US authorities release police video in death of Tyre Nichols

Memphis police chief says the video, which shows police beating a Black motorist, depicts ‘acts that defy humanity’.

The city of Memphis has released shocking video of the violent encounter between Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, and the five police officers charged with murder in his beating death earlier this month in the United States.

The footage from police body-worn and dashboard cameras was posted on Friday evening on the city’s Vimeo site, a day after the officers were charged with second-degree murder, assault, kidnapping, official misconduct and oppression.

The footage shows the officers, all Black, beating the FedEx worker for three minutes in an assault that the Nichols family’s legal team likened to the infamous 1991 police beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King.

One video clip shows officers dragging Nichols from the driver’s seat of his car as he yells, “Damn, I didn’t do anything … I am just trying to go home”, and force him to the ground as they order him to lay on his stomach, then squirt him in the face with pepper spray.

“Get on the ground,” one officer yells, as another is heard yelling, “Tase him! Tase him!”

Nichols calmly replied soon after being wrestled to the pavement, “OK, I’m on the ground”. Then, as the officers continue to yell, Nichols says, “Man, I am on the ground.”

An officer yells, “Put your hands behind your back before I break your [expletive].” Moments later, an officer yells, “[Expletive], put your hands behind your back before I break them”.

“You guys are really doing a lot right now,” Nichols says loudly to the officers. “I’m just trying to go home.”

“Stop, I’m not doing anything,” he yells a moment later.

The camera is briefly obscured and then Nichols can be seen running as an officer fires a Taser at him. The officers then start chasing Nichols.

A separate video shows a subsequent struggle after officers catch up with Nichols again and are beating him. Two officers are seen holding him down as a third one kicks him, and a fourth delivers blows with what appears to be a rod before another punches Nichols.

After the beating, officers milled about for several minutes while Nichols lay propped up against the car, then slumped onto the street.

He succumbed to his injuries and died three days later while hospitalized.

The five officers were dismissed from the police department last Saturday following their January 7 confrontation.


Al Jazeera’s Gabriel Elizondo, reporting from Memphis, said the video footage was more than one hour long and was in four separate clips.

“Now we are waiting for the reaction, once people can digest this video … once they can see it, once they can get through this hour-long raw video that the police have just released,” he said.

Elizondo said the public reaction is likely to be one of anger, and protesters who had gathered in a park in Memphis before the video was released were already angry and calling for justice.

“Police departments in New York City, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington, DC, including here in Memphis, all of them have put their police forces on high alert anticipating protests that could happen later this evening here throughout the United States, depending on what the reaction is to this now released video,” he said.

The White House said it had held a conference call with mayors from several cities to brief them on federal preparations for the anticipated release of the footage and asked the mayors to remain in regular contact in the coming days.

US police departments also took to social media following the release of the footage to condemn “police brutality”.

Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis and lawyers for Nichols’s family, who watched the video before it was released, warned in advance that the images were brutal and likely to cause outrage, while appealing to the public for calm.

“You are going to see acts that defy humanity,” Davis told CNN in describing the footage.

Davis said she anticipated those seeing the footage “to feel outrage” but appealed for calm.

Civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, representing Nichols’s family, said the last words on the video were Nichols crying out for his mother.

“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’s mother, RowVaughn Wells, said on Friday.

The footage was likely to transform Nichols, the father of a 4-year-old described as an affable, accomplished skateboarder who recently enrolled in a photography class, into the next face of the US racial justice movement.

Nichols’s death has recalled the 2020 killing of George Floyd, who died after a police officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Floyd’s killing, which was captured on video, set off mass protests worldwide demanding an end to police violence and anti-Black racism.

The video of the altercation that left Nichols dead also has drawn comparisons to the Rodney King beating video, which triggered days of riots in Los Angeles, California, that left dozens dead.

“Tyre Nichols = Rodney King, Part 2,” Ben Crump, a civil rights lawyer representing the family, tweeted on Friday morning. “The lack of humanity shown to Tyre Nichols is so troubling on every level.”

The five officers charged in Nichols’s death — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr, Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith — were dismissed from their posts after an interview investigation found they breached multiple policies, including the use of excessive force.

Four of the former officers have posted bail and have been released from jail, a local CBS affiliate reported early on Friday. Haley remained in jail on a $350,000 bond.

In addition to second-degree murder charges, they also are facing indictments of aggravated assault and aggravated kidnapping.

During a news conference on Friday alongside the Nichols family, Crump applauded the authorities for bringing “very important charges” against the former officers, who are Black. He called for charges to be brought as quickly in other cases of police violence involving white officers.

“This is the blueprint going forward for any time any officers, whether they be Black or white, will be held accountable. No longer can you tell us we got to wait six months to a year, even though we’ve got a video of evidence of excessive force,” Crump said.

‘Beat to a pulp’

The exact circumstances of the incident remain unclear. After Nichols was pulled over by police, “an altercation” ensued in which officers doused him with pepper spray, and Nichols tried to flee on foot, local District Attorney Steve Mulroy said when announcing the charges against the ex-officers.

“They had beat him to a pulp,” Nichols’s mother, RowVaughn Wells, told CNN on Friday. “He had bruises all over him. His head was swollen like a watermelon. His neck was busting because of the swelling. They broke his neck.

“When I saw that, I knew my son was gone then. Even if he did live, he would have been a vegetable,” Wells said.

During Friday’s news conference, Wells said she still has not had time to grieve her son’s death. “This was not supposed to happen. My son was supposed to be with me today,” she said.

RowVaughn Wells, mother of Tyre Nichols
RowVaughn Wells reacts at a news conference in Memphis on January 23, 2023 [Gerald Herbert/AP Photo]

“No mother — no mother, no mother — should go through what I’m going through right now — no mother. To lose their child to the violent way that I lost my child.”

US President Joe Biden said on Friday that he was “outraged” and “deeply pained” after watching the violent encounter between Nichols and the police officers.

“Like so many, I was outraged and deeply pained to see the horrific video of the beating that resulted in Tyre Nichols’ death,” Biden said in a statement.

He added that Nichols’s family deserves a swift, full and transparent investigation.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies