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Sixth Memphis police officer fired after death of Tyre Nichols

The officers who were terminated after their involvement in a traffic stop that ended with the death of Tyre Nichols, from top left clockwise: Preston Hemphill, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin III and Desmond Mills, Jr. (Memphis Police Department/Reuters)
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The Memphis Police Department has fired a sixth police officer after the beating and death of Black motorist Tyre Nichols.

Preston Hemphill, who is White, was present Jan. 7 at the initial traffic stop where Nichols, 29, was pulled from his car, pushed to the ground and shocked with a stun gun. Nichols died three days later, and videos of his beating at the hands of police led to national protests.

An investigation showed that Preston Hemphill had “violated multiple departmental policies” including personal conduct, truthfulness and compliance with regulations on using stun guns, the department said in a statement Friday evening.

Hemphill, who had been suspended last month, was “departmentally charged and terminated” Friday, the department said, adding that an investigation into other police officers was ongoing. The department declined to comment further on Saturday.

Also Friday, a state medical board suspended the licenses of two former Memphis Fire Department employees who waited 19 minutes to treat Nichols.

Sullivan Smith, a member of the Tennessee Emergency Medical Services board, said Nichols was in “obvious distress.”

“It’s obvious to even a lay person that he was in terrible distress and needed help,” Smith said at Friday’s meeting. “They were his best shot, and they failed to help.”

Seventh officer suspended in Tyre Nichols death investigation

The Shelby County, Tenn., district attorney’s office has also been considering charges for Hemphill, according to a statement posted to its Facebook account.

Hemphill wore the body camera that provided video of the first police confrontation with Nichols. In the video, Hemphill can be seen using a Taser on him. Later, a voice on the body cam that seems to be Hemphill’s says, “I hope they stomp his a--” after Nichols escaped.

Nichols was then chased down near his home by other police officers, and brutally beaten.

Hemphill’s attorney, Lee Gerald, said in a statement Monday that his client “was never present at the second scene. He is cooperating with officials in this investigation.”

Gerald did not immediately respond to The Washington Post’s request for comment Saturday morning.

Hemphill had been relieved of duty since Jan. 8, at the same time as five other officers charged in the incident, according to Memphis police. However, his suspension, as well as that of a seventh, unnamed, officer, was not announced by the department until Jan. 30.

Prominent civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who is representing Nichols’s family, has previously questioned why it took so long for Hemphill’s identity to be made public.

“Why was the white officer involved in the brutal attack of #TyreNichols shielded and protected?” he tweeted.

The five officers who were fired earlier, and charged with second-degree murder, are all Black. The five were “directly responsible for the physical abuse” against Nichols, Memphis police chief Cerelyn Davis said at the time.

The officers were part of a specialized law enforcement unit named Scorpion — short for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods. The unit, created in late 2021 with the goal of saturating high-crime neighborhoods with police, was shut down last month.

Like the five other officers, Hemphill had joined the Memphis police within the past six years. Hemphill was hired in March 2018, according to the department.

Mark Berman, Emily Davies and Meryl Kornfield contributed to this report.