Nearly three weeks after a traffic stop in Memphis resulted in a violent arrest and subsequent death of a driver, police are expected to release police body camera footage of the incident to the public.
Tire Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was hospitalized after the arrest on January 7 and died three days later from sustained injuries, according to police. Five officers from the Memphis Police Department, who are also Black, were fired after an internal investigation and faced potential criminal charges.
The family of Nichols and attorneys have met with police and city officials to view the traffic stop’s video recordings, which have been described as a vicious, prolonged beating that lasted for minutes after officers chased down a fleeing Nichols.
Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis decried the officers’ conduct, adding additional officers continue to be investigated.
“This is not just a professional failing,” Davis said. “This is a failing of basic humanity toward another individual. This incident was heinous, reckless and inhumane. And in the vein of transparency, when the video is released in the coming days, you will see this for yourselves.”
Here’s what we know about the timeline of the incident, investigations from authorities and reaction from Nichols’ family:
On January 7 at approximately 8:30 pm, officers pulled over a vehicle for suspected reckless driving, according to a statement from Memphis police.
“A confrontation occurred” between officers and the vehicle’s driver – later identified as Nichols – who then fled on foot, according to Memphis police. Officers apprehended him and “another confrontation occurred,” resulting in Nichols’ arrest, police said.
An ambulance was called to the scene of the arrest after Nichols complained of shortness of breath, police said, and he was transported to a nearby hospital in critical condition.
On January 10, three days after the stop, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced Nichols had died due to injuries sustained in the “use-of-force incident with officers,” according to a statement.
Following the traffic stop, the officers involved were relieved of duty – a standard departmental procedure while an investigation into their use of force began, Memphis police said. The TBI and the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office were also listed to investigate.
Preliminary findings indicated the serious nature of the officers’ conduct during the stop, police said.
“After reviewing various sources of information involving this incident, I have found that it is necessary to take immediate and appropriate action,” Chief Davis said in a statement released January 15. “Today, the department is serving notice to the officers involved of the impending administrative actions.”
The department needed to follow a required procedural process before disciplining or terminating government civil servant employees, the statement added.
In the days after Nichols’ death, his family’s attorney Ben Crump repeatedly voiced their desire for the release of body camera and surveillance footage of the traffic stop.
“This kind of in-custody death destroys community trust if agencies are not swiftly transparent,” Crump said in a statement.
On January 18, the Department of Justice said a civil rights investigation has been opened into the death of Nichols.
“Last week, Tire Nichols tragically died, a few days after he was involved in an incident where Memphis Police Department officers used force during his arrest,” Kevin G. Ritz, US Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, said in a statement.
Acknowledging the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s ongoing efforts, the US Attorney’s office “in coordination with the FBI Memphis Field Office and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, has opened a civil rights investigation,” Ritz said, declining to provide further details.
After its internal investigation, Memphis police identified and fired five officers involved in the traffic stop due to their violation of multiple department policies.
Officers Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills, Jr., and Justin Smith were terminated for failing in their “excessive use of force, duty to intervene, and duty to render aid,” the department said in a statement.
“The egregious nature of this incident is not a reflection of the good work our officers perform, with integrity every day,” Davis said.
A statement from 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.”
Nichols family attorneys Crump and Antonio Romanucci called the firing of the five officers “the first step towards achieving justice for Tire and his family.”
Two Memphis Fire Department employees who were part of Nichols’ “initial patient care” were also fired, department Public Information Officer Qwanesha Ward told CNN’s Nadia Romero.
After meeting with officials to watch the unreleased police video of the arrest, Nichols’ family and their attorneys described their horror at what they saw.
“He was defenseless the entire time. He was a human pinata for those police officers. It was an unadulterated, unabashed, nonstop beating of this young boy for three minutes. That is what we saw in that video,” Romanucci said. “Not only was it violent, it was savage.”
“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.
According to preliminary results of an autopsy commissioned by attorneys for his family, Nichols suffered “extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating.” CNN has requested a copy of the autopsy, which Crump said will be available when the full report is ready.
The Shelby County District Attorney’s Office has yet to announce if anyone will be charged in the case. District Attorney Steve Mulroy told CNN on Tuesday his office is ensuring all necessary interviews with those involved have been conducted before the footage’s release.
“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.”