Shaddi Abusaid and Mandi Albright
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The chief of Memphis’ police department had a lengthy career in Atlanta that nearly ended with her 2008 firing in connection with a botched investigation involving the husband of a police sergeant.
Now, Cerelyn “CJ” Davis found herself in the spotlight again as the nation saw the release Friday of a video purportedly showing five Memphis officers brutally beating a 29-year-old motorist. Tyre Nichols, who was Black, died three days later on Jan. 10.
The five officers involved, all of whom are also Black, were quickly fired and indicted Thursday on second-degree murder and other charges. Before the release of the video, comments made by investigators and Davis herself indicated the footage was extremely graphic.
“I was outraged,” Davis told CNN’s Don Lemon on Friday morning. “It was unconscionable. … I don’t think I’ve witnessed anything of that nature in my entire career. It was that bad.”
Footage of the beating, Davis said, depicts “acts that defy humanity” and a complete “disregard for life.”
Parallels have already been made to the 1991 beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers, though King survived those injuries. Police departments in metro Atlanta and across the U.S. were on heightened alert, bracing for intense backlash following the video’s release.
Davis said the footage out of Memphis is “about the same if not worse” than King’s beating.
“Mr. Nichols was able to get away from these officers and they found him again at another location,” Davis told CNN. “At that point, there was an amount of aggression that is unexplainable.”
Davis, who became chief of the Memphis Police Department in 2021, got her start as a patrol officer in Atlanta in 1986. She quickly advanced through the ranks, holding various titles before eventually being named deputy chief.
As a commander, she led Atlanta’s Special Operations Section, which included SWAT, mounted patrol, motors, APD’s helicopter unit, vice and narcotics. She also led the city’s infamous REDDOG unit, according to her biography on the Memphis police site.
She also served as the Atlanta Police Department’s internal affairs commander.
She was fired in 2008 for her alleged involvement in a botched sex crimes investigation into the husband of an Atlanta police sergeant.
Another police employee was also fired and the sergeant, Tonya Crane, resigned before the department decided how to punish her, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported.
Two detectives accused Davis of telling them not to investigate Crane’s husband, Terrill Marion “T.C.” Crane, after the department obtained sexual photos of him with underage girls. A federal grand jury later indicted T.C. Crane on charges of producing child pornography. He pleaded guilty to one count in January 2009.
The federal indictment was issued after Atlanta police took no action in the case, though an investigation by the city later pointed to Davis largely as the reason.
Then-Chief Richard Pennington first demoted Davis from major to lieutenant before firing her. She challenged her firing before the city’s Civil Service Board and was ultimately reinstated.
She retired from the department in 2016 to take the job as the Durham, North Carolina, police chief.
In April 2021, Davis was selected by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland as the department’s first female chief. Her appointment was confirmed a month later.
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