5 former officers charged with federal civil rights violations in Tyre Nichols beating death
Associated Press | 9/14/2023, 6 p.m.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Five former Memphis Police officers were charged Tuesday with federal civil rights violations in the beating death of Tyre Nichols as they continue to fight second degree murder charges in state courts arising from the killing.
Tadarrius Bean, Desmond Mills, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin and Justin Smith were indicted in U.S. District Court in Memphis. The four-count indictment charges them with deprivation of rights under the color of law through excessive force and failure to intervene, and through deliberate indifference; conspiracy to witness tampering; and obstruction of justice through witness tampering.
The charges come nine months after the violent beating during a Jan. 7 traffic stop near Mr. Nichols’ Memphis home, in which they punched, kicked and slugged the 29-year-old with a baton as he yelled for his mother. Mr. Nichols died at a hospital three days later. The five former officers, all Black like Mr. Nichols, have pleaded not guilty to state charges of second degree murder and other alleged offenses in the case.
“We all heard Mr. Nichols cry out for his mother and say ‘I’m just trying to go home,’” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a video statement after the indictment. “Tyre Nichols should be alive today.”
Kristen Clarke, who leads the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division, said at the appearance that the five former officers used excessive force, failed to advise medical personnel about Mr. Nichols’ injuries and conspired to cover up their misconduct.
“In our country, no one is above the law,” she said, adding she met earlier Tuesday with Mr. Nichols’ mother and stepfather.
Caught on police video, the Nichols beating was one in a string of violent encounters between police and Black people that sparked protests and renewed debate about police brutality and police reform in the U.S.
Mr.Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, said she was surprised that the federal charges “happened so quickly.” The investigation that led to the indictment was announced in the weeks after the Jan. 7 beating death.
She said her son was a “free spirit.”
“He should be here today,” she said during a news conference at a Memphis church. “Because of those five officers, he’s not.”
Attorneys for several of the former officers said the indictment was no surprise, and some added that their clients will defend themselves against the charges.
The indictment states the officers failed to tell dispatchers, their supervisor and emergency medical technicians they knew Mr. Nichols had been hit repeatedly, trying to cover up their use of force and shield themselves from criminal liability.
Additionally, the indictment alleges instances where the officers used their body cameras to limit what evidence could be captured at the scene: Mr. Martin moved his body camera where it wouldn’t show video of the beating; Mr. Haley and Mr. Smith activated theirs only after the assault; and Mr. Haley and Mr. Mills took theirs off when emergency medical personnel were on the scene.
At the arrest scene, the officers afterward discussed hitting Mr. Nichols with “straight haymakers,” even as Mr. Nichols’ condition deteriorated and he became unresponsive, the indictment said. Mr. Nichols could be seen on police video on the ground, slumped against a police car.
The indictment accuses the officers of gathering after the beating and saying, among other things, that “I thought when he wasn’t going to fall, we about to kill this man.” The indictment does not specify which officer made that statement.
The indictment also alleges the officers falsely stated Mr. Nichols actively resisted arrest at the beating scene and that
he grabbed on Mr. Smith’s protective vest and pulled on the officers’ duty belts.
A hearing was set for Friday morning in a federal lawsuit filed by Mr. Nichols’ mother against the five ex-officers, the city of Memphis and its police department. The former officers then have a scheduled appearance Friday afternoon in state court.
The Justice Department announced an investigation in July into how Memphis Police Department officers use force and conduct arrests, one of several “patterns and practices” investigations it has undertaken in other U.S. cities.
In March, the Justice Department said it was conducting a separate review concerning use of force, de-escalation strategies and specialized units in the Memphis Police Department.
The officers were part of a crime suppression team that officials disbanded after Mr. Nichols’ death. However, members of that “Scorpion” unit have been moved to other teams.