Five ex-police officers from Memphis, Tennessee, have been fired and charged with murder in connection with the death of Tyre Nichols, a Black man who passed away three days after being pummelling during a traffic stop in early January.
Three firefighters who responded to the scene have also been fired, and two other cops have been placed on administrative leave while the inquiry continues.
A disturbing video of Nichols’ violent arrest was made public on Friday night. Here is what we know about the police encounter, his death, and the aftermath.
Sky News takes a look at events surrounding the death of Tyre Nichols.
The 29-year-old died in hospital three days after he was allegedly beaten up by five police officers during a traffic stop in Memphis
— Sky News (@SkyNews) January 27, 2023
Who Was Tyre Nichols, and What Do We Know about the Causes of His Arrest?
Nichols, a FedEx employee who was 29 at the time, was the father of a son who was 4. He was the baby of four kids and his mother’s favorite. He was an enthusiastic skateboarder and photographer, and his friends and family have described him as happy and spiritual.
“This man walked into a room, and everyone loved him,” said Angelina Paxton, a friend who attended his memorial service.
Nichols was born in Sacramento and lived there until he moved to Memphis to live with his mother and stepfather. Those who knew him as a teenager in California have expressed gratitude to CBS Sacramento for the happiness he brought into their lives.
“I know, Tyre. I know how great he was,” said Jerome Neal, who had just visited Nichols in Memphis in November. “I see him interacting with almost everybody at the skate park when I’m with him. He was well-loved.”
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“He just touches anybody who gets around him,” another friend, Austin Robert, told the station. “He’s a fantastic person, and that’s how I want everybody to remember him.”
Family lawyers claim Nichols was on his way home from a suburban park where he had photographed the sunset on the evening of January 7.
On the way home, he was stopped for reckless driving, according to the initial statement from the Memphis Police Department. As officers approached Nichols to arrest him, a “confrontation” occurred, and Nichols ran away, police said. A second “confrontation” also appeared at some point before Nichols was ultimately arrested, police said.
Memphis Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis later said investigators “have not been able to substantiate” the initial report of reckless driving.
Police said that, following the arrest, Nichols “complained of having a shortness of breath, at which time an ambulance was called.” Nichols was taken to a hospital in critical condition, police said.
Three days later, on Jan. 10, Nichols “succumbed to his injuries,” the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said but did not elaborate on what those injuries were. An official cause of death has not been released.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation confirms Mr Nichols has died pic.twitter.com/FJeLcr5ztp
— Sky News (@SkyNews) January 27, 2023
Rodney Wells, Nichols’ stepfather, told CBS affiliate WREG-TV his stepson suffered a cardiac arrest and kidney failure because of a beating by the officers.
Attorneys for the family said that an independent autopsy they commissioned found that Nichols suffered “extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating.” The full findings of the report were not made public.
What Are the Images Captured by the Body Camera and Security Footage?
Four recordings, including footage from police body cameras and street surveillance cameras, were made public on Friday. Disturbing photographs depict five officers restraining and beating Nichols at an intersection after first struggling with him after he broke free from the vehicle after being pulled over.
Nichols can be seen getting punched and kicked in the head and being pepper sprayed and hit with a baton many times on the recordings.
One officer walks up to a car with his gun drawn. Another officer forcibly removes Nichols from the vehicle and pushes him to the ground, all captured on body camera footage.
Holy shit. Tucker Carlson’s guest just said the beating death of Tyre Nichols is what happens when you have “young black men being supervised by a single black woman.” He said this is what happens in cities “run by single black mothers” and blamed a lack of “male authority.” pic.twitter.com/spysDorqMT
— Caroline Orr Bueno, Ph.D (@RVAwonk) January 28, 2023
Nichols can be heard on the video telling the police that he was “just trying to get home.”
The police still press Nichols to the ground while one points a Taser stun gun at his leg. Another officer sprays Nichols with pepper spray, but he manages to get away and run down the street.
The second footage captures police detaining and assaulting Nichols at a different suburban intersection, this time from an elevated street security camera. While being held down by two officers, Nichols is kicked in the face by a third officer.
Nichols is also struck in the back by a baton from a fourth cop. As two cops hold Nichols down, he struggles to his feet and is promptly knocked unconscious by a barrage of punches to the face from a third.
After police had taken Nichols into custody at the crossroads, the beating is captured on video and audio in the third video. When Nichols is on the ground, the cop with the camera hits him with pepper spray several times. The officer eventually pulls out the baton and uses it.
The fourth video shows an officer chasing Nichols and knocking him down at the crossroads, captured by the officer’s body camera. The screen is entirely black for several minutes, but the audio reveals Nichols’ apparent battle to breathe and the sound of his handcuffs clicking.
Officer, “Get him up!” he yells. Nichols is seen sitting on the roadway with his back against a grey car and his hands behind his head while police officers assemble at the intersection and flash their lights. A police officer flashes his light in Nichols’ face a few times, and the man appears to be bleeding from the side of his head.
Nichols is sitting motionlessly against the automobile in the dark. Eventually, emergency medical personnel are seen approaching him and holding him up on one side.
Before the tape was made public, it was shown to Nichols’ family, attorneys, and many Memphis officials. An attorney for the family, Ben Crump, held a press conference on January 23 in which he described the footage as “heinous” and compared the police conduct to the notorious 1991 beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police.
“He was a human piñata for those police officers,” Antonio Romanucci, another family attorney, said.
Nichols’ mother, RowVaugn Wells, told “CBS Mornings” that when she saw the video, “All I heard my son say was, ‘What did I do?’ I just lost it from there.” She said she could not watch it in full.
In a video statement, Memphis Police Chief Davis called the officers’ actions “heinous, reckless, and inhumane.”
“This is not just a professional failing. This is a failing of basic humanity toward another individual,” she said.
The officers involved
It was concluded that five Memphis police officers were “personally responsible for the physical torture of Mr. Nichols,” as police chief Davis put it. The five cops were terminated on January 20 and now face criminal charges, including second-degree murder. They are Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills, Jr., Emmitt Martin III, and Justin Smith.
On Monday, January 30, police announced that in addition to the five who were charged, a sixth officer, Preston Hemphill, and a seventh officer, whose identity was not revealed, had also been dismissed from duty at the start of the inquiry on January 8. “has been under investigation as he participated in the initial traffic stop and the use of a TASER,” the department said of Hemphill.
Three responding firefighters from the Memphis Fire Department were also terminated for breaking “many” rules and regulations. Sherriff Floyd Bonner, Jr. of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office claimed after the tape’s release that two responding cops were “relieved of duty pending an investigation.”
All five cops accused were part of the department’s “SCORPION” unit, which was established to combat street crime. The SCORPION squad in Memphis was “permanently terminated,” according to a Saturday police statement. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland stated in a news release on January 27 that the unit had been “inactive” since the meeting with Nichols.
At the same time, Strickland said that the city was “initiating an outside, independent assessment of the training, rules, and operations of our specialized teams.”
Officers in connection with Tyre Nichols’ death have been charged with second-degree murder. The director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said he was sickened by the footage of Nichols’ arrest, which will be released Friday. @elwynlopez reports. https://t.co/7l58FTkV5S pic.twitter.com/mTmUgH42MO
— World News Tonight (@ABCWorldNews) January 27, 2023
On January 26, 2019, District Attorney for Shelby County Steve Mulroy stated that a grand jury had indicted the five former cops on counts of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct, and official oppression.
Under Tennessee law, second-degree murder is classified as a class A felony, with a sentence of 15-60 years in prison.
On Thursday, William Massey, Martin’s attorney, announced that his client had handed himself in. As of Friday morning, according to court documents, Martin had posted their bond and was free to leave jail.
All four suspects (Bean, Smith, Mills, and Haley) were freed after posting a $250,000 bond. According to Massey, the police officers’ goal was not to murder Nichols.
Massey told reporters, “No one out there that night wanted Tyre Nichols to die.” “No one. No one. To be a police officer is a challenging and often perilous profession. A tragedy of this magnitude occurring under their watch is likely one of their greatest nightmares.”
Officer Haley has a history of complaints about his use of force. While working for Shelby County, he was mentioned in a civil rights case in federal court in 2016.
Cordarlrius Sledge, the plaintiff in that action, claims that he was an inmate in 2015 when Haley and another corrections officer accused him of flushing contraband. The two police officers “struck me in the face with punches,” as the complainant put it. According to Sledge, a third police officer pushed his head down into the floor. He blacked out and found himself in the clinic of the base.
A judge concluded that Sledge had missed the deadline to submit a complaint against the police, and therefore the accusations were thrown out.
Friday, January 27th, Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner, Jr. revealed that two deputies who responded to the scene after Nichols’ arrest by Memphis police had been “relieved of duty.” According to Bonner, the department has begun an “internal investigation” to see if the deputies broke any rules. There was a lack of specifics.
Strickland noted on January 27 that “additional MPD officers are still under investigation for department policy violations, some infractions less heinous than others,” referring to the investigation into Nichols’ death.