Five former Memphis police officers indicted on charges of murder
Jan 26, 2023, 2:05 PM
(Memphis Police Dept. via CNN)
(CNN) — Five former Memphis police officers who were fired for their actions during the arrest of Tyre Nichols earlier this month were indicted on charges including murder and kidnapping, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy announced Thursday.
The former officers, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith, Emmit Martin, and Desmond Mills Jr., have each been charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, two charges of aggravated kidnapping, two charges of official misconduct and one charge of official oppression, Mulroy said.
“While each of the five individuals played a different role in the incident in question, the actions of all of them resulted in the death of Tyre Nichols, and they are all responsible,” he said.
All five officers are currently in custody, Mulroy added. Their attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Video of the fatal police encounter, a mix of body-camera video and pole-cam video, is expected to be released after 6 p.m. Friday, he said.
“This is serious business. These are extremely serious charges,” Mulroy told CNN’s Don Lemon. “I think after everyone sees the video, I don’t think there will be any questions about those charges.”
Second-degree murder is defined in Tennessee as a “knowing killing of another” and is considered a Class A felony punishable by between 15 to 60 years in prison.
The criminal charges come about three weeks after Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was hospitalized after a traffic stop and “confrontation” with Memphis police that family attorneys have called a savage beating. Nichols died from his injuries on January 10, three days after the arrest, authorities said.
The five Memphis police officers, who are also Black, were fired last week for violating policies on excessive use of force, duty to intervene and duty to render aid, the department said.
Authorities have not publicly released video of the arrest, but Nichols’ family and attorneys were shown the video on Monday. They said the footage shows officers severely beating Nichols and compared it to the Los Angeles police beating of Rodney King in 1991.
“The news today from Memphis officials that these five officers are being held criminally accountable for their deadly and brutal actions gives us hope as we continue to push for justice for Tyre,” Nichols family attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci said in a statement.
“This young man lost his life in a particularly disgusting manner that points to the desperate need for change and reform to ensure this violence stops occurring during low-threat procedures, like in this case, a traffic stop. This tragedy meets the absolute definition of a needless and unnecessary death.”
Police nationwide have been under heightened scrutiny for how they treat Black people, particularly since the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and the mass protest movement known as Black Lives Matter.
Police chief calls for peaceful protests
In a YouTube video released late Wednesday, Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis condemned the officers’ actions and called for peaceful protests when the arrest video is released.
“This is not just a professional failing. This is a failing of basic humanity toward another individual,” Davis said in the video, her first on-camera comments about the arrest. “This incident was heinous, reckless, and inhumane, and in the vein of transparency, when the video is released in the coming days, you will see this for yourselves.”
“I expect our citizens to exercise their First Amendment right to protest to demand action and results. But we need to ensure our community is safe in this process,” said Davis, the first Black woman to serve as Memphis police chief. “None of this is a calling card for inciting violence or destruction on our community or against our citizens.”
The five terminated officers had all joined the department in the last six years, according to police. Other Memphis police officers are still under investigation for department policy violations related to the incident, the chief said.
Two members of the city’s fire department who were part of Nichols’ “initial patient care” also were relieved of duty, a fire spokesperson said. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced an investigation into Nichols’ death and the US Department of Justice and FBI have opened a civil rights investigation.
Mulroy said the investigation is ongoing and there could be further charges going forward.
Law enforcement agencies nationwide are bracing for protests and potential unrest following the release of video, multiple sources told CNN. The Major Cities Chiefs Association, one of the leading professional law enforcement organizations, has convened several calls with member agencies, according to the group’s executive director, Laura Cooper.
A law enforcement source familiar with the national coordination told CNN that in at least one of those calls Memphis police told participants to be on alert for unrest. The source added there was an additional call among Washington, DC, law enforcement agencies to coordinate responses and share information.
What led to Nichols’ arrest and death
Nichols, the father of a 4-year-old, had worked with his stepfather at FedEx for about nine months, his family said. He was fond of skateboarding in Shelby Farms Park, Starbucks with friends and photographing sunsets, and he had his mother’s name tattooed on his arm, the family said. He also had the digestive issue known as Crohn’s disease and so was a slim 140 to 145 pounds despite his 6-foot-3-inch height, his mother said.
On January 7, he was pulled over by Memphis officers on suspicion of reckless driving, police said in their initial statement on the incident. As officers approached the vehicle, a “confrontation” occurred and Nichols fled on foot, police said. The officers pursued him and they had another “confrontation” before he was taken into custody, police said.
Nichols then complained of shortness of breath, was taken to a local hospital in critical condition and died three days later, police said.
In Memphis police scanner audio, a person says there was “one male Black running” and called to “set up a perimeter.” Another message says “he’s fighting at this time.”
Attorneys for Nichols’ family who watched video of the arrest on Monday described it as a heinous police beating that lasted three long minutes. Crump said Nichols was tased, pepper-sprayed and restrained, and Romanucci said he was kicked.
“He was defenseless the entire time. He was a human piñata for those police officers. It was an unadulterated, unabashed, nonstop beating of this young boy for three minutes. That is what we saw in that video,” Romanucci said. “Not only was it violent, it was savage.”
Nichols had “extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating,” according to the attorneys, citing preliminary results of an autopsy they commissioned.
Correction: A previous version of this story gave the wrong spellings for the names of two of the arrested officers. According to the indictment, their names are Emmit Martin and Tadarrius Bean.
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