Five former Memphis police officers are facing second-degree murder and other charges in the brutal beating death of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old motorist who was fatally injured after being pulled over by police this month.
All five suspects joined the Memphis police within the past six years. Each of them is Black, as was Nichols. They are charged with second-degree murder, “aggravated assault — acting in concert,” two counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of official misconduct and one count of official oppression. Additionally, the Justice Department is conducting a civil rights investigation into Nichols’s death.
The arrest of the ex-officers sets the stage for the impending public release Friday evening of surveillance and body-camera footage of their interaction with Nichols, which local officials have said could spark violence in Memphis. Mulroy said footage of the arrest would be released to the public some time after 6 p.m. Central time.
Law enforcement officials who have seen the videos have been strikingly vocal in their condemnation of the arrest. At a news conference Thursday announcing the criminal charges, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director David B. Rausch said the officers’ actions were “absolutely appalling.”
“We are here to pursue truth and justice, realizing that we should not be here. Simply put, this should not have happened,” Rausch said. “I’m sickened by what I saw.”
In a statement following the announcement of charges, President Biden noted that “fatal encounters with law enforcement have disparately impacted Black and Brown people,” and he called for Congress to advance the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a police accountability bill that stalled in the Senate in 2021.
“Tyre’s death is a painful reminder that we must do more to ensure that our criminal justice system lives up to the promise of fair and impartial justice, equal treatment, and dignity for all,” Biden said. “Today, we all must recommit ourselves to the critical work that must be done to advance meaningful reforms.”
After viewing the footage Monday, Nichols’s stepfather and lawyers for Nichols’s family said he was kicked, punched and Tasered less than 100 yards from his home. A police spokesperson said officers pulled Nichols over for alleged reckless driving, and Nichols fled on foot before he was ultimately arrested. Offering clues as to the specifics of the interaction, Mulroy said the police detainment at one point became unlawful, hence the kidnapping charge.
In announcing the firing on Jan. 20, Memphis police said the officers had used excessive force and failed to intervene and render aid, violating department policy.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, a longtime civil rights leader who will attend Nichols’s funeral next week, said the race of the five officers added to the tragedy.
“The fact that these officers are Black makes it more egregious to those of us in the Civil Rights movement,” Sharpton said in an email Thursday. “These officers should not be allowed to hide their deeds behind their Blackness. We are against all police brutality — not just White police brutality.”
Attorney Ben Crump, who is representing the family, said the body-camera footage of the arrest reminded him of the Los Angeles Police Department beating of Rodney King more than three decades ago — an attack that was also captured on video and that sparked widespread protests and changed the national conversation about police reform.
On Thursday, Crump and co-counsel Antonio Romanucci said the indictments of Haley, Mills, Martin, Smith and Bean “gives us hope as we continue to push for justice for Tyre.”
“This tragedy meets the absolute definition of a needless and unnecessary death,” the two attorneys said in a statement. “Tyre’s loved ones’ lives were forever changed when he was beaten to death, and we will keep saying his name until justice is served.”
Nichols’s family said he suffered from Crohn’s disease and struggled to maintain body weight, hovering around 145 pounds for most of his adulthood. At least two of the officers involved in the deadly encounter — Martin and Mills — played college football; according to their booking information on the jail website, all weighed over 200 pounds.
Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis, speaking in a video statement Wednesday night, decried the “horrific circumstances surrounding the death of Tyre Nichols” and described the case as “our defining moment.” Davis, who joined the department in 2021 as its first Black, female chief, has been a leading voice for police reform since Floyd’s murder while in Minneapolis police custody in 2020.
“In our hurt, in our outrage and frustration, there is still work to be done to build each other up,” Davis said in the video statement. “to show those who watch us now that this behavior is not what will define our community and great city.”
Davis spoke with Nichols’s family on Monday before a private viewing of the body-camera footage, warning them, “I’m not proud of what you’re about to see,” according to Nichols’s stepfather, Rodney Wells.
After viewing the footage Monday, Wells and Nichols’s mother, RowVaughn Wells, stressed the need for nonviolent demonstration once the videos are publicly released. U.S. Attorney Kevin Ritz, who announced the federal civil rights investigation into the death this week, joined the family in urging Memphis residents to protest peacefully.
“We want people to respect their right to be heard,” Ritz said, “but we want them to do so in a peaceful and nonviolent way.”
Nichols’s mother described her son as a “gentle soul.”
“Tyre was a beautiful person,” RowVaugn Wells said in an interview on Monday. “He loved to skateboard. He loved to take pictures. He liked to go see the sunset. And most of all, he loved his mother, and he loved his son.
“Those five men — their families are heartbroken as well,” she continued. “They hurt a lot of people when they did this. I don’t understand why they had to do this to my son.”
The death of Tyre Nichols
The latest: The Justice Department is launching a review of the Memphis Police Department’s use of force policies and practices. Each of the five former Memphis police officers pleaded not guilty in Tyre Nichols’ death. One of the officers texted a photo of bloodied Tyre to colleagues, according to records.
What has Memphis police footage revealed?: The race of the five officers charged in the Nichols killing has sparked a complex dialogue on institutional racism in policing. Some of the most haunting videos came from SkyCop cameras.
Who was Tyre Nichols?: The 29-year-old father was pepper-sprayed, punched and kicked by Memphis cops after a January traffic stop. He was pronounced dead at a hospital three days after his arrest. At Tyre Nichols’ funeral service, his family said they are focused on getting justice.
What is the Scorpion unit?: After the fallout from the brutal beating, Memphis police shut down the Scorpion unit.