The Memphis Police Department fired five officers Friday evening who were involved in an arrest that appears to have led to the death of a 29-year-old Black motorist earlier this month.
Nichols died on Jan. 10, three days after the officers pulled him over for reckless driving, according to the department. Nichols fled on foot, but was eventually caught and taken into custody. After his arrest, he complained of shortness of breath.
According to his family, Nichols suffered a broken neck and went into cardiac arrest during the confrontation with police. The family released a photo of Nichols in a hospital bed, eyes swollen shut from bruising and nose askew.
Memphis saw protests over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, with demonstrators demanding the release of video footage of Nichols’s arrest, which took place near one of the city’s overhead police surveillance cameras. Memphis police officers also wear body cameras.
A police spokesperson said video would be released next week, after Nichols’s family has had a chance to view it.
Nichols was a FedEx employee whose hobbies included skateboarding and photography, family members said during this week’s protests.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is investigating his death at the request of the Shelby County’s district attorney. On Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Kevin Ritz said his office, the FBI and the Department of Justice were launching a civil rights investigation into Nichols’s death as well.
The Nichols family has retained attorney Ben Crump, whose clients include the family of George Floyd, the Black man whose murder at the hands of Minneapolis police sparked nationwide racial justice protests and demands for police reform in 2020.
In a statement released Monday, Crump called for the release of the arrest footage. “Nobody should ever die from a simple traffic stop,” he added.
Less than a month after Floyd’s death, in which police officers stood by while Officer Derek Chauvin choked Floyd to death under his knee, the Memphis Police Department adopted a “duty to intervene” policy. It requires that officers who see colleagues “engaged in dangerous or criminal conduct or abuse of a subject shall take reasonable action to intervene.”
Memphis’s police chief, Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis, joined the department about a year later. She is the city’s first Black, female police chief.
In 2020, as chief of police in Durham, N.C., Davis was among the loudest voices for police reform, calling for national standards and accreditation for law enforcement.
“The emotions and feelings that we see expressed out on the streets of cities all across the country are felt in a way that are substantiated,” Davis said in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “There have been years and years of systemic racism in law enforcement.”
Police reform in America
Repeated police misconduct: More than $1.5 billion has been spent to settle claims of police misconduct involving thousands of officers repeatedly accused of wrongdoing. Taxpayers are often in the dark.
Listen: “Broken Doors” is a six-part investigative podcast about how no-knock warrants are deployed in the American justice system — and what happens when accountability is flawed at every level.
Fatal Force: Since 2015, The Washington Post has logged every fatal shooting by an on-duty police officer in the United States. View our police shooting database.
Fired/Rehired: Police departments have had to take back hundreds of officers who were fired for misconduct and then rehired after arbitration.
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