Department Of Justice Launches Investigation Into Memphis Police Department

Months after the death of Tyre Nichols, the Department of Justice is investigating Memphis' policing practices.
Tyre Nichols was killed in January.
Tyre Nichols was killed in January.
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

The Department of Justice announced Thursday that it’s investigating whether the Memphis Police Department participates in discriminatory practices against Black people, following the high-profile police killing of Tyre Nichols earlier this year.

Nichols’ killing in January sparked nationwide outrage. Body camera footage showed five officers beating the 29-year-old Black man after a traffic stop in a residential Tennessee neighborhood.

The Justice Department initiated a review of the Memphis Police Department after Nichols’ death. The new formal “patterns and practices” review will be a broader look at how the department handles policing.

Authorities indicated the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) investigation is separate from the civil investigation into the department as well as from the federal criminal civil rights investigation of MPD officers related to Nichol’s death.

“The tragic death of Tyre Nichols created enormous pain in the Memphis community and across the country,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

“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. We are committed to working cooperatively with local officials, police, and community members to conduct the thorough and comprehensive review that the residents of Memphis deserve,” the statement continued.

The city of Memphis finds itself at the center of national discussions on policing and rebuilding trust with communities.

Nichols died the night of Jan. 7 as he was fleeing a traffic stop. Five Black police officers were seen taking turns punching and beating him on video footage released by the city.

The case has since sparked outrage among other families nationwide whose loved ones were killed by police violence, and many such families in Memphis have demanded their family members’ cases be reopened by Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy.

Nichols’ death and broader conversations about policing have taken a key role in the city’s upcoming mayoral election, while criticism of Cerelyn Davis, the current Memphis police chief, has led to questions of whether the city might bring in a new top cop.

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