The Memphis police chief condemned the actions of officers involved in the arrest of Tire Nichols earlier this month as “a failing of basic humanity” ahead of the impending release of video showing the incident.
“This is not just a professional failing. This is a failing of basic humanity toward another individual,” Chief Cerelyn Davis said in a YouTube video Wednesday, her first on-camera comments about the arrest that preceded Nichols’ death.
“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.”
Live updates on the Tire Nichols case
Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was hospitalized after Memphis police pulled him over in a traffic stop and used force to arrest him January 7. He died from his injuries three days later, authorities said.
Five Memphis police officers, who are also Black, were fired for violating policies on excessive use of force, duty to intervene and duty to render aid, the department said. A prosecutor has said a decision on whether to file charges is forthcoming.
Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy is set to provide an update on the investigation at 2 pm CT, according to a news release.
Attorneys for Nichols’ family said he was severely beaten, citing video that the family was allowed to see earlier this week. Nichols had “extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating,” according to the attorneys, citing preliminary results of an autopsy they commissioned.
Other Memphis police officers are still under investigation for department policy violations related to the incident, Davis said without elaborating.
Nichols’ arrest and ensuing death comes amid heightened scrutiny of how police treat Black people, particularly since the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and the mass protest movement known as Black Lives Matter.
Davis, the first Black woman to serve as Memphis police chief, said she anticipated the release of the video in the coming days would cause public reaction and urged citizens to be nonviolent amid “our outrage and frustration.”
“I expect our citizens to exercise their First Amendment right to protest to demand action and results. But we need to ensure our community is safe in this process,” Davis said. “None of this is a calling card for inciting violence or destruction on our community or against our citizens.”
Nichols, a Memphis resident and FedEx employee whose family said was fond of skateboarding, Starbucks and sunsets, was pulled over by Memphis officers on January 7 on suspicion of reckless driving, police said in their initial statement on the incident.
He was pulled over by Memphis officers on January 7 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.
Attorneys for Nichols’ family who watched video of the arrest on Monday described it as a heinous police beating that lasted three long minutes. Civil rights attorney Ben Crump said Nichols was tasered, pepper-sprayed and restrained and compared it to the Los Angeles police beating of Rodney King in 1991.
“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,” family attorney Antonio Romanucci said. “Not only was it violent, it was savage.”
The five officers who were terminated were identified by police as Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith. All joined the department in the last six years, police said.
In addition, two members of the city’s fire department who were part of Nichols’ “initial patient care” were relieved of duty, a fire spokesperson said. 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.
Video of the incident could be released this week or next week, 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.
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.
Nichols’ family wants the officers charged with murder, Romanucci told CNN’s Erin Burnett on Wednesday evening.