A man is suing the city of Memphis and the same five police officers who allegedly killed Tyre Nichols, accusing them of punching him and stomping on him without cause just three days before Nichols was brutally beaten.
Monterrious Harris, 22, is seeking $5 million in the federal lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday and alleges a pattern of civil rights violations and police abuse in Memphis. Like Nichols, Harris was stopped by officers in the police department's Scorpion Unit, and his lawsuit's complaint says he believes the only reason he wasn't more severely injured or killed is because bystanders interrupted the alleged violent assault. The officers then took him into custody and "false criminal charges" were filed, the complaint says.
"The only crime Mr. Harris had committed was being young and African American," his attorneys say in the complaint.
According to the complaint, on Jan. 4, Harris was parking outside his cousin's apartment complex when Scorpion Unit officers dressed in black with black ski masks "swarmed" Harris and threatened to kill him if he didn't exit his car. Because none of the officers identified themselves as law enforcement, Harris believed he was being robbed and reversed his car, the complaint says. The car hit something, and he then got out with his hands raised.
That's when the officers punched, stomped, and dragged him across concrete until witnesses stepped in, according to the complaint. Eight Scorpion Unit officers are named as defendants, including Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith — the five police officers who were fired and have been charged with second-degree murder.
Harris was initially taken to jail, where a nurse ordered officers to take him to a hospital for treatment of his injuries, the complaint says.
"It was really scary," Harris told FOX13. "It was just even more terrifying that days later I found out that these same guys who beat me up turned around and killed this man."
Scorpion, an acronym for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods, was created in 2021 by Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis to supposedly meet violent offenders with specialized force. On Jan. 28, the police department announced it was disbanding the unit after five of its officers were charged with the murder of Nichols.
In the complaint, Harris's attorneys say the Scorpion unit was only disbanded because of the news coverage of Nichols's death. They weren't a few "bad apples" within the police department, but rather acting on the authority of police and city leaders, the complaint says.
"While his violent and untimely death can never be justified, Mr. Nichols’ indefensible suffering has brought Defendant City of Memphis’ latest constitutional abuses out of the darkness and into the light, igniting a fire to completely – and perhaps finally – expose and extricate police abuses in Memphis. Like a grain of wheat, Mr. Nichols fell to the earth and died; but his death is hopefully slowly bearing fruit," the complaint says.
According to FOX13, the police officers wrote in the incident report that Harris's car had a "strong marijuana smell" coming from it and accused him of trying to run from officers. Officers then said they discovered multiple guns in the car; in the lawsuit, his attorneys say Harris was unarmed and his cousin, a licensed gun owner, brought a firearm into his car without his knowledge. Harris's attorney did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment.
According to the lawsuit, the Scorpion unit's officers were trained to use aggressive force against Black residents of Memphis.
"Although the Scorpion Unit masqueraded as a tactical unit of the Memphis Police Department, in actuality, the Scorpion Unit was a group of violent aggressors, employed by the Memphis Police Department, to terrorize African-American communities in Memphis, Tennessee," the lawsuit states.
Neither the city of Memphis nor the Memphis Police Department immediately responded to requests for comment from BuzzFeed News.