Five former Memphis police officers were charged on Thursday with murder in the death of Tyre Nichols, a Black man who died three days after a traffic stop, prosecutors said.
Nichols, a 29-year-old father, died in a hospital on Jan. 10, three days after sustaining injuries during his arrest by the five police officers. Officials are expected to release police body-worn camera footage of the traffic stop on Friday evening.
“We’re here today because of a tragedy that wounds one family deeply but also hurts us all,” Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said at a news conference.
The five officers, who are all Black, have been charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression, Mulroy said.
The Memphis Police Department on Friday identified them as Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills, Jr., and Justin Smith, who are aged between 24 and 32. Each had served with the department for about 2-1/2 to five years.
They were dismissed from the force last Saturday for violating multiple departmental policies, including using excessive force, failing to intervene and failing to render aid. They were taken into custody on Thursday morning, county jail records showed.
After Nichols was stopped in his vehicle, there was “an altercation” in which officers used pepper spray on Nichols, Mulroy said. Nichols fled on foot.
“There was another altercation at a nearby location at which the serious injuries were experienced by Mr. Nichols,” Mulroy said. The initial Memphis Police Department statement about the death had said an ambulance was called because Nichols “complained of having a shortness of breath” and that he was taken to hospital in critical condition.
Mulroy said he would not comment on the legality of the initial traffic stop. He said the investigation would continue and he would not rule out additional charges.
David Rausch, the director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, said at the news conference he was sickened by what he saw in the police body-worn camera videos.
“What happened here does not at all reflect proper policing,” he said. “This was wrong. This was criminal.”
The former officers could not be reached for comment.
Blake Ballin, a lawyer representing Mills, said at a news conference Mills was “devastated to find himself charged with a crime.” Ballin was joined by William Massey, representing Martin; both lawyers said they had not yet seen the video that would be released on Friday and were still developing their defenses. Their clients were each posting a bond to be released from jail on Thursday, they said.
Both former officers intended to plead not guilty, their lawyers said.
Other Memphis officers remain under investigation for policy infractions, Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis said. In a video posted on YouTube, she asked for calm when the video footage is made public.
“I expect you to feel what the Nichols family feels,” she said. “I expect you to feel outrage in the disregard of basic human rights.”
U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement that 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.”
Several cases of police officers using excessive force on Black people in the United States over the years have been condemned by the public and led to calls for changes in policing.
Protests broke out globally following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than 9 minutes, as well as other deaths during encounters with police officers.
The Nichols family viewed the police footage on Monday with their attorney, Ben Crump. He compared the beating to the 1991 Los Angeles police assault on Rodney King that was caught on video.
“This young man lost his life in a particularly disgusting manner that points to the desperate need for change and reform to ensure this violence stops occurring during low-threat procedures, like in this case, a traffic stop,” Crump and colleague Antonio Romanucci said in a statement. “This tragedy meets the absolute definition of a needless and unnecessary death.”
The last words heard on the video were Nichols calling for his mother three times, Crump said.