Tyre Nichols murdered by police officers in Memphis


Image sourced from www.wjla.com

Joey Gottlieb, Contributor

Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man stopped by Memphis police on his way home the evening of Jan. 7 was beaten for roughly three minutes by police, according to video footage released on Jan. 27. Nichols died in the hospital three days later.

Tyre Nichols was a father to a 4-year-old son who worked the second shift at a FedEx facility in the city, a major corporate entity and employer in Memphis. Nichols returned home where he lived with his mother and step-father around 7 p.m. every night for his lunch break, according to his family. He had worked at the shipping giant’s facility for nine months.

Five officers, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin III and Desmond Mills Jr. were fired on Jan. 20 and charged with second-degree murder among other felonies on Jan 26. Preston Hemphill, another officer involved on the scene, was fired on Feb. 3. The charge of second-degree murder alone is punishable by up to 60 years in prison and fines up to $50,000.

Officers were seen restraining Nichols at the initial stop, forcing him to the ground and commanding him to “lay down” as Nichols lays on his side. Nichols was heard saying, “Okay, you guys are really doing a lot right now” before officers pepper sprayed him. Nichols then broke free from officers and ran in the direction of his home. Eight minutes later the police caught up with him.

Officers proceed to tackle Nichols to the ground where they pepper sprayed him again. Nichols was heard repeatedly calling for his mom. The officers kicked, punched and beat Nichols with a baton. Nichols did not appear to offer any resistance in the footage compiled from body and traffic cameras, even during the initial stop when he was dragged from his car. He was seen moving his arms to cover his head as officers kicked him. One officer stumbled back because of the force of his kick.

A New York Times analysis of the footage found the officers continually chose to escalate their use of force throughout the roughly 13-minute encounter. According to the same analysis, 71 commands were issued to Nichols during the time, some of which were contradictory. Some of these included officers asking Nichols to show his hands even though officers were currently restraining him and commanding the already prone Nichols to get on the ground. Additional officers and two EMTs arrived at the scene as well. Despite this, Nichols was not seen receiving medical attention for 19 minutes. Both EMT licenses have been suspended.

The five officers were part of a special unit within the Memphis Police Department titled the Scorpion unit. The unit was created in 2021, shortly after Cerelyn Davis, the Memphis Police Chief, took over the department and tasked them with tackling the surge in violence. Officers in the unit drove unmarked cars, making traffic stops in the hopes of writing fewer tickets and seizing cars from reckless drivers. Officers of the unit repeatedly harassed and used force against residents, an overwhelming majority of which were Black men.

Davis has ordered a review of the department’s special units. Mayor Jim Strickland of Memphis announced on Friday that the U.S. Department of Justice and the International Association of Chiefs of Police would conduct their own independent investigation of the same special units.

“That these five officers are being held criminally accountable for their deadly and brutal actions gives us hope as we continue to push for justice for Tyre,” said Ben Crump, a lawyer for Nichols’ family. “This tragedy meets the absolute definition of a needless and unnecessary death.” 

In a video statement published on Jan. 25, before the footage was released to the public, Chief Davis said, “This incident was heinous, reckless and inhumane… I expect you to feel outrage in the disregard of basic human rights, as our police officers have taken an oath to do the opposite of what transpired on the video.”

President Biden said in a statement that the encounter was “yet another painful reminder of the profound fear and trauma, the pain and the exhaustion that Black and Brown Americans experience every single day.” President Biden watched the footage in its entirety following its release.