Five Former Memphis Police Officers Indicted in Beating Death of Black Motorist
September 12, 2022
A federal grand jury has indicted five former Memphis police officers on charges related to the beating death of Black motorist Tyre Nichols. The officers are accused of unlawfully assaulting Nichols, attempting to cover up the incident by turning off their body cameras, and lying to their superiors about what occurred.
The federal charges include civil rights violations, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice. These charges will proceed separately from the existing state prosecution, which has charged the officers with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, and official misconduct.
The Shelby County District Attorney’s Office issued a statement saying that they will continue with their Tennessee state case and welcome the assistance of the federal government. The two investigations are not expected to intersect.
Police video footage captured the officers beating and kicking Nichols, hitting him with a baton, using pepper spray, and firing a stun gun at him on January 7 following a traffic stop. The incident sparked a national discussion on race relations and police brutality.
During the beating, Nichols, a 29-year-old father, aspiring photographer, and avid skateboarder, cried out for his mother and expressed disbelief at being targeted, saying, “I’m just trying to go home.”
The federal charges allege that the officers refused to provide first aid after the assault and concealed the beating from emergency medical responders, which violated Nichols’ civil rights.
Kristen Clarke, the leader of the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights division, stated during a press conference, “Tyre Nichols should be alive today. No one in this country should have to bury a loved one because of police violence.”
The five former officers, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith, all pleaded not guilty to the state charges in February after being fired from the Memphis Police Department.
The defendants are expected to make their initial court appearances on the federal charges in the upcoming days, according to Kevin Ritz, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.
Defense attorney Michael Stengel, who represents Haley, expressed his client’s intention to plead not guilty and personally defend himself in court. Stengel called the indictment disappointing but not surprising.
Attorney William Massey, representing Martin, stated that they were expecting the federal indictment and are prepared to move forward.
Blake Ballin, the attorney representing Mills, emphasized that the federal charges would not change his client’s position. Mills intends to defend himself against all allegations in both the state and federal court systems.
If convicted, each of the two civil rights charges carries a maximum punishment of life in prison. The other two counts, which accuse the officers of lying to superiors and fabricating an account of the incident, carry a maximum sentence of 20 years.
In July, the U.S. Justice Department initiated a separate civil investigation into whether the Memphis Police Department has a pattern or practice of using excessive force and racial discrimination. The department has received multiple reports of officers using excessive force and using force against individuals already restrained or in police custody.
The investigation includes community meetings to gather information as part of the overall civil investigation.
Reporting by Daniel Trotta, Eric Beech, Jonathan Allen, and Kanishka Singh; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Eric Beech; Editing by Caitlin Webber and Deepa Babington
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