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John Burris, famed civil rights attorney who represented Rodney King, calls for oversight of special units

Burris says police departments across the county should review specialty units to ensure civil rights are not being violated in the wake of Tyre Nichols' death

OAKLAND, Calif. — “These special units can be outrageously out of control…”

Famed civil rights attorney John Burris is calling for more oversight of special police units following the beating death of Sacramento native Tyre Nichols in Memphis.

“This level of brutality is just unacceptable, and a man has lost his life and the people are outraged by it. It raises questions about what kind of policing takes place in that city,” said Burris.

Five police officers present at the scene have been fired and charged with second-degree murder. They were part of the force’s special Scorpion unit launched in Nov. 2021 to patrol high crime hot spots.

“Somebody has given them this sense that you can do bad things out there because we want to get bad people off the streets. If you have to be bad to do it, that’s ok,” said Burris.

After the brutal beating of Nichols, that unit is now permanently deactivated. The attack has drawn comparisons to the police beating of Rodney King in L.A. Burris represented King.

“The number one difference is Rodney King didn’t die like this man, but at the same time his life was pretty much ruined. I can remember the pictures of Rodney King at the time. His whole body was reconstructed," said Burris.

Burris says police departments across the county should review specialty units to ensure civil rights are not being violated.

“Innocent people get falsely arrested. They lose their car. They get shot. They get beat up. They find themselves in jail, and in a case like this a man is dead,” he said.

While arrests and charges against the officers were announced quickly in this case, Burris says there’s still more work to do.

“1,000 people are killed by the police every year, and African Americans are 25% of those, and a good percentage of those are unarmed. We don’t have prosecutions for all those people, so there’s a lot more that has to be done. But the more awareness we bring to it, I think the better off we are,” he said.

Those statistics of 1,000 people killed every year by police are based on a database maintained by the Washington Post. You can review it for yourself here.

WATCH MORE ON ABC10: Sacramento friends and family gather to remember Tyre Nichols

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