5 Memphis officers plead not guilty in death of Tyre Nichols
Five former Memphis police officers pleaded not guilty Friday to second-degree murder and other charges in the violent arrest and death of Tyre Nichols, with his mother saying afterward that none of them would look her in the eye in court.
Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith made their first court appearances with their lawyers before a judge in Shelby County Criminal Court. The officers were fired after an internal police investigation into the Jan. 7 arrest of Nichols, who died in a hospital three days later. His beating was caught on video.
At a news conference after the hearing, Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, said the officers didn’t have the courage to look her in the eye, but “they’re going to see me at every court
date — every one — until we get justice for my son.”
“I feel very numb right now,” Wells said. “And I’m waiting for this nightmare basically that I’m going through right now, I’m
waiting for somebody to wake me up. I know that’s not going to happen.”
The officers pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official
misconduct and official oppression. They are all out on bond. Their next hearing is scheduled for May 1.
The Nichols case is the latest to prompt nationwide protests and renew an intense public discussion about police brutality. Nichols, 29, was Black. All five officers charged in his death also are Black.
Addressing the courtroom, Judge James Jones Jr. asked for patience and civility, stressing that “this case can take some time.”
“Everyone involved wants this case to be concluded as quickly as possible,” Jones said. “But it’s important for you all to understand that the state of Tennessee, as well as each one of these defendants, have an absolute right to a fair trial.”
Bean’s attorney, John Keith Perry, spoke with reporters afterward, saying Bean was doing his job and asserting multiple times that the officer “never struck” Nichols.
“Tadarrius Bean never touched him (Nichols) in any way, striking him. Period,” Perry said.
That claim is contradicted by video footage and Bean’s own words.
Bean admitted to police investigators he punched Nichols two or three times in the face because officers weren’t able to handcuff Nichols. The admission was noted in a filing by the Memphis Police Department seeking to prohibit Bean from working in law enforcement again. The filing notes Bean’s actions were captured on video.
Bean admitted to throwing the punches during a type of internal investigation that, for legal reasons, will likely never be seen by a jury.
Bean also held Nichols by one of his arms while Nichols was pepper-sprayed, kicked, punched and beaten with a baton.
As Bean’s attorney spoke with reporters, protester Casio Montez spoke over him, saying Nichols’ death was murder: “You represent a murderer, bro.”
Blake Ballin, the attorney for Mills, said the process must be “based on the facts and the law, and not the raw emotions that our country is experiencing.”