On the evening of Jan 4, a Black army veteran named Monterrious Harris says he was in his car outside an apartment complex in Memphis, Tennessee waiting for his cousin, when a group of armed men in ski masks and black clothes “suddenly swarmed his vehicle” and threatened to shoot him if he didn’t exit the car.
These men were not carjackers, as Harris initially believed, but officers from Memphis’ police department—allegedly the very same officers who, only days later, would be seen on body camera brutally beating Tyre Nichols, leading to his death.
A new federal lawsuit alleges that the now-fired officers from the department’s now-disbanded “Scorpion Unit” “hurled racial epithets” at Harris, while demanding he exit the car “or be shot.”
Because Harris, who was medically discharged from the U.S. army after serving several years, thought he was being robbed, he says he initially panicked and tried to reverse, striking an object behind him. Then he got out with his hands above his head, hoping the men would just take his vehicle and leave him be. After he got out of the car, according to the lawsuit, the officers “exacted a swift, violent, and continuous physical assault on Mr. Harris that included punching, stomping, and dragging him across concrete.”
The civil lawsuit, seeking $5 million in damages and a jury trial, names Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills, Justin Smith, Demetrius Haley, and Tadarrius Bean, all of whom have been charged with second-degree murder in connection with Nichols’ death and been fired from the Memphis police department. It also names the Memphis Police Department, and four other officers who are listed as John Does 1 - 4.
The brutal beating of Nichols, 29, has shone a very harsh light on the practices of Memphis Police Department. The civil lawsuit alleges that Memphis officers have engaged in police brutality for more than a decade, particularly targeting Black men.
Harris thinks that his fate could have been much worse, had residents of the nearby apartment complex—who were alerted to a problem due to the noise and shouting outside—not intervened.
When the “Good Samaritans,” as they’re described in the lawsuit, came outside, the officers arrested Harris, took him into custody, and filed a “host of false criminal charges against him.” Those charges included being a “convicted felon in possession of a handgun” (the lawsuit says unbeknownst to Harris, his cousin, who had been in the car earlier, had left his his licensed, legally-owned firearm in the vehicle), criminal trespass, possession of a controlled substance with intent of manufacturing or selling, and tampering with fabricated evidence.
When he arrived at the jail, Harris was bleeding from the head, his left eye was swollen shut, and was having trouble walking due to a gash on his left leg, and bruises on his right leg from being stomped and kicked. The nurse or intake specialist assessed his injuries and ordered he be taken to hospital.
After he was treated for his injuries, Harris was returned to the jail where he remained for several times until his family were able to come up with enough money to bail him out. The lawsuit included photos of Harris, taken approximately nine days after he was discharged from hospital, showing his face still bruised and swollen.
“The current ignoble chapter of the Memphis Police Department ending with the violent and unconstitutional beatings of Mr. Harris, other Memphians and the death of Mr. Nichols began decades ago,” the lawsuit states. “The Memphis Police Department unconstitutional policies, practices, and customs leading to the formation of the Scorpion Unit, which operated as a gang of vigilantes, was consistent with abuses that citizens have suffered for many years.”
The Memphis Police Department did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment.