Los Angeles Times


Five accused in Tyre Nichols’ death. Police gird for protests with Friday’s video release.


Five former police officers in Memphis, Tenn., were charged with seconddegr­ee murder Thursday in the brutal beating of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop, authoritie­s said.

Former Officers Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith, who are Black, were each charged with one count of second-degree murder, two counts of official misconduct, one count of official oppression, one count of aggravated assault while acting in concert, and two counts of aggravated kidnapping in the death of Nichols, according to the Shelby County Sheriff ’s Office.

“I’m excited. It shows that justice is being served. It doesn’t matter the color of the officers. The fact is, the officers did what they did, and it was unnecessar­y,” Nichols’ aunt Kandi Green said in an interview with The Times.

The encounter occurred Jan. 7 and was captured on police body cameras.

The Memphis Police Department and other law enforcemen­t agencies across the country were bracing for reaction to the release of the video showing the beating of Nichols, who died on Jan. 10.

The city of Memphis announced it would release video of the police encounter Friday after 4 p.m. Pacific time. Police department­s including the LAPD were on notice as they prepared for demonstrat­ions.

“This is a failing of basic humanity toward another individual. This incident was heinous, reckless and inhumane,” Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis said in a video statement Wednesday evening. “When the video is released in the coming days, you will see this for yourselves.”

Davis urged citizens to peacefully exercise their 1st Amendment rights.

Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for Nichols’ family, said the charging of the officers “gives us hope as we continue to push for justice for Tyre.”

“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,” Crump said in a statement.

Shelby County Dist. Atty. Steven Mulroy announced the charges Thursday afternoon along with David Rausch, the director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigat­ion.

“Frankly, I’m shocked. I’m sickened by what I saw . ... In a word, it’s absolutely appalling,” Rausch said of the video of the encounter. “We should not be here . ... This shouldn’t have happened.”

Nichols, a California native and father of a 4-yearold son, grew up in Sacramento and recently moved to Memphis to work for FedEx. He loved to skateboard and practiced photograph­y, according to family.

Nichols was pulled over Jan. 7 and arrested on suspicion of reckless driving, according to Memphis police. Nichols’ family attorneys say they believe he was stopped for driving the wrong way down a one-way street.

Officers and Nichols were just 100 yards from the home of Nichols’ parents during the encounter, according to Jennifer McGuffin, the chief spokespers­on for Romanucci & Blandon, the law firm representi­ng Nichols’ family.

When officers approached Nichols’ car, a confrontat­ion occurred, and Nichols ran off, police said.

Attorney Antonio Romanucci — who has seen portions of the police body camera video — said Nichols asked why he was being pulled over during the initial stop. Officers quickly used pepper spray on him, and he fled from his car, Romanucci said.

The police officers pursued Nichols, and another confrontat­ion took place, which led to Nichols’ arrest and subsequent hospitaliz­ation, police said.

“When he tried to leave, they caught up to him,” Romanucci said. “They showed him who they are.”

The attorney described a “savage” beating that was more akin to the Rodney King beating that led to the Los Angeles riots in 1992 than the killing of George Floyd in Minneapoli­s in 2020.

He added that, although only five police officers were charged, there were more police on scene. He estimated that 10 to 12 officers were in the video.

“Nobody I heard, no one said they should stop,” Romanucci said.

Nichols can be heard in the video screaming, “What did I do?” and calling for his mother, he added.

Romanucci, who also represente­d the family of George Floyd, said the Nichols video was particular­ly “shocking and disturbing.”

The video to be released Friday shows Nichols being tased, pepper-sprayed, beaten and restrained for three minutes, McGuffin said. She also said that Nichols called for his mother, and that he told officers he wished to go home.

A day after the incident, while Nichols was hospitaliz­ed, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigat­ion launched a use-of-force inquiry at the request of the district attorney.

Nichols had a bright smile, his aunt recalled.

“He just had one of those spirits, one of those personalit­ies that would draw you to him,” Green said. “Every time you seen him, he had a smile on his face . ... Never had a criminal record. Never been in any type of trouble. All-around good kid.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton, the New York-based civil rights leader, said that he would be traveling to Memphis and that he had spoken with the Nichols family.

“The fact that these officers

are Black makes it more egregious to those of us in the civil rights movement. These officers should not be allowed to hide their deeds behind their Blackness,” Sharpton said in a statement. “We are against all police brutality — not just white police brutality.”

Less than two weeks after Nichols’ death, the Police Department announced the firing of the five officers who were involved in the confrontat­ion.

William Massey, an attorney representi­ng Martin, said his client surrendere­d Thursday morning and was “resolved to put this behind him.”

“What police do is dangerous and difficult,” Massey said. “And I think this is every policeman’s fear, that something like this would happen on their watch.”

A lawyer for Mills said his client was “shocked to have found himself in this position.”

“He dedicated his whole life to serving his community,” attorney Blake Ballin said.

The Memphis Police Assn., the union representi­ng police officers in the city, did not immediatel­y respond to a request for comment.

The five officers were part of the Memphis Police Department’s Scorpion Unit, a 40-person team dedicated to fighting violent crime in hot spots in the city. “Scorpion” stands for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborho­ods.

The unit identifies highcrime areas using data and then sends teams to those locations. It was not immediatel­y clear why Scorpion officers were the ones who pulled Nichols over. But the unit has come under fire from activists who say it has not brought down crime and mostly targets low-income residents.

“It essentiall­y preys on Memphians in highly impoverish­ed areas,” said Amber Sherman, an activist who organizes with Black Lives Matter’s Memphis chapter. “All we’ve seen when folks interact with Scorpion is violence.”

In her video address Wednesday night, Chief Davis called for a “complete and independen­t” review of all specialize­d units in the department, including Scorpion.

Nichols’ death reignited public scrutiny of police brutality nearly three years after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapoli­s police officer set off nationwide protests and launched the #DefundTheP­olice movement.

Police department­s across the country were put on high alert Thursday with the announceme­nt of charges against the officers, prepping for potential demonstrat­ions, especially after the Nichols video is released publicly.

LAPD spokesman Warren Moore told The Times the department was preparing for possible protests.

“We’re setting up different watches and making sure we have the proper resources out,” he said.

‘Frankly, I’m shocked. I’m sickened by what I saw . ... In a word, it’s absolutely appalling. We should not be here.’

— David Rausch, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigat­ion, in announcing the charges

 ?? Gerald Herbert Associated Press ?? FAMILY MEMBERS and supporters show a photo of Tyre Nichols at a news conference in Memphis, Tenn., on Monday. The California native was beaten by police on Jan. 7 during a traffic stop and died three days later.
Gerald Herbert Associated Press FAMILY MEMBERS and supporters show a photo of Tyre Nichols at a news conference in Memphis, Tenn., on Monday. The California native was beaten by police on Jan. 7 during a traffic stop and died three days later.

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