Tyre Nichols: What's next for the ex-Memphis police officers charged in his death
Everything we know about the case so far — and what comes next.
There were protests around the country over the weekend following the release of video footage showing the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols by police in Memphis during a traffic stop earlier this month.
The shocking footage of five Black police officers brutally assaulting the 29-year-old Black man quickly drew comparisons to the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles Police Department officers during a 1991 traffic stop.
“That was a watershed moment for America,” Ben Crump, the noted civil rights attorney representing the Nichols family, said on CNN Sunday. “And I believe this video is a watershed moment for America. The only question that remains is, how much progress have we made?”
Here’s everything we know about the case against the officers so far — and what comes next.
On Friday night, Memphis authorities released 67 minutes of surveillance and police body camera footage showing the chaotic Jan. 7 encounter in which the five officers chase Nichols, punch him, spray him with pepper spray, and continue both physical and verbal abuse as he grows increasingly limp.
Nichols — a FedEx driver, avid skateboarder and father of a 4-year-old son — died in a hospital three days later.
A New York Times analysis of the video found that officers shouted at least 71 commands that were “confusing, conflicting and sometimes even impossible to obey” during the approximately 13-minute period before they reported over the radio that Nichols was in custody.
The five officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — were fired on Jan. 20 and charged on Jan. 26 with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression.
The second-degree murder charge carries a sentence of up to 60 years in prison upon conviction.
Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said that although the officers each played different roles in the incident, “they are all responsible.”
All five posted bonds and were released from jail before the video was made public, records show.
Defense lawyers for Martin and Mills said they each intend to plead not guilty. “No one out there that night intended for Tyre Nichols to die,” William Massey, an attorney for Martin, told reporters on Thursday. “No one. No one.”
Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis, whose own investigation led to the prompt termination of the officers, was highly critical of their actions.
“This is not just a professional failing,” she said in a video statement released last week. “This is a failing of basic humanity toward another individual.”
A sixth Memphis Police officer involved in Nichols’s arrest, Preston Hemphill, has been relieved of duty, Memphis ABC affiliate WATN reported Monday. Hemphill, who is white, has not been charged.
In addition to the state case, the Department of Justice has launched a federal civil rights investigation into Nichols’s death, the Associated Press reported.
All five of the officers charged in Nichols’s death were part of the Memphis Police Department’s so-called SCORPION (Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods) Unit, which targets high-crime neighborhoods, according to USA Today.
In a statement Saturday, Davis announced that the unit, which launched in 2021, would be permanently disbanded in the wake of Nichols’s beating.
“While the heinous actions of a few casts a cloud of dishonor on the title SCORPION, it is imperative that we, the Memphis Police Department, take proactive steps in the healing process for all impacted,” she said in a statement. “The Memphis Police Department remains committed to serving our community and taking every measure possible to rebuild the trust that has been negatively affected by the death of Mr. Tyre Nichols.”
Protests unfolded across the country on Friday night following the release of the footage.
In Memphis, around 100 protesters blocked the Interstate 55 bridge in both directions, bringing semitrucks and other vehicles to a halt.
Demonstrators filled New York City’s Times Square, demanding justice for Nichols. The New York Daily News reported that three people were arrested, including one who was seen jumping on a police cruiser and smashing its windshield.
But the demonstrations were otherwise largely peaceful.
Ahead of the video’s release, President Biden spoke with the Nichols family and told them he would renew his call for Congress to pass police reform legislation.
“I spoke with Tyre’s mother and expressed my condolences and told her that I was going to be making the case to the Congress to pass the George Floyd act,” he told reporters Friday. “We should get this under control.”
The Hill newspaper reported that the Nichols family also accepted an invitation from Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, to attend Biden’s State of the Union address at the Capitol in February.