Five Memphis police officers have been fired and charged with murder in the death of Tyre Nichols, a Black man who died after being pulled over for reckless driving.
Protests against police brutality have been held around the U.S. after body camera footage of his killing was released. Here is what we know so far.
Who was Nichols?
Nichols, who was working with FedEx before his death this month, was a skateboarder and nature photographer from Sacramento, California. A father of a four-year-old son, he moved to Memphis ahead of the pandemic and lived with his mother and stepfather. Everyone loved him, his friends and family said.
On January 7, Nichols was going back home after taking some photos from a suburban park when he was stopped for reckless driving. Two confrontations ensued, according to the police. Nichols fled the scene of the traffic stop during the first confrontation, police said. He was subsequently arrested following the second confrontation. He then complained of shortness of breath and was taken to the hospital in critical condition, police said. Nichols died three days later.
Footage of arrest
On Friday evening, the city of Memphis released footage from police body cameras of Nichols’ arrest. Officers are seen in the videos dragging Nichols from his car while shouting profanities. One officer is seen chasing him on foot. Nichols is then later seen being beaten by the officers as he lies on the ground. They are seen kicking him, punching him and striking him repeatedly with a baton. He is heard shouting “Mom”. The incident reportedly happened not far from his home.
The family’s attorney, Ben Crump, has compared the actions of the police to the 1991 Los Angeles police beating of Rodney King, another Black motorist. “Yet again, we’re seeing evidence of what happens to Black and brown people from simple traffic stops,” Crump said at a news conference last week. “You should not be killed because of a simple traffic stop.”
Each of the five Memphis officers — Emmitt Martin III, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — face several charges, including second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression, NPR reported. The five officers are all Black.
They were part of the SCORPION unit introduced in 2021 by the Memphis police department. SCORPION is an acronym for Street Crimes Operations to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods. The unit has since been disbanded. Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said that even though all the five officers did not play the same roles, “the actions of all of them resulted in the death of Tyre Nichols, and they are all responsible.”
Two deputies who appeared at the scene of the arrest were also “relieved of duty pending an investigation,” Sheriff Floyd Bonner, Jr. of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office said.
The Justice Department and the FBI are investigating the incident. RowVaughn Wells, the mother of Nichols, said she hates the fact that it was five Black men “that actually did this to another Black man.”
“They just brought disgrace to themselves. I’m not an evil person, my son is not an evil person…. I pray for (the officers’) families, because their families didn’t deserve any of this either,” she said.
Wells said she is not going to stop until every person that had anything to do with her son’s death is prosecuted to the fullest of the law.