Five former Memphis police officers who were fired for their actions during the arrest of Tyre Nichols earlier this month were indicted on charges including murder and kidnapping, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy announced Thursday.
Nichols died three days after a violent arrest by police earlier this month.
On January 7, 2023, Nichols had two different confrontations with Memphis Police officers during a traffic stop, leading Nichols to complain of shortness of breath and be taken to a Memphis hospital, according to the Memphis Police Department (MPD).
Nichols died at that hospital January 10.
What led to Nichols’ arrest and death
Nichols, the father of a 4-year-old, had worked with his stepfather at FedEx for about nine months, his family said.
He was fond of skateboarding in Shelby Farms Park, hanging out with friends at Starbucks and photographing sunsets, the family said.
His mother said he had her name tattooed on his arm.
He also had the digestive issue known as Crohn’s disease and so was a slim 140 to 145 pounds despite his 6-foot-3-inch height, she said.
On January 7, he was pulled over by Memphis officers on suspicion of reckless driving, police said in their initial statement on the incident. As officers approached the vehicle, a ‘confrontation’ occurred and Nichols fled on foot, police said.
The officers pursued him and they had another ‘confrontation’ before he was taken into custody, police said.
Nichols then complained of shortness of breath, was taken to a local hospital in critical condition and died three days later, police said.
On Thursday, Mulroy offered a few further details, saying the serious injuries occurred at the second confrontation. He also said Nichols was taken away in an ambulance after ‘some period of time of waiting around.’
Attorneys for Nichols’ family who watched video of the arrest on Monday described it as a heinous police beating that lasted three long minutes.
Crump said Nichols was tased, pepper-sprayed and restrained, and Romanuc said he was kicked.
Nichols had ‘extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating,’ according to the attorneys, citing preliminary results of an autopsy they commissioned.
The former officers, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin and Desmond Mills Jr., have each been charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, two charges of aggravated kidnapping, two charges of official misconduct and one charge of official oppression, Mulroy said.
The criminal charges come about three weeks after Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was hospitalized after a traffic stop and ‘confrontation’ with Memphis police that family attorneys have called a savage beating. Nichols died from his injuries on January 10, three days after the arrest, authorities said.
‘This was wrong. This was criminal,’ Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director David Rausch said during a press conference announcing the charges.
President Joe Biden said Thursday the killing 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.’
A grand jury handed down indictments against Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills, Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith on charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said.
Mulroy said although the fired officers each played different roles in the death of Nichols, ‘they are all responsible.’
Video footage of the arrest would be released Friday sometime after 6 p.m., Mulroy said. The footage has been shown to Nichols’ family, but has not yet been made public.
Nichols’ mother Ravaughn Wells, who said she hasn’t been able to watch it, said the video release will be ‘horrific’ but urged protesters to remain peaceful.
‘I don’t want us burning up our cities, tearing up the streets, because that’s not what my son stood for,’ said Wells.
Shelby County jail records show that, as of early Friday, only Haley remained in custody, on $250,000 bond.
The others were all released after posting bond. Martin’s was $350,000. The others’ was $250,000.
Ben Crump, the attorney representing Nichols’ family, said police video the family viewed showed that Nichols — a 29-year-old FedEx worker and father — was shocked, pepper-sprayed and restrained when he was pulled over for a traffic stop near his home.
Rausch said he saw the video and found it ‘absolutely appalling.’
‘Let me be clear: What happened here does not at all reflect proper policing,’ he said.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland thanked officials for moving swiftly to fire and indict the officers involved.
‘We have worked to get a resolution to these matters in record time because we take them extremely seriously,’ he said in a recorded statement on Thursday.
‘Since learning of this tragic event, transparency and swift methodical action have been our top priorities because the family of Mr. Nichols and our citizens deserve nothing less,’ Strickland said.
‘The actions of these officers were awful, and no one, including law enforcement, is above the law. I assure you we will do everything we can to keep this type of heinous act from happening again.’
The mayor said that it was ‘clear that these officers violated the department’s policies and training,’ and said that officials are working to ensure a situation like this does not occur again.
Memphis Police Director Cerelyn ‘CJ’ Davis made a plea to residents of the city to protest peacefully when video of the arrest is released.
She has called the fired officers’ actions that night ‘heinous, reckless and inhumane.’
‘This is not just a professional failing. This is a failing of basic humanity toward another individual,’ Davis said in a video statement that was released late Wednesday on social media.
The five officers found to be ‘directly responsible for the physical abuse of Mr. Nichols’ were fired last week, but Davis said other officers are still being investigated for violating department policy.
Nichols was Black, as are the five officers involved in the arrest.
Court records don’t list attorneys for Smith, Bean or Haley. Martin’s lawyer, William Massey, confirmed that his client had turned himself in.
He and Mills’ lawyer, Blake Ballin, said Thursday at a press conference that they have still not seen footage of the arrest. The attorneys stressed that despite how emotional the case is, their clients are entitled to due process.
‘There are numerous allegations made against the officers and I watched the conference, and Mulroy did a nice job presenting his side to the media and he asked for justice and we agree,’ Massey said.
‘Justice means following the law. And the law says no one is guilty until the jury says they’re guilty.’
Massey said that none of the officers intended to kill Nichols.
‘No one out there that night intended for Tyre Nichols to die,’ Massey told reporters.
‘No one. No one. Police officers have a difficult and dangerous job. It’s probably one of their worst fears that something like this would happen on their watch.’
Ballin said the arrest is causing Mills’ family ‘a lot of anxiety and pain,’ and said that he is concerned about Mills’ and the community’s safety. Mills was posting bond and was in the process of being released from jail, Ballin added.
Ballin defended Mills’ character and said his client was ‘devastated’ by the charges against him.
‘I’ve spent some time with Mills,’ Ballin said.
‘He is known locally and back where he’s from in Connecticut. He’s a gentle father. He’s devastated to be charged with a crime. To be accused of something like this hurts him on another level.’
Second-degree murder is a class A felony punishable by 15 to 60 years in prison under Tennessee law.
Nichols’ stepfather, Rodney Wells, told the AP by phone that he and his wife RowVaughn Wells, who is Nichols’ mother, discussed the second-degree murder charges and are ‘fine with it.’
They had pushed for first-degree murder charges.
‘There’s other charges, so I’m all right with that,’ he said.Wells, who earlier this week called for any protests that happen when the video is released to remain peaceful, also said he is ‘ecstatic’ that authorities have moved quickly in the case.
Crump and Antonio Romanucci, another attorney for the family, issued a statement praising the charges.
‘The news today from Memphis officials 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,’ they wrote.