FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — The Fulton County Sheriff's Office crime suppression unit, known as the SCORPION unit, announced its new name nearly three months after the beating death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tenn.
The deadly January traffic stop resulted in murder charges for five now-former Memphis police officers who were serving in that department's SCORPION unit. Public outrage followed Nichols' death, leading to protests in different cities after city officials released bodycam video.
Fulton County introduced the new name -- FAST Unit (Fugitive Apprehension Support Team) -- on Friday. Sheriff Patrick Labat had already promised in late January that he would be changing the name of its crime suppression unit.
"The name change comes in light of the inexcusable actions of Memphis Police Officers, who cast dishonor, and suspicion, on the unit title 'SCORPION,'” the sheriff's office said in a news release on Friday.
Sheriff Labat the FAST unit "holds the same values and mission as the previously named SCORPION Unit." The release from his office described what the unit is responsible for:
The Fulton County Sheriff’s Office F.A.S.T. unit is focused on the suppression of crime, apprehending violent criminals, and reducing gang-related crimes. Members of the FCSO F.A.S.T. Unit are responsible for providing proactive interdiction in areas of Fulton County experiencing a high number of violent crimes, street-level narcotics crimes, as well as gang activity. The FCSO F.A.S.T. Unit is also tasked with identifying crime patterns and repeat offenders and deploying legal resources to arrest criminal perpetrators.
"Changing the name of our elite unit was an important step we believed needed to be taken,” Labat said in the news release. “However, as the name 'SCORPION' was not the root problem in the horrific actions in Memphis, the name change for the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office is not a finite solution. We regularly review our operations, and training protocols, in alignment with our mission to serve the citizens of Fulton County with integrity, honor, and respect.”
And the sheriff’s toughest watchdogs are saying Sheriff Labat is on the right track.
“I've had a conversation, a robust conversation with the Sheriff," said Georgia NAACP President Gerald Griggs on Friday. "And I look forward to more changes. But this is a good first step in response to what happened to Tyre Nichols.”
Griggs is trying to get the Georgia General Assembly to go further, and pass law enforcement reforms-- new statewide laws, such as:
- Body cams for all sworn law enforcement officers.
- A special prosecutor for all police-involved deaths.
- A ban on police officers giving testimony before Grand Juries investigating them, since prosecutors say that biases Grand Juries in the officers' favor.
- And a database to keep track of officers who are fired for using excessive force.
So, Griggs said that changing the name of one crime suppression unit, in one agency, will not in itself restore everyone’s trust that law enforcement, and their crime suppression units, are all working to protect them.
“I do think there are going to still be people that are afraid simply because of the nature of this specialized unit," Griggs said. "But hopefully the name change, and other policy changes coming behind that, will help to push forward police accountability.”
Years ago, the Atlanta Police Department decided to dismantle a squad similar to Memphis' SCORPION unit. Those who lived in the city during the '90s may remember the REDDOG unit. According to Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis' online bio, she led various tactical units, including REDDOG, during her time years ago with Atlanta Police.
However, the unit became widely known for its role in the death of Kathryn Johnston, the 92-year-old Atlanta resident shot and killed two days before Thanksgiving Day in 2006 after an undercover tactical unit entered her home during a botched drug raid.
After officers burst into the northwest Atlanta home of the elderly woman, she grabbed her pistol – frightened – and shot once to protect herself. Police returned fire 39 times, hitting her six times – killing her.
The unit was then dismantled after a public outcry and steps have been taken to prevent similar incidents.