Memphis releases video of Tear Nichols beaten to death by police
MEMPHIS, Tenn., Jan 27 (Reuters) – The city of Memphis released graphic video on Friday of the violent encounter between Tear Nichols, a 29-year-old black man, and the five police officers charged with homicide in his beating death following a traffic stop earlier this month.
One video shows officers pulling Nichols from the driver’s seat of his car as he screams, “I didn’t do anything shit… I’m just trying to get home,” and forcing him to the ground while ordering him to lie down belly, then spray it in the face with a hot spray.
Nichols breaks free, gets to his feet and sprints down the road with police in hot pursuit, firing stun guns at him.
A separate video shows a fight that ensues, after officers again catch up with Nichols and beat him. Two police officers are seen holding him down while a third kicks him and a fourth strikes him with what appears to be a pole before another punches Nichols.
The four segments of long-awaited police body and dash cam footage were released online Friday night, a day after the officers were charged with second-degree murder, assault, kidnapping, official misconduct and oppression.
The officers, all black, had already been fired from the police department last Saturday after their confrontation with Nichols on January 7 after taking him into custody.
He succumbed to his injuries and died three days later while hospitalized.
Memphis Police Chief Serelin Davis and lawyers for Nichols’ family, who watched the video with his relatives before it was released, warned in advance that the images were brutal and likely to cause outrage, while urging the public to remain calm.
“You’re going to see actions that defy humanity,” Davis told CNN, describing the footage.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, representing Nichols’ family, said the last words on the video were Nichols crying for his mother.
“No mother should have to go through what I’m going through right now, no mother, should lose her child because of the violent way I lost my child,” Tier Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, said Friday.
The footage is likely to make Nichols, the father of a 4-year-old described as an affable, accomplished skateboarder who recently enrolled in a photography class, the next face of the US racial justice movement.
Raised in Sacramento, California, Nichols moved before the coronavirus pandemic to the Memphis area, where he lives with his mother and stepfather and works at FedEx, taking time off each day to come home to a meal cooked by his mother.
BIDEN SPOKE TO THE FAMILY
Nichols’ family and President Joe Biden called for the protests to remain peaceful in Memphis, a city of 628,000 where nearly 65 percent of residents are black. Schools had to close early and Saturday morning events were cancelled.
Biden spoke with RowVaughn Wells and Rodney Wells, Nichols’ stepfather, on Friday afternoon to express his condolences, the White House said, adding that it was coordinating with appropriate government agencies in case the protests turned violent.
Nichols’ death marked the latest high-profile case of police officers accused of using excessive force in the deaths of blacks and other minorities in recent years. They were publicly denounced as systemic racism in the US criminal justice system.
Protests under the banner of the Black Lives Matter movement against racial injustice have erupted worldwide since the May 2020 killing of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes .
Antonio Romanucci, another attorney for Nichols’ family, said in an interview with National Public Radio on Friday that Nichols was a strong supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement and “basically died for his own cause.”
US Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday announced a federal civil rights investigation into Nichols’ death, while law enforcement in some major cities, including New York, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., said they were bracing for possible protests after the video was released.
The White House said it held a conference call with mayors from several cities to update them on federal preparations for the expected release of the footage and asked the mayor to stay in regular contact in the coming days.
THE TRAFFIC STOP STARTED A CHAIN OF EVENTS
Police described the circumstances of Nichols’ arrest in vague terms. Even Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy, who sought the charges against the officers, was cautious when announcing the charges.
After Nichols was pulled over for reckless driving, a “struggle” ensued in which officers doused him with pepper spray and Nichols tried to flee on foot, Mulroy said. “There was another altercation nearby in which Mr Nicholls suffered serious injuries.”
Davis said her department is still unable to determine whether there was probable cause for officers to stop Nichols for reckless driving, the traffic stop that set off the violent events that followed.
Crump said the speed with which criminal charges were filed against the officers — less than three weeks after Nichols’ death — should be the standard for police-involved killings.
In some other high-profile cases, such as the 2014 police killing of Laquan McDonald in Chicago, more than a year passed before police video was released and charges were filed.
“We want to announce that this is the plan going forward any time that all employees, whether black or white, will be held accountable,” Crump said. “You can no longer tell us we have to wait six months to a year.”
The family’s attorneys also called on the police department to disband the SCORPION special unit, which focuses on serious street crimes, to which at least some of the officers were assigned. Davis said the department will review SCORPION and other specialized units.
Crump compared the encounter to a videotaped beating from 1991 Black driver Rodney King by four police officers whose subsequent acquittals on criminal charges sparked days of unrest 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 violated multiple department policies, including the use of excessive force.
Four of the employees posted bail and were released from jail, a CBS affiliate reported Friday. Mills’ attorney, Blake Balin, said it could be another two weeks before the defendants appear in court.
Reporting by Alyssa Poynter in Memphis; Additional reporting by Tyler Clifford, Rich McKay, Steve Gorman, Eric Beach, Trevor Hunnicutt and Alexandra Ulmer; Writing and additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Cynthia Osterman and Grant McCool
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