In the US, the $550 million lawsuit compares Nichols’ beating to that of Emmett Till, a black boy who was murdered in 1955.
Lawyers for the family of 29-year-old black father Tire Nichols who died shortly after he was brutally beaten by police have filed a lawsuit against officials and law enforcement in the US city of Memphis.
The lawsuit says the city’s police officers acted like a “modern-day lynching mob” when they punched and kicked Nichols after a Jan. 7 traffic stop.
“Tire Nichols’ savage beating was the direct and foreseeable outgrowth of unconstitutional policies, practices, customs, and willful indifference by the City of Memphis and the Chief [Cerelyn ‘CJ’] Davis was the city’s chief decision maker for decisions related to the Memphis Police Department,” the complaint reads.
In addition to the city of Memphis and Police Chief Davis, five black officers who face criminal charges for the assault were named in Wednesday’s lawsuit.
Also named were another officer who was fired but not charged, as well as three Memphis Fire Department employees who were fired for failing to provide medical assistance to Nichols at the scene.
At a news conference on Wednesday, civil rights attorney Ben Crump revealed that the lawsuit would seek $550 million in damages — a symbolic figure that marks the 55th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.
It was filed in federal court for the Western District of Tennessee on behalf of Nichols’ mother, Rowan Wells.
“This lawsuit and the amount we’re suing is a message that if you continue to allow these gang-leaning cops to commit acts of terror against Black and Brown people, then we’re coming to your city and we’re going to file these lawsuits, ’” Crump told reporters.
He also called on the public to hold police and city officials accountable. “If we don’t hold them accountable from top to bottom, shame on us if this happens to your kids. Shame on all of us,” Crump said.
The lawsuit comes as the United States continues to debate police violence and racism in the criminal justice system. The beating of Nichols was widely condemned, and action was taken with unusual swiftness to hold officers accountable.
Following Nichols’ death, five officers involved in the beating were fired and charged with second-degree murder. All officers have pleaded not guilty and are expected to appear in court on May 1, Reuters reported.
Wednesday’s complaint said the city hired Davis as police chief “with the full knowledge” that she played a “significant role” in an Atlanta, Georgia, law enforcement unit that was eventually disbanded for excessive force and illegal searches.
Davis formed a special police unit in Memphis called “Scorpion Team” that stopped Nichols the night he died, the lawsuit said.
Although created with support for fighting violent crime in Memphis, the department has earned a reputation among many residents for a “cowboy” culture that sometimes sees low-income neighborhoods as hostile territory.
“Instead of ‘restoring peace’ in the Memphis community, Scorpion Force brought terror,” the complaint said.
The five officers who beat Nichols were members of the unit, which was disbanded by the city amid widespread outrage over the incident.
The lawsuit compares Nichols’ beating to the notorious case of Emmett Till, a black boy who was killed in the South in 1955 Mississippi was brutally beaten and shot by two white men.
Thiel’s murder — and his family’s decision to hold an open casket so the nation could see his disfigured face — is credited as one of the events that helped spark the American civil rights movement.
“Like Thiel nearly 70 years ago, Thiel was disfigured by the beatings of a modern-day lynching mob,” the complaint reads. “Unlike Till, this lynching was carried out by those wearing departmental sweatshirts and vests whose actions were sanctioned expressly and implicitly by the City of Memphis.”