Memphis braced for public outrage on Friday after it releases video of five police officers – all of whom have been charged with murder – initiating a traffic stop that authorities say resulted in the beating and death of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man.
Few details have been made public about the traffic stop and the subsequent events that left Nichols badly injured, but officials who have viewed the video have characterized it as deeply disturbing.
Nichols died in the hospital three days after the Jan. 10 encounter with the five Black officers, who have been charged with second-degree murder, assault, kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression and fired from their jobs.
Civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, representing Nichols’ family, said the speed at which the criminal charges were brought against the officers – less than three weeks after Nichols’ death – should be a standard for police-involved killings.
“We want to proclaim that this is the blueprint going forward for any time any officers, whether they be Black or white, will be held accountable,” he said. “No longer can you tell us we got to wait six months to a year.”
Lawyers for the family also called on the police department to disband the special Scorpion unit focused on violent street crime to which the officers were assigned. Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis has said the department will review Scorpion and other specialized units.
Nichols’ death marked the latest high-profile case of police officers accused of using excessive force in the deaths of Black people and other minorities in recent years, sparking public outcries against systemic racism in the U.S. criminal justice system.
Protests against racial injustice erupted globally following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes.
“No mother should go through what I am going through right now, no mother, to lose their child to the violent way that I lost my child,” Tyre Nichols’ mother RowVaughn Wells said.
Police have been highly opaque about the circumstances of Nichols’ arrest. Even Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy, who sought the indictment, described the incident in vague terms when announcing the charges.
After Nichols was pulled over for reckless driving, “an altercation” ensued in which officers doused him with pepper spray, and Nichols tried to flee on foot, Mulroy said. “There was another altercation at a nearby location at which the serious injuries were experienced by Mr. Nichols.”
The video to be released on Friday evening on the police department’s YouTube channel is expected to include footage captured by police-worn cameras, cameras mounted on dashboards of police vehicles and security cameras on utility poles in the vicinity.
“You are going to see acts that defy humanity,” Davis told CNN on Friday.
Davis said her department has not yet been able determine whether there was probable cause for the officers to initially pull Nichols over for reckless driving, a traffic stop which set in motion the violent events that followed.
Crump, who said the last words on the video were Nichols calling out for his mother, has compared the encounter to the 1991 videotaped beating of Black motorist Rodney King by four police officers whose subsequent acquittal of criminal charges sparked days of riots in Los Angeles.
All five officers – Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith – were fired from the police force on Jan. 21 after an internal investigation found they breached multiple departmental policies, including use of excessive force.
Four of the officers have posted bail and have been released from jail, a local CBS affiliate reported early on Friday. A lawyer for Mills, Blake Ballin, said it might be another two weeks before the defendants make their initial court appearances.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said on Friday that his agency has opened a federal civil rights investigation into Nichols’ death, while local law enforcement in some major cities, including New York, Atlanta and Washington, said they were preparing for possible protests following the video’s release. In Memphis, schools were scheduled to close early and Saturday morning events were canceled.
President Joe Biden on Thursday joined the family in calling for peaceful protests in Memphis, a city of 628,000 where nearly 65% of residents are Black.