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Memphis reckons with fallout from Tyre Nichols video

Jan. 28, 2023 Updated Sat., Jan. 28, 2023 at 8:57 p.m.

From left, Rodney Wells, Tyre Nichols’s stepfather; RowVaughn Wells, Nichols’ mother; and attorney Ben Crump are seen on Friday.  (Joshua Lott/The Washington Post)
From left, Rodney Wells, Tyre Nichols’s stepfather; RowVaughn Wells, Nichols’ mother; and attorney Ben Crump are seen on Friday. (Joshua Lott/The Washington Post)
By Mark Berman Washington Post

Fallout from the brutal Memphis, Tennessee, police beating of Tyre Nichols continued Saturday, as more protests were planned across the country in response to graphic video of the incident, while a broadening web of investigations expanded to scrutinize additional local authorities.

Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was stopped by police while driving in early January. Police video footage released Friday evening captured what happened after, showing officers pummeling an unarmed Nichols, who cried out for his mother during the beating. In the aftermath, the videos show, officers conversed while Nichols was left propped against a car, his mouth bloodied.

Nichols died three days after the stop. Five officers involved, all of them Black, were fired from the Memphis police and then charged with second-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping and other offenses.

But while the video recordings – captured by police body cameras and a security camera on a nearby utility pole – provided an extended look at the beating and its aftermath, they also left key moments undocumented and raised other questions. The footage does not capture the actual stop, for instance, but it does depict officers claiming that Nichols grabbed for their guns – something not seen on any videos released Friday. And the recordings also show Nichols, beaten and slumped on the ground, waiting for minute after agonizing minute for an ambulance to arrive.

Before the footage was released, local officials repeatedly described it as horrifying. The segments released Friday only magnified a wave of criticism and outrage in Memphis and across the country.

On Saturday, more demonstrations are expected in Memphis, Atlanta and New York after hundreds had gathered the night before. Demonstrators who marched in Memphis on Friday called Nichols’ death a murder, and other protests were held from Los Angeles to New York.

Condemnation also poured in from law enforcement officials, including Cerelyn Davis, the Memphis police chief, who said the officers lacked “basic humanity.”

Her comments were echoed Friday evening by other policing leaders, including in places where officers have been criticized and prosecuted for their own use of force. Keechant Sewell, the New York City police commissioner, denounced what she called “disgraceful actions,” while David O. Brown, the Chicago police superintendent, called the video “horrific.”

Davis had acknowledged before the footage was released that it did not capture the initial traffic stop. Davis said Friday that the officers claimed Nichols “was driving on the wrong side of the road but we have not been able to prove that.”

The officer who stopped Nichols was driving a new, unmarked police car not equipped with dashboard cameras, Davis said.

In the videos, officers are seen standing around discussing what they said happened at some length. At one point, officers allege that Nichols appeared to be drugged and reached for their guns, and they also said he tried to strike an officer. Nichols, one officer said, “took a swing.” None of this was in any videos released on Friday night.

A lawyer for Desmond Mills Jr., one of the officers charged in the case, said in a statement Saturday that the videos “produced as many questions as they have answers.”

The questions that remain include “what Desmond knew and what he was able to see when he arrived late to the scene” and “what Desmond knew and what he was able to see after he was pepper sprayed,” said Blake Ballin, the attorney (Mills apparently was hit with police pepper spray during the melee). And, Ballin added, “whether Desmond’s actions crossed the lines that were crossed by other officers during this incident.”

The videos have spurred new outrage after they showed the 22 minutes it took for an ambulance and stretcher to arrive for Nichols once officers declared that he was in custody.

The events shown also shed new light on the actions of the officers involved.

Videos captured an officer opening Nichols’s car door and pulling him out of the vehicle. Nichols is heard saying, “I didn’t do anything.” A minute later, the footage shows Nichols being pushed to the ground. He then struggles to his feet and flees.

Several minutes later, footage captured officers appearing to catch up to Nichols, pinning him to the ground and hitting him. He is heard screaming out “Mom!” several times. Officers are filmed repeatedly kicking, beating and using a baton to strike Nichols; he is hit in the head at least five times.

Nichols is then propped against a car, bloodied and handcuffed. Two medics arrive not long after, examining Nichols, who appears to be groaning and unable to sit up. Later, an ambulance is seen arriving.

The incident has sparked a growing number of investigations.

After Nichols’s death, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation quickly launched an inquiry, which led to the officers being charged. That investigation, the agency said, continues. The U.S. attorney for the Western District of Tennessee also announced a federal civil rights probe.

Davis, the Memphis police chief, also suggested that there could be additional fallout within the Memphis department. Before the video was released, she said the five officers were “directly responsible for the physical abuse.” But an unspecified number of other officers also were also being investigated for “department policy violations,” she said.

The scale of scrutiny on the case has increased. The Memphis Fire Department said that it, too, was conducting an internal investigation and aiming to finish it next week. The department said in a statement Friday that it “did not receive full access to the video footage until today” and added that it was reviewing the recordings.

At least one other law enforcement agency was examining its own role in the incident. Memphis is part of Shelby County, Tenn., and the sheriff there said late Friday that he saw the video that evening and had “concerns about two deputies who appeared on the scene following the physical confrontation between police and Tyre Nichols.”

The sheriff, Floyd Bonner Jr., said in a statement that he had launched an administrative investigation into their conduct, and both deputies were relieved of duty while it was underway.

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The Washington Post’s Robert Klemko, Justine McDaniel, Joyce Sohyun Lee, Elyse Samuels, Dalton Bennett, Ellen Francis, David Nakamura and Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff contributed to this report.


Video Embed Code

Video: Family and friends described Tyre Nichols as “a good kid” with a passion for skateboarding and sunset photography. Nichols died on Jan. 10 after an altercation with Memphis police on Jan. 7.(REF:Greenh/The Washington Post)

Embed code: {iframe src=”” frameborder=”0” width=”480” height=”290”}{/iframe}

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