A Memphis man has filed a $5 million lawsuit against the city and the five former officers charged in Tyre Nichols’ fatal arrest, alleging that only three days before Nichols was brutally beaten, the same officers unlawfully roughed up and arrested him.
In a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday, Monterrious Harris, 22, alleges that his face was punched, kicked and slammed onto a concrete walkway on Jan. 4 after members of the police department’s since disbanded Scorpion Unit swarmed his vehicle and ordered him out at gunpoint while he was parked outside his cousin’s apartment complex.
The men, yelling racial epithets and profanities, wore black ski masks and threatened to shoot him if he didn’t get out of his car, according to his lawsuit.
“Not once did any member of the Scorpion Unit identify himself as a police officer. Mr. Harris – believing himself to be a victim of a car-jacking – panicked and attempted to reverse his vehicle, striking an object located behind his vehicle prior to exiting his vehicle with his hands raised,” the lawsuit states.
The Army veteran said he was pummeled by the men, leaving his head bleeding, his eye swollen shut, and the injuries to both his legs left it difficult to walk. His lawsuit includes photos of his face, depicting cuts to his forehead and under-eye bruising, that are said to have been taken nine days after being discharged from a hospital.
Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., Justin Smith, Demetrius Haley and Tadarrius Bean were fired last month from the Memphis Police Department and charged with second-degree murder in Nichols’ death. The five men were also named as defendants in Harris’ suit along with the city.
Representatives for the city and its police department told HuffPost that they are not able to comment on pending litigation.
The city of Memphis, Harris’ lawsuit alleges, knew or should have known that its officers “were routinely assaulting, using excessive force, unlawfully detaining, unlawfully arresting and/or falsely charging persons with crimes without a legal and/or constitutional justification.” The suit references past alleged incidents of police brutality by Memphis law enforcement officers, including the 2011 police beating of Michael McDonald and Quinton Lytle and the 2012 beating of off-duty officer Lakendus Cole.
“All of these stories share a familiar and unfortunate theme – the Memphis Police Department continually and brazenly disregarding the constitutional rights of the citizens of Memphis, Tennessee, through a slew of unlawful, heinous, and nefarious customs and practices. This case is now among these stories,” the suit states.
The officers reported pulling Harris over while conducting a trespassing sweep of the apartment complex. Harris drove “at a high rate of speed” towards them before stopping and reversing, Memphis station WREG reported citing a copy of the police affidavit from Harris’ arrest.
The officers reportedly searched his vehicle and found marijuana, the prescription drug Xanax, and a loaded handgun inside. He was arrested for trespassing, evading arrest, and various drug crimes. There was no mention of a physical confrontation in the arrest report.
The firearm found by police in Harris’ car belonged to his cousin. It was momentarily left in his vehicle after his cousin, who was not identified, went into his apartment to grab some belongings. The firearm was licensed and registered to his cousin, and “at no time did Mr. Harris even know that his cousin was armed or that there was a firearm in his vehicle,” according to the lawsuit.
He did not commit a crime, and the officers did not have any reasonable suspicion, probable cause, “or any legally justifiable reason whatsoever to stop him, use force against him, assault him, or arrest him,” his suit goes on.
“The only crime Mr. Harris had committed was being young and African American,” his suit states.
In addition to the $5 million in compensation, his lawsuit seeks punitive damages against the defendants and coverage of attorneys’ fees and costs.