The US Attorney overseeing the federal civil rights investigation into the death of Tire Nichols said he had met with Nichols’ family earlier this week and pledged his investigation into the case will be “thorough” and “methodical.”
“Our federal investigation may take some time, as these things often do, but we will be diligent and make decisions based on the facts and the law,” said Kevin Ritz, US Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.
Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, died three days after a January 7 confrontation with police during a traffic stop in Memphis, Tennessee. He had been pulled over for alleged reckless driving by Memphis officers, police said, and after his arrest complained of shortness of breath and was taken to a local hospital in critical condition.
Since then, the Memphis Police Department fired five officers, all of whom are Black, for violating policies on excessive use of force, duty to intervene and duty to render aid, the department said.
“The egregious nature of this incident is not a reflection of the good work that our officers perform, with integrity, every day,” Chief Cerelyn Davis said at the time.
In addition, two members of the city’s fire department were fired. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced an investigation into Nichols’ death and the US Department of Justice and FBI have opened a civil rights investigation.
The January 10 death of Nichols follows a number of recent, high-profile cases involving police using excessive force toward members of the public, particularly young Black men.
Authorities have not released video or provided specific details to the public of what happened during the arrest.
According to preliminary results of an autopsy commissioned by attorneys for his family, Nichols suffered “extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating.”
“We can state that preliminary findings indicate Tire suffered extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating, and that his observed injuries are consistent with what the family and attorneys witnessed on the video of his fatal encounter with police on January 7, 2023,” attorney Benjamin Crump said in a statement.
Officials have not released Nichols’ autopsy. CNN has asked Crump for a copy of the autopsy commissioned by the family, but he said the full report is not yet ready.
The family and attorneys viewed body-worn camera footage of the incident on Monday.
Family attorney Antonio Romanucci said Nichols was “defenseless the entire time. He was a human pinata for those police officers. It was an unadulterated, unabashed, non-stop beating of this young boy for three minutes.”
“What I saw on the video today was horrific,” Rodney Wells, Nichols’ stepfather, said Monday. “No father, mother should have to witness what I saw today.”
Crump described the video as “appalling,” “deplorable” and “heinous.” He said Ravaughn Wells, Nichols’ mother, was unable to get through viewing the first minute of the footage after hearing Nichols ask, “What did I do?” At the end of the footage, Nichols can be heard calling for his mother three times, the attorney said.
Nichols fled from the police, his stepfather said, because he was afraid.
“Our son ran because he was scared for his life,” Wells said Monday. “He did not run because he was trying to get rid of no drugs, no guns, no any of that. He ran because he was scared for his life. And when you see the video, you will see why he was scared for his life.”
Crump, who was joined by Nichols’ mother, stepfather, grandmother and aunt at a news conference, said the family described Nichols as “a good kid” who enjoyed skateboarding, photography and computers.
Video of the incident could be released this week or next week, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy told CNN’s Laura Coates on Tuesday night, but he wants to make sure his office has interviewed everyone involved before releasing the video so it doesn’t have an impact on their statements.
“A lot of the people’s questions about what exactly happened will, of course, be answered once people see the video,” Mulroy said, noting he believes the city will release enough footage to show the “entirety of the incident, from the very beginning to the very end.”
Prosecutors are trying to expedite the investigation and may be able to make a determination on possible charges “around the same time frame in which we contemplate release of the video,” Mulroy said.
The Memphis Police Department initially said there was a confrontation after Nichols was pulled over and he “fled the scene on foot.” Officers chased him and there was another confrontation before Nichols was taken into custody, the police said in a statement on social media.
“Afterward, the suspect complained of having a shortness of breath, at which time an ambulance was called to the scene. The suspect was transported to St. Francis Hospital in critical condition,” officials said.
The Memphis Police Department identified the officers terminated as Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills, Jr., and Justin Smith.
The fire department employees who were fired were part of Nichols’ “initial patient care,” and were relieved of duty “while an internal investigation is being conducted,” department Public Information Officer Qwanesha Ward told CNN’s Nadia Romero.
Asked Tuesday what those fire department employees did or didn’t do, Romanucci told CNN there were “limitations” on how much he could say.
“During a period of time before the EMS services arrived on scene, fire is on scene. And they are there with Tire and the police officers prior to EMS arriving,” he said.
The Memphis Police Association, the union representing the officers, declined to comment on the terminations beyond saying that the city of Memphis and Nichols’ family “deserve to know the complete account of the events leading up to his death and what may have contributed to it .”