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City council committee recommends replacing Memphis PD chief

Chief Cerelyn Davis made a presentation during the meeting that detailed accomplishments during her tenure, including hiring more than 400 officers and expanding community-oriented policing

Memphis Police Chief

Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis speaks to the city council as Mayor Paul Young stands behind her during her reappointment proceedings in the city council committee meeting at city hall in Memphis, Tenn., on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024. (Chris Day/The Commercial Appeal via AP)

Chris Day/AP

By Adrian Sainz
Associated Press

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Memphis City Council committee voted Tuesday to replace police chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis a year after the death of Tyre Nichols by five officers generated intense criticism of her department and led to a federal investigation into how it fights crime.

The council’s executive committee, which includes all of the council’s 13 members, recommended by a 7-6 vote to reject the reappointment of Davis. The council will vote later on a binding vote on the fate of Davis, who was hired by the city in 2021.

The new mayor — Paul Young, who took office Jan. 1 after he was elected in November — had sought the reappointment of Davis, saying he firmly believed she was the right person for the job but that he would make a change if she did not produce the results the city needs. Davis was appointed by previous Mayor Jim Strickland, who left office due to term limits.

Davis was in charge of the department when Nichols was killed following a traffic stop. The officers were part of a crime-suppression team called the Scorpion unit, which was established in 2021 after Davis took over as Memphis Police Director.

In all, seven officers were fired for violating department policies, resulting in Nichols’ death, while an eighth was allowed to retire before he could be fired.

Davis disbanded the Scorpion unit after Nichols’ death and was initially praised for quickly firing the officers. But Nichols’ death shined a bright light on the department and Davis.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced an investigation in July into how Memphis police officers use force and conduct arrests, one of several “patterns and practices” investigations it has undertaken in other cities. The probe is looking at how officers use force and conduct arrests, and answers long-standing calls for such an investigation from critics of the way police treat minorities in majority-Black Memphis.

In March, the Justice Department said it was conducting a separate review concerning use of force, de-escalation strategies and specialized units in the police department.

The committee meeting was contentious at times, with council members questioning Davis about her record and whether her officers support her. A group of uniformed police officers sat in the audience in support of their boss. Some audience members held signs saying “We support Chief Davis,” while others had signs saying “No on Chief Davis.”

Davis made a presentation that detailed accomplishments during her tenure, including hiring more than 400 officers and expanding community-oriented policing. Young also spoke in support of her and the other people he recommended for appointment to city jobs.

But council chair JB Smiley Jr., who voted against Davis’ reappointment, said Memphis “deserves better.”

“Chief Davis had two and a half years,” Smiley said. “That’s ample time to get it right.”