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Seventh officer suspended in Tyre Nichols death investigation

Memphis police video shows officers beating Tyre Nichols on Jan. 7. Nichols later died. (Video: Memphis Police Dept.)
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A seventh Memphis police officer has been “relieved of duty” during the investigation of Tyre Nichols’s death after a beating by police.

The Memphis Police Department said in a statement Monday evening that the “actions and inactions” of Officer Preston Hemphill and another officer, whom the department did not name, were the subject of an administrative investigation. The two officers were among the seven “relieved of duty,” including five officers who were terminated, the statement said. The department had said earlier Monday that Hemphill was relieved of duty pending the outcome of the investigation.

“The next phase of personnel actions” is expected in the coming days, the department said.

Hemphill, a White man, was relieved of duty at the same time as five other officers charged in the incident, said Kim Elder, a spokesperson for the Memphis Police Department. The Shelby County, Tenn., district attorney’s office is considering charges for Hemphill, according to a statement posted to its Facebook account.

Hemphill’s attorney, Lee Gerald, confirmed in a statement that his client was the third officer at the initial stop and the first video was from his body camera.

“As per departmental regulations Officer Hemphill activated his body cam,” Gerald said. “He was never present at the second scene. He is cooperating with officials in this investigation.”

Hemphill’s body camera captures part of the initial 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, 29, was stopped by police for an alleged traffic violation and died three days after the Jan. 7 beating. Videos of the beating were released Friday, leading to protests and putting a national spotlight on Memphis police.

Prominent civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who is representing Nichols’ family, 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, adding that he’s called for transparency but the police department has not “risen to the occasion.”

Crump has called on Congress to approve the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which passed in the Democratic-controlled House in 2021 but failed in the Senate.

The legislation, aimed at combating police misconduct, would limit qualified-immunity policies that protect officers accused of misconduct; create a national registry of sustained disciplinary actions against officers; and ban chokeholds and limit no-knock warrants, among other measures.

“Shame on us if we don’t use [Nichols’s] tragic death to finally get the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed,” Crump said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

The Memphis Police Association, the union representing officers, did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

The four videos, which were edited by the police before being released, tell a story different from the Memphis Police Department’s initial claims.

The footage shows police pepper-spraying, punching, and kicking Nichols, as well as dragging and Tasering him.

The police department’s initial statement had described “a confrontation,” followed by Nichols running away. Then, the statement said, “another confrontation occurred.” The statement read: “Afterward, the suspect complained of having a shortness of breath,” and “he was transported to St. Francis Hospital.”

There is no video footage of the traffic stop because the officer who stopped Nichols was driving an unmarked car that was not equipped with dashboard cameras, said Police Chief Cerelyn Davis.

While five of the officers were fired and charged in Nichols’s death this month, Memphis police have also suggested that more fallout was possible for others within the department.

The police investigation has not been able to confirm Nichols’s alleged traffic violation; the officers claim he was driving on the wrong side of the road, Davis said.

Davis said last week in a video statement that the five fired officers were the ones “directly responsible for the physical abuse.”

The five 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 Saturday, just a day after the police chief had defended it.

A spokesperson for the police told The Post that because Hemphill is still under “administrative investigation,” they cannot reveal whether he was part of the Scorpion unit.

Davis said other officers within the Memphis police were being investigated for “department policy violations.” She did not elaborate on the policies involved or specify the number of officers.

The Memphis Police Department’s internal policies and procedures note that its treatment of officers being investigated can vary, ranging from continuing in their normal duty to being relieved of all duties.

The department’s internal policies note that being removed from duty does not automatically suggest wrongdoing, and that it “should not be associated with a negative connotation.”

Pulling an officer from duty, the policies state, can be part of “a normal investigative process to prove or disprove an allegation.”

Family and friends reminisced about Tyre Nichols, a joyful young man who died on Jan. 10 after a violent arrest by Memphis police three days prior. (Video: Hadley Green/The Washington Post)

Black Memphis police spark dialogue on systemic racism in the U.S.

Nichols’s death has led to other local authorities being scrutinized by their own agencies.

The Memphis Fire Department, which was conducting its own investigation, said Monday that it had terminated two EMTs who had “failed to conduct an adequate patient assessment of Mr. Nichols.” It also dismissed a fire lieutenant who had stayed in the responding fire engine while the EMTs tended to Nichols.

“Their actions or inactions on the scene that night do not meet the expectations of the Memphis Fire Department,” the statement said.

The sheriff in Shelby County, which includes Memphis, said two of his deputies were relieved of duty amid an internal investigation, citing “concerns” after they “appeared on the scene following the physical confrontation between police and Tyre Nichols.”

Helier Cheung, Robert Klemko, Justine McDaniel, David Nakamura, Bryan Pietsch and Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff contributed to this report.

The death of Tyre Nichols

The latest: An official autopsy report shows Tyre Nichols died from “blunt force trauma,” lawyers say. The Nichols’s family is suing the city of Memphis and police officers over the brutal beating. The Justice Department will review the Memphis Police Department’s use-of-force policies and practices.

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. Each of the five former Memphis police officers pleaded not guilty in Nichols’s death.