Memphis: Five Cops Charged in Death of Tyre Nichols as Authorities Prepare to Release Video Footage
Authorities charged five fired Memphis police officers with murder and plan to release video footage this evening of the incident that led to a 29-year-old Black man’s death.
Tadarrius Bean; Demetrius Haley; Emmitt Martin III; Desmond Mills, Jr.; and Justin Smith were fired from the Memphis Police Department and are all 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, according to The Memphis Commercial Appeal.
The repercussions stem from a traffic stop the officers conducted on 7 January when they pulled over Tyre Nichols, 29, approximately 100 yards from his parents’ home and a confrontation occurred. Nichols was able to run away from the officers, but they caught him, arrested him, and allegedly beat him for approximately 3 minutes. Nichols was then transported to a hospital after complaining of shortness of breath. He died three days later. His family obtained an independent autopsy, which found Nichols “suffered extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating,” The New York Times reports.
The former officers said they pulled Nichols over for reckless driving. But after reviewing video footage of the traffic stop, Memphis Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis told CNN that there was no video proof that showed this behavior.
“We have not been able to substantiate the reckless driving,” she said. “That was why [Nichols] was supposedly stopped in the very beginning. It doesn’t mean that something didn’t happen. But there’s no proof. The cameras didn’t pick it up.”
The traffic stop itself and the alleged assault, however, were captured on video, and authorities are planning to release the footage to the public on Friday evening after 6:00 p.m. local time. Prosecutors, police department representatives, local Memphis officials, and Nichols’ family and lawyers have already reviewed the video footage.
Davis called the actions of the officers recorded on the video “heinous, reckless, and inhumane,” in a video statement released on Wednesday.
“This is not just a professional failing. This is a failing of basic humanity toward another individual,” she said, adding that additional officers are being investigated in relation to Nichols’ death for violating department policy.
The five charged former officers were part of a specialized anti-violence policing unit in Memphis, the Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods, dubbed the Scorpion Unit. It was created in 2021 by the Organized Crime Unit and was made up of 40 officers divided into four 10-member teams to address violent crime, car thefts, and gangs, NBC reports.
District Attorney Steve Mulroy said the department has dissolved the unit, and Davis is initiating a full review of Scorpion and all specialized units following Nichols’ death and other complaints that inexperienced officers were being placed on specialized units—unlike previous department policy that required officers to have at least seven years of experience before being considered for a specialized unit. All of the defendants had joined the Memphis department within the past six years.
“You’re using officers to send a message that we’re here and we’re not going to tolerate criminal activity anymore,” said E. Winslow “Buddy” Chapman, former director of the Memphis Police Department and current executive director of CrimeStoppers for Memphis and Shelby County. “In that context, it can very easily go overboard, which it obviously did in this case.”
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said the traffic stop video will be released to the public Friday evening in an effort to be as transparent as possible.
“As we have said all along, we wanted to ensure the proper legal steps were followed and that the family of Mr. Nichols had the opportunity to view the video footage privately before we released it to the public,” Strickland said in a statement. “In light of those matters occurring, we will be releasing the video to the public sometime Friday after 6:00 p.m. It is clear that these officers violated the department’s policies and training. But we are doing everything we can to prevent this from happening again. We are initiating an outside, independent review of the training, policies, and operations of our specialized units.”
Members of Nichols’ family have asked for the Memphis community to protest peacefully after viewing the footage. The family held a vigil on Thursday evening, during which Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, said, “If you’re here for me and Tyre, you’ll protest peacefully. We don’t tear up our cities, because we do have to live in them.”
Community members and security practitioners are taking steps to prepare for the protests. Southwest Tennessee Community College moved all in-person classes to virtual learning, and Memphis-Shelby County Schools cancelled all after school activities for Friday evening.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Tyre Nichols, and those across the Mid-South affected by this tragedy,” according to a statement from the district obtained by The Memphis Commercial Appeal. “In the interest of public safety, on Friday, January 27, we are cancelling all after-school activities, including YCare and athletic events.”
The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security plans to monitor the protest activity, and the Tennessee State Trooper Highway Patrol has also said it will stand ready to assist, said Highway Patrol Colonel Matt Perry in a Facebook post.
“What Tyre experienced at the hands of these individuals was not, in any way, an act of law enforcement, and we must demand justice and accountability,” Perry wrote. “No one can defend the acts imposed upon Tyre at the hands of those men. They are appalling and unacceptable. This was a heinous incident that we in the law enforcement profession must condemn and work tirelessly to make sure never happens to any other person.”
The U.S. Department of Justice has also opened an investigation into Nichols’ death to assess whether his civil rights were violated.
U.S. President Joe Biden offered his condolences to Nichols’ family and the Memphis community in a statement released by the White House Thursday evening.
“As Americans grieve, the Department of Justice conducts its investigation, and state authorities continue their work, I join Tyre’s family in calling for peaceful protest,” Biden wrote. “Outrage is understandable, but violence is never acceptable. Violence is destructive and against the law. It has no place in peaceful protests seeking justice.”
“To deliver real change, we must have accountability when law enforcement officers violate their oaths, and we need to build lasting trust between law enforcement, the vast majority of whom wear the badge honorably, and the communities they are sworn to serve and protect,” Biden explained.
As of Security Management's press time, all but one of the defendants had posted bail and been released from the Shelby County Jail. Their next court appearance has not been scheduled yet, and they have not entered pleas. The five former officers face 15 to 16 years in prison, along with a fine of up to $50,000, for the second-degree murder charge alone.