(CN) — Five former officers of the Memphis Police Department were indicted by a grand jury Thursday for their role in the Jan. 7 beating of 29-year-old Black motorist Tyre Nichols, who died in a hospital three days later.
Few details have been officially disclosed about the incident, but on Thursday, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said Nichols was pulled over on suspicion of reckless driving. Allegedly, there was an “initial altercation” before pepper spray was deployed. Nichols then ran away from officers until he was corralled at another location, restrained and beaten for at least three minutes.
The video footage documenting the encounter will be released sometime after 6 p.m. on Friday, Mulroy also announced.
The five officers at the scene were fired last week and were all arrested Thursday and indicted on identical criminal charges: second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping resulting in bodily injury, aggravating kidnapping involving the possession of a weapon, official misconduct (unauthorized exercise of power), official misconduct (failure to act when there is a duty imposed by law) and official oppression.
They have been identified as Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith. Both the victim and all five officers are Black.
“While each of the five individuals played a different role in the incident in question, the actions of all of them resulted in the death of Tyre Nichols and they are all responsible,” Mulroy said.
The prosecutor would not comment on the legality of the initial traffic stop, but later elaborated that in regards to the kidnapping charges, “if it was a legal detention to begin with, it certainly became illegal at some point.”
Mulroy said the investigation was conducted by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation with cooperation and transparency with the Nichols family. Video footage has been withheld from the public, but after it was screened for the Nichols family Jan. 23, attorney Ben Crump called the incident “appalling, deplorable, heinous, violent and very troublesome on every level.” In a news conference, co-counsel Antonio Romanucci was more direct, saying the officers treated a defenseless Nichols like a “human piñata” in an “unadulterated, unabashed, nonstop beating.”
The following day, preliminary autopsy results indicated Nichols succumbed to “extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating.”
At Thursday’s news conference, TBI Director David B. Rausch said the incident “shouldn’t have happened.”
“I’m shocked and sickened by what I saw,” Rausch said. “In a word, it was absolutely appalling. The depth and breadth of the charges announced today speaks to the deliberate and thorough investigation that this case has received and our work is not finished.”
Mulroy said additional charges could be forthcoming. Kevin Ritz, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, announced Wednesday the Department of Justice has opened a civil rights investigation into the incident.
Nichols, the father of a 4-year-old son, was an employee of the sprawling hub of FedEx in Memphis, where in his free time he enjoyed skateboarding, watching sunsets and visiting Shelby Farms Park.
On Wednesday, Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis released a statement calling Nichol’s beating “heinous, reckless and inhumane” and promising transparency in an ongoing investigation that includes the actions or oversight of other officers and a review of the department’s specialized units.
“This was not just a professional failing, this was a failing of basic humanity toward another individual,” Davis said. “Those five officers and others failed our community and they failed the Nichols family, and that is beyond regrettable.”
Davis said she also expects the release of the video footage to be provocative. In her message, she said despite the outrage and protest over the case, community members should demonstrate nonviolence as justice is served.
Crump and Romanucci said Thursday news of the arrests and indictments “gives us hope as we continue to push for justice for Tyre.” The family will hold a news conference at 11 a.m. Friday. The family has also organized a prayer vigil for Nichols at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Tobey Skatepark.
“This young man lost his life in a particularly disgusting manner that points to the desperate need for change and reform to ensure that this violence stops occurring during low-threat procedures,” the statement said. “This tragedy meets the absolute definition of a needless and unnecessary death.”
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