28th January 2023 – (Memphis) Video released Friday shows Memphis police officers brutally beating a 29-year-old Black man, shouting expletives and using pepper spray and a baton on him while he called out for his mother in a traffic stop that left him hospitalized and, three days later, dead.
Police struck Tyre Nichols at least 13 times, kicking his face, side and head, punching his head and chest, and striking him with a baton. After the beating, as Nichols sat propped up against a police car moaning in pain, police gathered nearby, calling Nichols names, checking on each other and laughing.
Nichols, an avid skateboarder and FedEx worker who had a 4-year-old son, was hospitalised in critical condition after he was beaten.
Police Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis called the incident “heinous, reckless and inhumane.” Civil rights attorney Ben Crump called the video “appalling” and compared the assault to the 1991 police beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles.
Five former officers, who were fired last week, were charged Thursday with second-degree murder and other crimes in connection to Nichols’ death. Former officers Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin III and Desmond Mills Jr. have each been charged with one count of second-degree murder, aggravated assault – acting in concert, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of official misconduct and one count of official oppression, court records show.
The five men, who are all Black, were booked at the Shelby County Jail, and all posted bond Thursday, with bonds ranging between $250,000 and $350,000.
Second-degree murder is punishable by 15 to 60 years in prison under Tennessee law.
Defense attorneys Blake Ballin and William Massey said their clients, Mills and Martin, will plead not guilty.
Two Memphis firefighters were also “relieved of duty” pending an internal investigation into their actions after the stop, a fire department spokeswoman said. The internal investigation into the fire department’s involvement in Nichols’ initial care will be finished next week, officials said.
The first video is from an officer’s body camera and lasts about 11 minutes. It shows at least three officers approaching a vehicle stopped at a red light. Officers pull Nichols from the vehicle as he yells, “I didn’t do anything.”
Multiple officers forcibly push him to the ground, yelling expletives. Nichols responds in an even tone that he is on the ground.
The officers push him down further, with hands on his back, arms and shoulders. One says, “B—– put your hands behind your back before I break them.”
“You guys are really doing a lot now,” Nichols says. “I’m just trying to go home.”
Multiple officers repeat commands to Nichols to lie down, as Nichols is already on his side on the ground. “If you don’t lay down—”
“I am on the ground!” Nichols says back, raising his own voice.
There is a brief scuffle and the view from the body camera is blocked, then Nichols is seen standing up and starting to run, while the officer with the stun gun deploys it.
“Taser was deployed,” the officer wearing the body camera says into his radio while describing where Nichols ran. “Young male, Black, slim build, blue jeans and a hoodie.”
Surveillance video shows officers beating Nichols
The second video, about 30 minutes long, is silent, taken from a SkyCop surveillance camera at a second location. The camera swivels to show two officers violently pushing Nichols to the ground on his face as he tries to turn over. Then, a third officer appears to kick Nichols multiple times in the face.
A fourth officer looks on, before walking over to strike at Nichols with a baton.
Nichols manages to get back on his feet before officers appear to punch him in the face multiple times. Then, three officers force him back onto the ground.
More officers come into the frame, with one officer attempting to hold down Nichols’ feet. One officer seems to kick him again.
The officers back away as Nichols layson the ground, moving his legs but unable to get up.
Officers drag Nichols across the concrete and lean him against a police car. At this point, at least six officers are present.
It is not until 28 minutes into the second video that a stretcher is brought for Nichols.
Officers use pepper spray, baton on Nichols in third video
The third video released by the city is about six minutes long and comes from an officer’s body camera. The officer arrives on scene and begins pursuing Nichols on foot. Nichols is being restrained on the pavement and struck by other officers.
“You about to get sprayed again” an officer says before repeatedly pepper spraying Nichols.
Nichols can be heard calling out for his mother as officers repeatedly demand he give them his hands.
The officer appears to be affected by his own pepper spray and briefly walks away from the struggle several times.
“I’m going to baton the f— out you,” one officer said, before striking Nichols repeatedly. As Nichols struggles to his feet, an officer punches him in the face.
Officers discuss stop in fourth video
The fourth video, also taken from an officer’s body camera, appears to be a repeat of the second and third videos. The videos contain redactions, such as license plates and what appears to be a cell phone.
An officer is seen running as Nichols is lying on the ground as he repeatedly yells out “mom” as the officers kick and punch him.
“Give me your f—— hands” an officer repeatedly yells at Nichols, instructing him to “lay flat.”
A man, seemingly Nichols, repeatedly cries out in pain as the body camera images stop. It’s unclear if the officer has removed the camera or covered it.
After, as Nichols’ body is slumped against a vehicle, occasionally moaning in pain, the officers stand around and discuss the stop.
“You alright,” one officer asks his colleague.
“Yeah, I’m straight,” the man responds.
An officer complains his leg and knee are hurting. The officers claim Nichols is “high.”
The officers are heard laughing. They claim Nichols was reaching for one of their guns, which the videos do not appear to show.
“We got him out of the car, m———– swung,” an officer says, it’s unclear who he is referring to.
The officers claim Nichols would not pull over for a traffic stop and instead was “swerving” and nearly hit a police vehicle. Nichols then stopped at a red light, they claim.
Minutes later, Nichols is seen moaning and moving as if he is trying to stand.
“You can’t go nowhere,” an officer tells him.
Mayor says video is ‘beyond anything I’ve ever seen’
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland told The Commercial Appeal, part of the USA TODAY Network, Friday that his initial reaction to the video was sadness and disbelief.
“It’s just beyond anything I’ve ever seen,” he said. “Then it turned into anger that a fellow human being was treated that way.”
Strickland said he welcomes the independent review of the department’s specialized units.
“It’s obvious that these men violated a policy, violated their training and violated state law,” Strickland said.
Police chief talks policing reforms, regaining trust
Davis pledged to hold her officers accountable and “do whatever we have to do to build our relationship with our community,” in an interview with The Commercial Appeal.
“This is the time to prove to our community in spite of this crap, this crisis and the adversities that we’re facing, that we’re in it so that we can rebuild trust that we can work together towards healing and prove to them that we can be trusted in a minor traffic stop,” Davis said.
Davis said she’s reached out to the Department of Justice and the Association of Chiefs of Police to conduct an independent review of the department’s specialized units and some results will be ready to present in coming weeks. She also reiterated her calls for residents to protest peacefully.
—Micaela A. Watts, Memphis Commercial Appeal
Mayor: Unit tied to Nichols’ death ‘inactive’
The unit of the Memphis Police Department linked to the officers charged with killing Nichols is inactive and has been since “this event happened,” Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland wrote in his weekly update Friday afternoon.
It is not clear exactly which day the SCORPION Unit, which stands for “Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods,” was deactivated.
Friday, members of Nichols’ family and their attorneys called for the SCORPION Unit to be fully disbanded, and for law enforcement agencies around the country to examine their saturation units.
Crump: ‘We have never seen swift justice like this’
Attorney Ben Crump, who has been retained by the family, called the firing of the officers involved in Nichols’ death “the blueprint” for holding law enforcement accountable in the future.
“We have never seen swift justice like this,” Crump said at a press conference Friday.
RowVaughn Wells called for justice for her son and thanked the community for supporting her family.
“I still haven’t had time to grieve,” she said. “No mother should go through what I’m going through right now.”