. Three emergency medical technicians were also dismissed for failing to render aid to Nichols.
The Memphis City Council has passed an ordinance outlawing pretextual traffic stops for minor violations, but activists claim the ordinance is not being consistently enforced. The DOJ investigation follows similar probes into the Minneapolis and Louisville police departments, which were launched in April 2021.
The investigations can take years and, depending on their findings, can result in agreements requiring reforms overseen by an independent monitor and approved by a federal judge.