Tyre Nichols asked cops a simple question before he died, according to an attorney representing his family: “What did I do?”
Family members gathered with their legal team in downtown Memphis on Monday to express fresh outrage and grief after viewing video of the police encounter that preceded the 29-year-old Black man’s death in the wake of a traffic stop this month.
Ben Crump, the high-profile civil-rights lawyer representing Nichols’ family, described a horrific video—which has not yet been released to the public—that RowVaughn Wells, Nichols’ mother, could not watch for more than a minute.
“All my son was trying to do was get home,” said Wells. “That’s all he tried to do was come home. He was two minutes form the house when they stopped him. He was less than 80 yards away.”
Crump did not hold back in painting a picture of horrific abuse.
“What we saw, regrettably, it reminded us of Rodney King,” he said outside Mt. Olive Cathedral C.M.E. Church.
The last words on the video?
“He calls for his mom,” said Crump. “Three times: ‘Mom.’”
Family previously shared a photo of Nichols’ injuries and blamed his death on a brutal police beating. A Memphis city council member briefed on the video footage had already told a local Fox affiliate it was expected to be “disgusting,” “damaging” and “not good even slightly.”
“He was defenseless the entire time. He was a human piñata,” family attorney Antonio Romanucci added on Monday. “It was an unadulterated, unabashed, nonstop beating of this young boy for three minutes. That’s what was saw in that video. Not only was it violent, it was savage.”
Nichols’ was the latest death in police custody following a year that saw rising numbers of such incidents, despite massive nationwide protests against racism and police brutality in 2020—and passage of limited policing reforms across the country.
On Friday, five Memphis Police Department officers were fired after the local department concluded its own internal investigation into how Nichols could have died from injuries sustained during his arrest on Jan. 7.
The investigation found that five officers, who are Black, “violated multiple department policies, including excessive use of force, duty to intervene, and duty to render aid,” according to a release by the City of Memphis.
A federal investigation has also been launched by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Justice department.
The cops have been identified as: Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin II, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith. All were hired within the last six years, and none have been charged with a crime.
“The citizens of Memphis, and more importantly, the family of Mr. Nichols deserve to know the complete account of the events leading up to his death and what may have contributed to it,” Essica Cage-Rosario, president of the Memphis Police Association, said in a statement to Buzzfeed News.
Despite the announcement of the firing, however, public details of the brutal events that led up to Nichols’ death remain few and far between.
According to an MPD release, Nichols was pulled over for suspected reckless driving. Police described the stop as leading to a “confrontation”, and then another “confrontation” as officers arrested Nichols after he ran away from police.
Afterward, Nichols complained of shortness of breath, and was hospitalized.
He died three days later.
At the press conference on Monday, attorneys and the family called for justice, but also for patience while the public waits for the video’s release—and remembered Nichols as a “good young man.”
“Our son ran because he was scared for his life,” Rodney Wells, Nichols’ stepfather added. “And when you see the video, you will see why he was scared for his life.”