MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Desmond Mills Jr., one of five former Memphis police officers charged in connection with the brutal beating and death of Tyre Nichols, pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to two felony charges of obstruction of justice and excessive force.
He is the first of the five officers indicted on federal charges by a grand jury in September to plead guilty. As part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors, he must fully cooperate with a separate state case against the officers that includes charges of second-degree murder. His cooperation is expected to include pleading guilty to at least some of the state charges.
Prosecutors recommended that Mills serve a 15-year prison sentence, said Steve Mulroy, the Shelby County district attorney, at a news conference after Mills changed his plea. The remaining four officers have all pleaded not guilty to both federal and state charges.
Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who was driving home from work Jan. 7 when he was stopped by police, died days after the violent encounter. Five Black officers from the department’s elite Scorpion unit, including Mills, were soon fired.
On Thursday, Mills showed little emotion as he pleaded guilty to one count of deprivation of rights under color of law after using excessive force and failing to intervene and one count of witness tampering, after he conspired with the other officers to lie about the violence. He is expected to be sentenced in May.
“This was really the first time I actually heard somebody tell and say what they actually did to my son,” said RowVaughn Wells, Nichols’ mother, after the hearing.
Mills was among the officers who responded to calls for backup and caught up with Nichols, a FedEx worker, about 600 yards from the initial stop. He twice fired pepper spray in Nichols’ face. And while other officers kicked and beat Nichols, Mills pulled out his baton and struck Nichols three times.
Police documents also charged that Mills left Nichols handcuffed and alone, despite needing critical medical attention, and did not give Nichols’ mother an accurate account of what happened to her son when he visited her home with a supervisor.
The federal criminal trial is currently scheduled to begin in May.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.