MEMPHIS, Tenn.. (AP) — Five fired Memphis police officers were charged Thursday with second-degree murder and other crimes in the arrest and death of Tyre Nichols, a Black motorist who died three days after a confrontation with the officers during a traffic stop.
A grand jury handed up indictments against Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills, Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said during a news conference. The fired officers, who are all Black, each face charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression.
He said although the fired officers each played different roles in the killing of Nichols, “they are all responsible.”
Mulroy said police video of the traffic stop, which Nichols’ family and their lawyers say shows officers savagely beating the 29-year-old father and FedEx worker for three minutes, will be released to the public on Friday.
Nichols’ stepfather, Rodney Wells, told The Associated Press by phone that he and his wife RowVaughn Wells, who is Nichols’ mother, discussed the second-degree murder charges and are “fine with it.” They had pushed for first-degree murder charges.
“There’s other charges, so I’m all right with that,” he said.
Wells, who earlier this week called on any protests to remain peaceful once the video is released, also said he is “ecstatic” that authorities have moved quickly in the case.
David Rausch, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, said during the news conference that he had seen the video, and he called it “absolutely appalling”
“Let me be clear: What happened here does not at all reflect proper policing. This was wrong. This was criminal,” Rausch said.
Court records show that the five former officers were in custody. The records don’t list attorneys for Smith, Bean or Haley. Martin’s lawyer, William Massey, confirmed that his client had turned himself in. He and Mills’ lawyer, Blake Ballin, said they planned to discuss the charges at a news conference later Thursday.
Second-degree murder is punishable by 15 to 60 years in prison under Tennessee law.
The attorneys for Nichols’ family, Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, issued a statement praising the charges.
“The news today from Memphis officials that these five officers are being held criminally accountable for their deadly and brutal actions gives us hope as we continue to push for justice for Tyre,” they wrote. “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.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who founded and runs the National Action Network and will deliver the eulogy at Nichols’ funeral service next week, called the charges “a necessary step in delivering justice” for Nichols.
“There is no point to putting a body camera on a cop if you aren’t going to hold them accountable when the footage shows them relentlessly beating a man to death,” Sharpton said. “Firings are not enough. Indictments and arrests are not convictions. As we’ve done in the past … we will stand by this family until justice is done.”
The Memphis police chief has called the fired officers’ actions that night “heinous, reckless and inhumane” and urged residents of the predominantly Black city to protest peacefully when video is released.
““This is not just a professional failing. This is a failing of basic humanity toward another individual,” Memphis Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said in a video statement released late Wednesday on social media.
Davis said the five officers found to be “directly responsible for the physical abuse of Mr. Nichols,” were fired last week, but other officers are still being investigated for violating department policy. In addition, she said “a complete and independent review” will be conducted of the department’s specialized units, without providing further details.
As state and federal investigations continue, Davis promised the police department’s “full and complete cooperation” to determine what contributed to Nichols’ Jan. 10 death.
Mulroy told The Associated Press on Tuesday that local and state investigators wanted to complete as many interviews as possible before releasing the video. The timetable has rankled some activists who expected the video to be released after Nichols’ family and the family’s lawyers viewed it Monday.
Crump said the video showed showed Nichols — a 29-year-old FedEx worker and father — was shocked, pepper-sprayed and restrained when he was pulled over for a traffic stop near his home. He was returning home from a suburban park where he had taken photos of the sunset. The legal team said officers beat Nichols for three minutes in a “savage” encounter reminiscent of the infamous 1991 police beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King.
Relatives have accused the police of causing Nichols to have a heart attack and kidney failure. Authorities have only said Nichols experienced a medical emergency.
When video of the arrest is publicly released, Davis said she expects the community to react.
“I expect our citizens to exercise their First Amendment right to protest, to demand actions and results, but we need to ensure our community is safe in this process,” she said. “None of this is a calling card for inciting violence or destruction on our community or against our citizens.”
Davis said the fired officers’ actions aren’t a reflection of the good work that many Memphis police officers do every day and she pledged to take action to make improvements at the agency.
“It is my intent, as a proactive measure, to ensure that a complete and independent review is conducted on all of the Memphis Police Department’s specialized units and the commitment of my executive leadership to ensure that policies and procedures are adhered to in our daily encounters with the citizens we are sworn to serve,” she said.
One of the officers, Haley, was accused previously of using excessive force. He was named as a defendant in a 2016 federal civil rights lawsuit while employed by the Shelby County Division of Corrections.
The complaint, Cordarlrius Sledge stated that he was in inmate in 2015 when Haley and another corrections officer accused him of flushing contraband. The two officers “hit me in the face with punches,” according to the complaint. A third officer then slammed his head to the ground, Sledge said. He lost consciousness, waking up in the facility’s medical center, according to the complaint.
The claims were ultimately dismissed after a judge ruled that Sledge had failed to file a grievance against the officers within 30 days of the incident.
Two fire department workers were also removed from duty over the Nichols’ arrest.