Five former Memphis police officers have been fired and charged with murder in the death of Tire Nichols, a Black man who died three days after being beaten in a traffic stop in early January. Disturbing video footage of Nichols’ violent arrest was released Friday evening.
Here is what we know so far about the police encounter, his death and the aftermath.
Who was Tire Nichols, and what do we know about his arrest?
Nichols, a 29-year-old who worked at FedEx, was the father of a 4-year-old boy. The youngest of four siblings, he was especially close with his mother. He has been described by friends and family as joyful and spiritual, and he was an avid skateboarder and photographer.
“This man walked into a room, and everyone loved him,” said Angelina Paxton, a friend who attended his memorial service.
Nichols grew up in Sacramento before moving to Memphis, where he lived with his mother and stepfather. Friends from his teenage years in California spoke to CBS Sacramento about how much joy he brought to those around him.
“I know Tyre. I know how great he was,” said Jerome Neal, who had just visited Nichols in Memphis in November. “I see him interacting with like almost everybody at the skate park when I’m with him. He was just well-loved.”
“He just touches anybody who gets around him,” another friend, Austin Robert, told the station. “He’s a fantastic person and that’s how I really want everybody to remember him.”
On the night of Jan. 7, Nichols was returning home from a suburban park where he had taken photos of the sunset, according to his family’s attorneys.
On the way home, he was stopped for reckless driving, according to the initial statement from the Memphis Police Department. As officers approached Nichols to arrest him, a “confrontation” occurred and Nichols ran away, police said. A second “confrontation” also occurred at some point before Nichols was ultimately arrested, police said.
Memphis Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis later said investigators “have not been able to substantiate” the initial report of reckless driving.
Police said that, following the arrest, Nichols “complained of having a shortness of breath, at which time an ambulance was called.” Nichols was taken to a hospital in critical condition, police said.
Three days later, on Jan. 10, Nichols “succumbed to his injuries,” the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said, but did not elaborate on what those injuries were. An official cause of death has not been released.
Rodney Wells, Nichols’ stepfather, told CBS affiliate WREG-TV his stepson suffered a cardiac arrest and kidney failure because of a beating by the officers.
Attorneys for the family said that an independent autopsy they commissioned found that Nichols suffered “extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating.” The full findings of the report were not made public.
What does the bodycam and surveillance footage show?
Four videos were released Fridayincluding footage from police body cameras and street surveillance cameras.
They show officers first removing Nichols from his vehicle after pulling him over, an initial struggle when Nichols breaks loose and runs away from the officers, and then disturbing images of Nichols being restrained and beaten by five officers at an intersection.
The videos show Nichols being kicked and punched in the head while being restrained, pepper sprayed, and struck multiple times with a baton.
The first body camera video shows a police officer approaching a car with his gun drawn while Nichols is being forcibly pulled out and pushed to the ground by another officer.
In the video, Nichols tells the officers he was “just trying to get home.”
The officers continue to push him to the ground and an officer pulls a Taser stun gun and points it at Nichols’ leg. Another officer pepper sprays Nichols before he breaks loose and runs down the street.
The second video, taken from an elevated street surveillance camera, shows officers restraining and beating Nichols at a different location, suburban intersection. Two officers are shown holding Nichols on the ground, when a third officer approaches and kicks Nichols in the face. A fourth officer with a baton also beats Nichols, hitting him in the back. Nichols stands up and stumbles while being held by two officers, when another one punches him in the face several times until the blows make Nichols collapse.
The third video shows bodycam footage and audio of the beating, after officers apprehend Nichols at the intersection. While he is being held on the ground, the officer wearing the camera pepper sprays Nichols repeatedly. The officer later deploys the retractable baton.
The fourth video shows bodycam footage of an officer chasing and knocking Nichols to the ground at the intersection. The video is almost entirely obscured for several minutes, but audio conveys the apparent struggle for Nichols to catch his breath and the sound of handcuffs clicking.
“Get him up!” one of the officers says. Officers can be seen gathering at the intersection, with police lights and Nichols sitting on the street with his back against a gray car, his hands behind him. An officer shines a flashlight on his face a couple of times, and Nichols seems to be bleeding from the side of his head.
Nichols sits in the dark against the car, barely moving. At some point paramedics are seen walking up to him, propping him up as he slumps to the side.
Nichols’ family and their attorneys, along with several Memphis authorities, had viewed the footage before its public release. In a Jan. 23 press conference, family attorney Ben Crump called the video “heinous” and liked the police’s actions to the infamous 1991 beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police.
“He was a human piñata for those police officers,” Antonio Romanucci, another family attorney, said.
Nichols’ mother, RowVaugn Wells, told “CBS Mornings” that when she saw the video, “All I heard my son say was, ‘What did I do?’ I just lost it from there.” She said she could not watch it in full.
In a video statement, Memphis Police Chief Davis called the officers’ actions “heinous, reckless and inhumane.”
“This is not just a professional failing. This is a failing of basic humanity toward another individual,” she said.
The officers involved
Five Memphis police officers were determined to be “directly responsible for the physical abuse of Mr. Nichols,” said Davis, the police chief. The five officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills, Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith — were fired on Jan. 20. All are Black.
After watching the footage released on Friday night, Sheriff Floyd Bonner, Jr. of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office said two other officers who responded to the scene were “relieved of duty pending an investigation.”
The five officers charged were members of the so-called SCORPION unit, a group created by the department to focus on fighting street crime. On Saturday, Memphis police announced that the SCORPION unit had been “permanently deactivated.” The unit had been “inactive” since the encounter with Nichols, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland had said in a news bulletin Friday.
Strickland also said that the city was “initiating an outside, independent review of the training, policies and operations of our specialized units.”
On Jan. 26, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy announced that a grand jury had handed down indictments on charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression against all five former officers.
Second-degree murder is a class A felony punishable by 15 to 60 years in prison under Tennessee law.
Martin’s lawyer, William Massey, confirmed Thursday that his client had turned himself in. Martin was out on $350,000 bond as of early Friday morning, jail records showed.
Bean, Smith, Mills and Haley all posted $250,000 bond and were released.
Massey said none of the officers intended to kill Nichols.
“No one out there that night intended for Tire 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.”
One of the officers, Haley, was accused previously of using excessive force. He was named as a defendant in a 2016 federal civil rights lawsuit while employed by the Shelby County Division of Corrections.
The plaintiff in that case, Cordarlrius Sledge, said he was an inmate in 2015 when Haley and another corrections officer accused him of flushing contraband. The two officers “hit me in the face with punches,” according to the complaint. A third officer then slammed his head to the ground, Sledge said. He lost consciousness and woke up in the facility’s medical center.
The claims were ultimately dismissed after a judge ruled that Sledge had failed to file a grievance against the officers within 30 days of the incident.
Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner, Jr. announced on Friday, Jan. 27, that two deputies who were at the scene following Nichols’ arrest by Memphis police have been “relieved of duty.” Bonner said that an “internal investigation” has been launched to determine if the deputies violated any policies. No further details were provided.
In the Jan. 27 news bulletin, Strickland said that “concurrent” with the investigation into Nichols’ death, “other MPD officers are still under investigation for department policy violations, some infractions less egregious than others.”
The Associated Press contributed reporting.