A man says he survived an "unrelenting beating" by the same Memphis police officers accused of killing Tyre Nichols days before his death.
A federal lawsuit filed by Monterrious Harris, 22, of Memphis, says members of the Memphis Police Department's now-deactivated "Scorpion Unit" suddenly swarmed him and threatened to kill him if he didn't step out of his car while visiting his cousin on Jan. 4 - just three days before Nichols' deadly Jan. 7 encounter with police.
Harris maintains he hadn't committed a crime before men wearing black ski masks and tactical vests, who he didn't realize were officers, grabbed him once he exited his car, slammed him face-down into concrete and began punching and kicking him, according to a complaint.
Now Harris is suing the city of Memphis, the five former officers facing murder charges over Nichols' death - Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills, Jr., Justin Smith, Demetrius Haley and Tadarrius Bean - and four unnamed Memphis police officers, the complaint shows.
He's seeking $5 million in damages.
The Memphis Police Department and the city declined a request for comment from McClatchy News on Feb. 8.
Following an internal investigation and video showing Nichols' brutal death, Martin, Mills, Smith, Haley and Bean were fired, the Memphis Police Department said in a Jan. 30 news release. Each of the men face the same charges, including second-degree murder, according to the Shelby County District Attorney's Office.
"Fortunately, unlike Mr. Nichols, Mr. Harris survived his encounter with the Scorpion Unit and is alive and able to recount the events," the complaint says.
In a statement to McClatchy News, Harris' attorney Robert Spence characterized the Scorpion Unit as a "group of thugs," created by the Memphis Police Department, who had the authority to "harass, demean, beat, and otherwise assault young African American men" until Nichols was killed.
The police department's Scorpion Unit was deactivated on Jan. 28 over Nichol's death.
Harris' lawsuit argues the "life-altering" beating from Memphis police officers ended because others witnessed the assault.
It happened on Jan. 4 as Harris drove to pick up his cousin at the Twin Oaks apartment complex in Memphis before officers swarmed him, the complaint says.
According to the lawsuit, officers created a false narrative to justify their actions against Harris.
As Harris backed into a parking spot, five or six men armed with guns suddenly appeared and ordered him to get out of his car or "be shot" while hurling racial slurs, the complaint says.
Initially, Harris thought the men were a part of a street gang, according to his attorney.
When Harris stepped out of his car with his hands raised, the men beat him for roughly one to two minutes until other apartment complex residents came outside, the complaint says. Then, officers are accused of handcuffing Harris and transporting him to jail as he bled from his head with severe injuries.
FOX13 reports the officers involved in arresting Harris wrote in an incident report that Harris, whose car allegedly smelled of marijuana, tried fleeing police and was seen throwing a bag containing a "leafy substance." Additionally, they reportedly said Harris had guns and a scale in the car.
Spence denies the details in the officers' incident report and said there was one "registered gun in the car that belonged to (Harris') cousin who had just seconds before exited the car to return to his apartment to change clothes."
Harris is taken to jail before hospital, lawsuit says
When Harris was brought to jail after the beating, a nearby nurse saw his injuries and advocated for him to be taken to a nearby hospital, according to the lawsuit.
He was transported to a hospital before being taken back to jail, the complaint says.
Harris stayed in jail until his family bailed him out, according to the complaint, which accuses the Scorpion Unit's officers of faking an affidavit and lying about the details surrounding the day Harris was beaten.
The officers are accused of wrongly issuing a slew of charges against him.
"The Scorpion Unit's entire encounter with Mr. Harris was legally unjustified, unquestionably unconstitutional, and unacceptable in any civilized society," the complaint says.
The lawsuit blames the city of Memphis, saying it was "responsible for the hiring, training, discipline and control of all personnel of the Memphis Police Department, including the Individual Defendants and the Scorpion Unit."
Harris maintains he was deprived of his civil rights.
Tyre Nichols' death
On Jan. 7, Nichols, 29, was illegally stopped by the Scorpion Unit as he was on his way to eat dinner with his mother, the complaint says.
Then, the unit "beat (him) so severely that he was unrecognizable" without legal justification before he eventually died at a hospital on Jan. 10, the complaint says.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said in a statement on Jan. 26 the officers clearly violated police department policy during their encounter with Nichols.
"I am sad and angry for the family of Tyre Nichols," he said.
McClatchy News contacted attorneys representing Martin, Mills and Haley in the criminal case against them on Feb. 8 and didn't immediately receive a response. Information regarding attorneys for Smith and Bean wasn't immediately available.
It is unclear if the five former officers obtained legal representation in connection with Harris' lawsuit.
"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," Harris' lawsuit says.
"Like a grain of wheat, Mr. Nichols fell to the earth and died; but his death is hopefully slowly bearing fruit."
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