A federal grand jury has issued indictments against five former Memphis police officers regarding the death of Tyre Nichols, a Black man who passed away after a police beating in January. This information comes from a court document filed on Tuesday.
Police footage captured disturbing scenes of these officers assaulting Nichols, involving beatings, kicks, baton strikes, pepper spray use, and deploying a stun gun on him during a traffic stop on January 7. This incident reignited a nationwide conversation about race relations and police misconduct.
The five ex-officers, namely Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith, had previously pleaded not guilty in February to charges of second-degree murder and other offenses brought by a local prosecutor. It’s worth noting that all five officers are Black.
As per the recent indictment filed on Tuesday, they now face federal charges, including four counts related to “Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law: Excessive Force and Failure to Intervene.” Additional charges encompass conspiracy to tamper with witnesses and obstruction of justice.
Who was Tyre Nichols?
Tyre Deandre Nichols, born on June 5, 1993, and tragically passing away on January 10, 2023, was a 29-year-old African American man. Nichols was employed by FedEx and pursued photography as an amateur, showcasing his work on a dedicated photography website.
He originally hailed from Sacramento, California, and relocated to Memphis in 2020. His mother, RowVaughn Wells, was a significant part of his life. Nichols faced the challenges of Crohn’s disease, which left him notably slender, with a weight of 145 pounds (66 kilograms) and a height of 6 feet 3 inches (1.91 meters), as described by his family’s attorney.
On January 7, 2023, Tyre Nichols, the 29-year-old African American, sustained fatal injuries during an encounter with police officers in Memphis, Tennessee. Tragically, he passed away three days later. The officers involved were part of the Memphis Police Department’s SCORPION unit. They forcibly removed Nichols from his vehicle, employing pepper spray and a taser. Nichols managed to break free and headed toward his mother’s residence, located less than a mile (1.6 km) away.
Cause of Death
Five African American officers caught up with Nichols near his mother’s house, where they subjected him to punches, kicks, pepper spray, and strikes with a baton. Medical personnel on the scene delayed providing care for 16 minutes. Nichols was eventually admitted to the hospital in critical condition.
The officers initially claimed to have stopped Nichols for reckless driving. The Memphis Police Department released four edited video clips from police body cameras and a nearby pole-mounted camera. Subsequently, MPD Police Chief Cerelyn J. Davis stated that a review of the footage failed to reveal any evidence of probable cause for the traffic stop.
In response to this incident, both the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the United States Department of Justice launched investigations. The autopsy results identified blunt force trauma to the head as the cause of death, classified as a homicide.
The five officers allegedly involved in the assault on Nichols were terminated from the MPD on January 8, 2023. Subsequently, on January 26, they were arrested and charged with second-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated assault, official misconduct, and official oppression. All of these officers have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
In total, thirteen officers faced disciplinary action, including dismissal, suspension, or arrest by the MPD. Memphis Fire Services also terminated three employees for their failure to assess or aid Nichols. Following the release of video footage, widespread protests began on January 27.