Five former police officers in the United States will face second-degree murder and other charges in the arrest and death of Tyre Nichols, a Black motorist who died after a traffic stop.
Online records from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office in Tennessee showed on Thursday that the five ex-officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr, Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith — were all in custody.
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They stand charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression. Second-degree murder is punishable by 15 to 60 years in prison under Tennessee law.
The five men were terminated from their jobs last week after an administrative investigation into the incident.
Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy confirmed the charges on Thursday, saying that his office “expedited” the case to deliver accountability for Nichols.
“We worked swiftly but also fairly and most importantly in a way calculated to ensure that we have a strong case,” he said, stressing that the investigation is ongoing and additional charges may be considered.
He added that he hopes that the “silver lining” from the incident would be to open a “broader conversation” about the need for police reform.
“The world is watching us and we need to show the world what lessons we can learn from this tragedy,” Mulroy told reporters.
Nichols’s family members — who have seen a video of the January 7 traffic stop — have said that the 29-year-old was severely beaten by the police before succumbing to his injuries at a hospital three days later.
Nichols’s stepfather, Rodney Wells, told The Associated Press that while he was seeking first-degree murder charges against the cops, he was “fine” with the counts filed on Thursday.
“There’s other charges, so I’m all right with that,” he said, adding that he was “ecstatic” that authorities moved quickly in the case.
In a video message released on Wednesday, Memphis Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis promised “absolute accountability” for those responsible for Nichols’s death, calling the incident “heinous, reckless and inhumane”.
Davis also confirmed that the department will soon make body-camera footage of the traffic stop public. She urged citizens to express their outrage and exercise their free speech rights peacefully.
“None of this is a calling card for inciting violence or destruction on our community or against our citizens,” Davis said. “In our hurt, in our outrage and frustration, there’s still work to be done to build each other up, to continue the momentum of improving our police and community relationships and partnerships.”
Multiple local, state and federal agencies — including the US Justice Department — are investigating the incident.
Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen, who represents Memphis, also said that any protests over the death of Nichols — a FedEx worker and father — should be “peaceful and calm”, voicing confidence in the local and federal officials overseeing the case.
“I grieve for the life of Tyre Nichols whose life should not have been extinguished. He was an outstanding young man, and it’s extremely sad that he was killed. I pray for my city,” Cohen said in the US House of Representatives on Thursday.
I grieve the killing of Tyre Nichols. With our new leadership, Memphis will see that reform and justice are served.⁰
As Memphis and the nation awaits video footage, people may want to protest the brutal actions of the police and should remain peaceful and calm. pic.twitter.com/GT90SO9eGX
— Steve Cohen (@RepCohen) January 26, 2023
Police previously said that they had attempted to arrest Nichols on January 7 for reckless driving, but that a “confrontation occurred” as he tried to flee the scene on foot. Nichols was taken to a local hospital where he died on January 10.
The five officers facing charges over Nichols’s death are also Black, but Ben Crump, a lawyer representing the victim’s family, has said that was irrelevant, stressing that Black and brown motorists often face discrimination regardless of the officers’ race.
Crump said police footage showed Nichols was shocked, pepper-sprayed and restrained when he was pulled over near his home.
“This tragedy meets the absolute definition of a needless and unnecessary death,” Crump and his colleague, lawyer Antonio Romanucci, said in a statement on Thursday. “We will keep saying his [Nichols’s] name until justice is served.”
Nichols’s death comes more than two years after nationwide protests rocked the US with calls for racial justice and an end to police brutality, following the killing of George Floyd by a Minnesota officer who kneeled on his neck.
The US Congress has struggled to pass major police reforms to address questions of excessive force despite growing calls from activists.