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DOJ launches an investigation into Memphis and the city's police department

A patch of the Memphis Police Department pictured on May 18, 2023 in Nashville, Tenn.
George Walker IV
A patch of the Memphis Police Department pictured on May 18, 2023 in Nashville, Tenn.

The Justice Department has launched an investigation into Memphis and its police department for its use of force, searches and arrests and potential discriminatory policing.

Officials for the DOJ announced the launch of the civil inquiry Thursday saying the goal of the pattern or practice investigation was to find out if there are systemic violations of the Constitution or federal law by the Memphis Police Department.

"Every person is entitled to constitutional and non-discriminatory policing in our country," Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division said in a statement. "Based on an extensive review of publicly available information and information provided to us, there are grounds to open this investigation now."

She said this information included reports that Memphis police officers made racially discriminatory stops of Black people for minor violations.

"The Justice Department will conduct a thorough and objective investigation into allegations of unlawful discrimination and Fourth Amendment violations. Unlawful policing undermines community trust, which is essential to public safety," she said.

This all comes more than seven months after the death of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, who was beaten by officers from the Memphis Police Department.

A photo of Tyre Nichols from a celebration of his  life on February 1, 2023 in Memphis, Tennessee.
Lucy Garrett / Getty Images
Getty Images
A photo of Tyre Nichols from a celebration of his life on February 1, 2023 in Memphis, Tennessee.

After his death a federal criminal civil rights investigation was launched into the Memphis Police Department and the five officers charged in his murder. This new pattern or practice investigation is separate from that case.

"The tragic death of Tyre Nichols created enormous pain in the Memphis community and across the country," Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement. "The Justice Department is launching this investigation to examine serious allegations that the City of Memphis and the Memphis Police Department engage in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct and discriminatory policing based on race, including a dangerously aggressive approach to traffic enforcement."

Nichols was stopped by Memphis police for what they called reckless driving. According to initial police reports, officers said Nichols fled the scene but eventually was taken into custody after two "confrontations" with officers.

Body camera footage and surveillance videoslater revealed Nichols suffered a brutal beating by officers. Five officers involved were fired and charged with murder.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said in a statement that the city will be "a good partner in this new inquiry" but that he is "disappointed that my request was not granted by the Department of Justice to discuss this step before a decision was made to move down this path."

"I know they discussed the need for such an action with many other individuals. I hope the remainder of the process is more forthright and inclusive than it has been so far," Strickland said.

Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis said her department "will continue to fully cooperate and work closely with the Department of Justice (DOJ) as its members conduct this next phase of their investigation."

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Jaclyn Diaz is a reporter on Newshub.