Shelby County Commissioners on Monday (Feb. 6) unanimously adopted a pair of nonbinding resolutions to increase transparency and improve de-escalation training for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.
The items echo similar reforms being considered by members of the Memphis City Council.
Both bodies are moving on a parallel track to amend policing practices in the wake of Tyre Nichols’ bludgeoning death following an alleged traffic stop by a special Memphis police crime-fighting saturation on Jan. 7 in Hickory Hill. Nichols, 29, died three days later.
“As we wait for justice for Tyre Nichols, these training measures can be used so, hopefully, this doesn’t happen here again,” said Chairman Mickell Lowery.
The first resolution requests that video of Nichols’ beating and arrest by officers be included in the Sheriff’s Department’s annual de-escalation training.
The recommendation has the backing of Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr., who also is a declared candidate for Memphis mayor in the October city elections. It was sponsored by Lowery.
Bonner has said that he first saw the video upon its public release. Meanwhile, two sheriff’s deputies on the scene of Nichol’s beating have been relieved of duty pending an investigation.
Lowery said, “Thankfully, I was able to have a good conversation with the sheriff about this. Obviously, he’s more than supportive.…There are countless moments that can be used as a training opportunity from the video we’ve just seen. We now know they’re going to be 20 hours more of video made available to the public in the future,” said Lowery.
The second resolution seeks to “provide additional data and transparency to both law enforcement and the public,” through increased data collection on use of force incidents.
Sponsored by commissioner Mick Wright, it is modeled on 2021 recommendations from the Council on Criminal Justice, which called for additional training to improve officer performance coupled with body camera analytics.
The think tank’s guidelines are used to coach officers’ behavior in the field. A case study cited by the commissioner noted a 35 percent reduction in use of force incidents in Alameda, California after similar reforms were adopted.
An increased investment in mobile and stationary video cameras throughout Shelby County is also being sought.
A throng of activists and citizens populated the meeting for five hours before the resolutions were considered.
The resolutions fell short of the ordinances many are expecting.
“This isn’t meant to be the only thing we do. It was just meant to be, what is it I can do at this given moment to make some kind of a difference? I think that’s what you all are trying to do as well. So, I fully expect more things to come…”, said Wright.
Commissioner Erika Sugarmon assured the public that discussions with Shelby County Attorney Marlinee Iverson surrounding ordinances are ongoing.
“My concern is with a resolution, it can easily be overturned as opposed to an ordinance and it’s more impactful,” said Sugarmon. “As a mother of Black children, I feel the pain. I feel the pain. Don’t think we don’t. We couldn’t write an ordinance fast enough.”
The death of Nichols is the latest push to reform policing that has been moving in fits and starts, locally and nationally, since the choking death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day 2020.
After being pulled over by an unmarked car for allegedly driving recklessly, Nichols fled on foot after being tasered and pepper sprayed.
Officers eventually caught up to him about 100 yards from his mother’s house. For three minutes, the 6-3, 145-pound Nichols was beaten with batons, kicked and punched.
Attorneys for his family said an independent autopsy revealed he died from internal bleeding. According to his mother, RowVaughn Wells, he was returning from Shelby Farms, where he loved photographing sunsets.
Another passion of the 29-year-old father-of one and FedEx worker was skateboarding.
Five officers, members of the now deactivated SCORPION (Street Crimes Operations to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods) unit, implicated in the death ⸺Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmit Martin III, Desmond Mills, Jr. and Justin Smith ⸺ have been fired and are charged with second-degree murder and related felonies.
All are African American. Another officer, Preston Hemphill, was fired Feb. 3. He is white.
Investigative records recently revealed Haley took cell phone photos of Nichols after he and other officers assaulted him and texted them to five people.
During Tuesday’s (Feb. 7) City Council Public Safety Committee meeting, MPD Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis and the city’s Chief Legal Officer Jennifer Sink revealed that six additional officers not previously referenced are under administrative investigation for the beating.
The SCORPION unit, launched in November 2021, was tasked with aggressively policing high-crime neighborhoods. Some now are challenging whether the area where Nichols was beaten is such an area.
In the fallout, three EMT’s with the Memphis Fire Department have also been fired following an internal investigation for failing to render aid to Nichols.