Justice Department Launches Civil Rights Probe Into Memphis Police Department

Justice Department Launches Civil Rights Probe Into Memphis Police Department
  • PublishedJuly 28, 2023

On Thursday, the Justice Department commenced a civil rights investigation into Memphis city officials and the Memphis Police Department. The probe was triggered by allegations of excessive force and discrimination against minorities, adding to the department’s ongoing investigations. This action follows the tragic death of Tyre Nichols during an encounter with city police seven months ago.

Key Facts:

  • The Justice Department’s investigation will focus on the Memphis Police Department’s use of excessive force and “racially discriminatory stops” against Black residents.
  • Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke clarified that the investigation is not centered around a single incident or unit within the police department, but rather prompted by multiple reports of officers escalating encounters with residents, leading to the use of excessive force.
  • In March, the Justice Department announced its review of the department’s policies and use of specialized units.
  • If civil rights violations are found, the Justice Department may request a consent decree for police reform and federal oversight in Memphis, as reported by the Washington Post.

Over the past decade, the Justice Department has initiated numerous investigations into police departments across the United States. Notably, last year, it launched investigations into the New York Police Department’s Special Victims Division, focusing on its handling of sex crimes and potential “gender-biased policing.” Similarly, the Mount Vernon Police Department’s use of force, strip, and body cavity searches, and evidence handling are under investigation in 2021.

Ongoing investigations also involve police departments in Phoenix, Louisiana, Oklahoma City, Worcester, and New York. Additionally, the Minneapolis Police Department faced a civil rights investigation in 2021 following George Floyd’s death, with findings of “deeply disturbing” behavior disproportionately affecting minorities and the mentally ill. Consequently, the Minneapolis Police Department agreed to a consent decree mandating comprehensive police reform, akin to other departments like Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, and Springfield, Massachusetts, following Justice Department investigations.

Key Background:

  • Tyre Nichols died on January 7, just three days after a traffic stop during which he was beaten and pepper-sprayed by Memphis police.
  • Footage from police body cameras and surveillance cameras was released three weeks later, revealing officers kicking and punching Nichols while he was on the ground.
  • Five officers were fired by the Memphis Police Department on January 20 and later pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder, official misconduct, aggravated assault, and kidnapping.
  • The Shelby County District Attorney’s Office asserted that each officer was directly responsible for Nichols’ death.
  • In total, 13 officers faced disciplinary charges and denied any wrongdoing.
  • Nichols’ family filed a lawsuit against the city of Memphis in April, alleging that Nichols died “at the hands of a modern-day lynch mob.”
  • Civil rights attorney Ben Crump is representing the family, seeking $550 million in damages.
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