MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Binghampton man said police arrested him on felony charges for something he didn’t do. Months later, the Shelby County District Attorney’s office threw out his case along with dozens more, because the officers involved are now charged with the death of Tyre Nichols.
Davarius Wrister said he spent two days in jail, while his anger mounted. He says police planted evidence on him.
Last December, Wrister said he was meeting a buddy in Binghampton when all of a sudden, Memphis police pulled up, and he tried to walk away.
“We were just hanging out on Red Oak Street. Just chilling. I really had just got dropped off,” he said. “‘Where are you going? Where are you going?’ I said I was fixing to walk off, because I haven’t done nothing.”
He admitted he was scared.
“They didn’t touch me. I was so scared. I just got into the car,” he said.
Wrister said police found a stolen gun and pinned it on him.
“And he said, ‘You fixing to get charged with this gun.’ I said, ‘How are you going to charge me with the gun, and there’s three more other folks over here? You didn’t charge them. You charged me.’ How did that happen?” he said.
Wrister was slapped with being a convicted felon in possession of a gun, theft and a marijuana charge. He said his brother had to find $4,000 to bond him out. It was money he said his brother didn’t have.
“Go check the fingerprints, see if I touched this gun!” he said. “They didn’t want to do none of that. They just took me down to charge me with it.”
Twenty days later, Wrister saw some of the officers again — this time on the news. They were charged with killing Nichols during a traffic stop.
DA reviewed Scorpion Unit’s cases
WREG Investigators uncovered criminal court records showing three of the five officers charged played a part in Wrister’s arrest, as well as three more MPD officers. They were all working a detail together that night as a part of the Scorpion Unit, a now-disbanded crime suppression team created to target gangs, drugs and auto theft.
The officers wrote their version of events in a sworn affidavit. They claimed “individuals were standing in the middle of the street.” They “heard a loud metal sound of something dropping” into a trash bin, and when they looked, they found a “stolen” gun. They detained two men, Wrister and his friend, for trying to “walk away from it.”
Officers stated they also “smelled an extremely strong marijuana odor” from a nearby vehicle and arrested four people inside the car for drugs.
One of those people was attorney Art Horne’s client. She received a felony drug charge that disrupted her life.
“Very conflicting. I mean, basically, the pills were not found in her purse,” Horne said. “Ms. Williams had to have this case hanging over her head. Had to go through background checks for her jobs and other things while this case was pending.”
Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy says his office reviewed about 100 cases connected to the Scorpion Unit and the officers charged with Nichols’ death. It came down to credibility. The DA’s office says they lowered charges in about a dozen cases and dismissed 39.
“Are these officers needed as witnesses? And if they were, those are cases that had to be dismissed,” Mulroy’s Deputy DA Paul Hagerman explained. “We also looked at issues, you are probably asking about, is this a simple traffic offense that needlessly escalated or whatever the situation was? We tried to be cognizant of those things.”
Horne said his client’s case was dismissed.
“Ms. Williams was innocent, and fortunately, her case was dismissed. The sad part is she had to go through this for almost a year,” he said.
Wrister’s case was also dismissed.
“Really, I could have gone to the federal penitentiary, because of stuff I didn’t do,” he said.
Some cases have since been expunged, meaning wiped from the person’s criminal record.
Of the cases we were able to access, court records show a majority started as a traffic stop just like what happened to Nichols. Ninety percent arrested were men, and of those cases, 90 percent were African American. Most resulted in drug charges.
Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis has since scrapped the Scorpion Unit.
“You saw a lot of arrests. You saw them fighting crime, but you also saw a lot of innocent people getting wrapped up in those arrests. It’s unfortunate that many of those people are African Americans,” Horne said.
As for Wrister, he said his anger hasn’t faded.
“I am glad everything is over with,” he said. “I don’t like the police at all. I never liked the police.”
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