Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Days before Scorpion officers allegedly killed Tyre Nichols, a Memphis man says they assaulted him

Deon J. Hampton and Corky Siemaszko

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A 22-year-old Black man said in an interview that he was assaulted by a group of Memphis police officers that included the five former officers charged with the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols.

Monterrious Harris said he was beaten up three days before Nichols was attacked by some of the same officers who were with the now-disbanded Scorpion unit.

He said that the black-clad men who ordered him to get out of his car on Jan. 4 did not identify themselves and that he had no idea they were part of the special crime-fighting squad that would be implicated in Nichols’ death.

“They were trying to pull me out of the car, but my car was locked,” Harris said this week. “I thought someone was trying to carjack me. I didn’t know they were officers.”

Harris said he plans to sue the city and its police department Saturday in U.S. District Court in Memphis.

Harris’ lawyer, Robert Spence, said Harris called him about a week after Nichols died.

A Jan. 4 affidavit of complaint filed by the arresting officers revealed that the five officers involved in Nichols’ beating were part of the nine-member team that arrested Harris. The document did not indicate whether any officers were involved in a physical altercation.

City officials, the police department and lawyers for the five former officers did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

Harris said he was sitting in his car at the Twin Oak Apartments when several men wearing ski masks suddenly appeared with guns drawn.

One of them banged on the window of his Chrysler 300 and another blinded him with a flashlight as other officers surrounded his vehicle, Harris said.

“Get out the car, or I’m going to shoot,” Harris said one of the men told him.

Harris said he was terrified and put his car into reverse and hit the gas in an attempt to flee. But he wound up backing into a wall.

“At that point, I got out of the car,” Harris said.

The men in black closed in on him and ordered him to put his hands up, he said. But before he could do that, they slammed him on the concrete and began punching him in the face, he said.

“You almost got your head blowed off,” Harris said one of the men told him.

Harris was arrested and taken to jail, where a nurse determined he needed medical attention, which he received at a hospital, he said. Regional One Health did not respond to phone calls requesting Harris’ medical records and details of his injuries Thursday. Spence said he has asked the hospital for Harris’ medical records but has not received them yet.

The affidavit names the five former officers involved in the Nichols case: Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Justin Smith and Desmond Mills Jr. The police department fired all five after Nichols died from his injuries on Jan. 10.

Five Memphis police officers were fired in connection with a traffic stop that led to the death of Tyre Nichols. Clockwise from top left: Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Justin Smith and Desmond Mills Jr. (Memphis Police Dept. via AP)

The five are charged with second-degree murder, two counts of official misconduct, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, one count of official oppression and one count of aggravated assault. Like Nichols, they are Black.

The Scorpion team, according to the affidavit, was conducting an investigation at the apartment complex when Harris “began screeching his tires” and drove at the officers at a fast speed before he stopped.

Smelling marijuana, an officer asked Harris to roll down his window, according to the affidavit. Instead, Harris drove his car in reverse, abandoned the vehicle and tried to run away, the document says.

Harris, who was convicted of a felony in Arkansas two years ago for fleeing law enforcement in a manner that could cause substantial injury or death, had a 9 mm handgun, marijuana and the anxiety medication Xanax, according to the affidavit. Officers also found a black holster and live magazine rounds in his car, it says.

Spence said Harris is charged with being a convicted felon in possession of a handgun, criminal trespass, evading arrest, felony possession of a controlled substance with the intent to sell and other counts.

Harris insisted in the interview that the car did not smell like pot and that the gun was not his. He also said he considers himself very lucky he did not meet the same fate as Nichols.

Image: Monterrious Harris in Memphis on Feb. 2, 2023. (Brandon Dill for NBC News)

“I really felt like God was with me,” he said.

His encounter occurred three days before Nichols crossed paths with a group of Memphis police officers during a Jan. 7 traffic stop and suffered a beating that led to his death.

The five officers who were charged were members of Scorpion, or Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods, an anti-violence unit launched in November 2021, when the city’s murder rate was soaring and the community was calling for action.

Harrowing video of Nichols, 29, being beaten and crying out for his mother was released last week, sparking nationwide outrage and condemnation from the White House on down.

Memphis police officers surround Tyre Nichols as he lies on the ground on Jan 7. (City of Memphis)

Two Shelby County sheriff’s deputies were also relieved of duty pending an administrative investigation into Nichols’ death, Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. announced.

Two other Memphis men, Glenn Harris and Demarius Hervey, told NBC News this week they experienced a violent encounter with former officer Martin in August 2020.

An Aug. 2, 2020, affidavit of complaint signed by Officer E. Martin said Harris and Hervey were arrested after Harris crashed the black Nissan Maxima he was driving and started a brief foot chase.

Deon J. Hampton reported from Memphis, and Corky Siemaszko reported from New York City. 

This article was originally published on

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