Murder in the US: Everything to Know About Tyre Nichols Case Before Release of Body Cam Footage
© AP Photo / Gerald HerbertFamily members and supporters hold a photograph of Tyre Nichols at a news conference in Memphis
© AP Photo / Gerald Herbert
On Thursday, five former Memphis police officers were charged with murder and other crimes related to the beating death of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols. On Friday, body cam footage of the beating and Nichols’ arrest will be released to the public.
Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith have all been charged with the same crimes, including second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct, and official oppression. The five former officers, like Nichols, are Black. All five have also been fired from the Memphis Police Department.
What Led to This?
On January 7, police pulled Nichols over for alleged reckless driving. Police say Nichols fled the scene, causing the officers to chase him which then led to another “confrontation." At that time, police say Nichols complained about shortness of breath and was brought to a hospital in critical condition. He died on January 10.
Nichols’ family says he died of a heart attack and kidney failure that they argue was brought on by the confrontation with police officers. Authorities have not issued a cause of death, saying only that Nichols had a “medical emergency.”
An independent autopsy, the preliminary results of which were released by the family’s lawyers on Thursday, found that Nichols “suffered extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating.”
Body camera footage of the confrontation has been shown to city officials and Nichols’ family and attorneys. The footage will not be released to the public until Friday evening. According to one of the family’s attorneys, Nichols was beaten, shocked with a Taser, pepper sprayed, and restrained during his arrest. The attorney noted that Nichols could be heard crying out for his mother in the video.
City officials are not denying that the video is brutal and say it does not represent the city or its police department. Police Chief Cerelyn Davis said in a video statement that the beating by officers was “heinous, reckless and inhumane.”
Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said all five officers played a role in Nichols’ death.
“The actions of all of them resulted in the death of Tyre Nichols,” Mulroy told reporters. “They are all responsible.”
An internal investigation found the officers used excessive force and failed to intervene or provide help, breaking department policy. They were fired from the department last week.
Two members of the Memphis Fire Department have also been relieved of duty while an internal investigation takes place. A spokesperson for the department said the two individuals were involved in the initial patient care of Nichols but declined to provide further details.
Family and Community Response
Nichols’ mother, RowVaugh Wells, said she could not watch the video of Nichols’ beating. “When I walked in that room and sat there and heard his voice, that just did something to me and I had to get out. I’ve already seen what they did to him. I don’t need to see how they did it,” she said.
Nichols’ stepfather, Rodney Wells, previously told reporters that the family would not accept anything less than a first-degree murder charge. The family has backed off that since, with one of their lawyers, Ben Crump, saying the charges the officers received were encouraging. “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,” Crump said at a press conference.
Another lawyer for the family, Antonio Romanucci, said Nichols was treated like a “human piñata for those police officers.” The comment caused Nichols’ mother to break into tears during a news conference.
“The brutality of it all, that’s the most jarring part,” Rodney Wells said at a news conference Monday afternoon after seeing the body camera footage. “It was just so brutal. He didn’t deserve that.”
Memphis City Council Member Martavius Jones said police training in the city needs to be reevaluated. “This Black man died at the hands of other Black men that were wearing blue,” Jones said in an interview with CBS News. “Blue is the only color that matters here.”
Protests are expected when the body camera footage is released. Police Chief Davis is asking those who protest to remain peaceful. “I expect our citizens to exercise their First Amendment right to protest, to demand action and results,” she said at the same press conference where she condemned the former officers’ actions. “But we need to ensure our community is safe in this process. None of this is a calling card for inciting violence or destruction on our community or our citizens.”
Nichols’ family is also asking the community to remain peaceful after the footage is released.
Meanwhile, NAACP President Derrick Johnson released a statement, demanding Congress address continued police violence.
“If anyone needs to see this video, it's every single leader in Congress. Sit in your comfy leather chair, watch the video when it is released, and tell us what else you need to vote ‘yes’ on police reform. By failing to write a piece of legislation, you're writing another obituary. By failing to pass the legislation, you're passing on your sworn duty to protect the people,” the statement reads. “We know just how much all of you will be thinking and praying upon the release of the video, you don't need to mention it. Instead, tell us what you're going to do about it.”
Who Was Tyre Nichols?
Twenty-nine years old and a father to a four-year-old son, Tyre Nichols worked the afternoon to evening shift at FedEx with his stepfather. His family says he and his stepfather would often return to his mother’s home during their lunch break around 7 p.m. An avid photographer and skateboarder, Nichols would often go to nearby Shelby Farms to pursue his passions.
His mother says that he suffered from Crohn's disease and was under 145 pounds. She added that he had her name tattooed on his arm. “That made me proud,” she said. “Most kids don’t put their mom’s name. My son was a beautiful soul.”
According to the family’s lawyers, Nichols can be heard in the video of his confrontation with police crying out for his mother, who lived just 100 yards from where police beat him. They believe those were his last words.
“You should not be killed because of a simple traffic stop,” said Crump.