5 fired Memphis police officers charged with murder in death of Black man following traffic stop

Five former Memphis, Tenn., police officers have been charged with second-degree murder and other crimes in the arrest and death of Tyre Nichols, a Black motorist who died three days after a confrontation with the officers, who are also Black, during a traffic stop.

Lawyer says video to be released Friday shows Tyre Nichols was savagely beaten by police, who are also Black

Memphis police officers charged with murder of man in traffic stop

2 months ago
Duration 2:05
Five recently-fired Memphis police officers have been charged with murder in the death of Tyre Nichols, who died in hospital three days after a confrontation with officers at a traffic stop. Video of the alleged beating that ensued is due to be released later this week.

Five fired Memphis police officers were charged Thursday with second-degree murder and other crimes in the arrest and death of Tyre Nichols, a Black motorist who died three days after a confrontation with the officers during a traffic stop.

Shelby County Sheriff's Office online records show that Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith were in custody.

All five are charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression.

"While each of the five individuals played a different role in the incident in question, the actions of all of them resulted in the death of Tyre Nichols, and they are all responsible," Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said during a news conference Thursday. 

Mulroy said police video of the traffic stop, in which Nichols' family and their lawyers say the 29-year-old father and FedEx worker was savagely beaten for three minutes, will be released to the public on Friday.

'Heinous, reckless and inhumane'

Court records don't list attorneys for Smith, Bean or Haley. Martin's lawyer, William Massey, confirmed that his client had turned himself in. He and Mills' lawyer, Blake Ballin, said their clients would plead not guilty.

"No one out there that night intended for Tyre Nichols to die," Massey said.

Both lawyers said they had not seen the video.

"We are in the dark about many things, just like the general public is," Ballin said.

Second-degree murder is punishable by 15 to 60 years in prison under Tennessee law.

A Black man takes a selfie in front of a mirror.
Tyre Nichols, who died in a hospital on Jan. 10, 2023, is seen in this undated picture obtained from social media. (Deandre Nichols/Facebook/Reuters)

Nichols' stepfather, Rodney Wells, told The Associated Press by phone that he and his wife, RowVaughn Wells, who is Nichols' mother, discussed the second-degree murder charges and are "fine with it." They had pushed for first-degree murder charges.

"There's other charges, so I'm all right with that," he said, noting he was "ecstatic" that authorities have moved quickly in the case.

A woman with black hair, head bowed, looking sad.
RowVaugn Wells, the mother of Nichols, says she is satisfied with the charges against the five officers. (Gerald Herbert/The Associated Press)

At the White House, U.S. President Joe Biden said Nichols' family and the city of Memphis deserve "a swift, full and transparent investigation."

"Public trust is the foundation of public safety, and there are still too many places in America today where the bonds of trust are frayed or broken," Biden said in a statement.

The Memphis police chief has called the actions of five officers involved in Nichols' violent arrest "heinous, reckless and inhumane" and made a plea to residents of the city to protest peacefully when video of the arrest is released to the public.

"This is not just a professional failing. This is a failing of basic humanity toward another individual," Memphis Police Director Cerelyn "CJ" Davis said in a video statement that was released late Wednesday on social media.

A man in religious attire shakes the hand of another man, dressed in black with a black ball cap on.
Rodney Wells, right, Nichols's stepfather, is comforted by Bishop Henry Williamson on Monday. (Gerald Herbert/The Associated Press )

State and federal investigations ongoing

The five Black officers found to be "directly responsible for the physical abuse of Mr. Nichols," who also was Black, were fired last week, but Davis said other officers are still being investigated for violating department policy.

In addition, she said "a complete and independent review" will be conducted of the department's specialized units, without providing further details.

As state and federal investigations continue, she promised "full and complete co-operation" from the Memphis Police Department to determine what contributed to Nichols' death three days after his Jan. 7 arrest.

Mulroy told The Associated Press on Tuesday that local and state investigators want to complete as many interviews as possible before releasing the video. 

A man with grey hair walks out of a meeting room, as others look on.
District Attorney Steve Mulroy, centre, says local and state investigators wanted to complete as many interviews as possible before releasing the video of the arrest. (Gerald Herbert/The Associated Press)

Nicols beaten for 3 minutes, lawyer says

Ben Crump, the attorney representing Nichols' family, said police video the family viewed showed Nichols was shocked, pepper-sprayed and restrained when he was pulled over for a traffic stop near his home. He was returning home from a suburban park, where he had taken photos of the sunset.

The legal team said officers beat Nichols for three minutes in a "savage" encounter reminiscent of the infamous 1991 police beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King.

Relatives have accused the police of causing Nichols to have a heart attack and kidney failure. Authorities have only said Nichols experienced a medical emergency.

When video of the arrest is publicly released, Davis said she expects the community to react.

"I expect our citizens to exercise their First Amendment right to protest, to demand actions and results, but we need to ensure our community is safe in this process," she said. "None of this is a calling card for inciting violence or destruction on our community or against our citizens."

Davis said the actions of the fired officers aren't a reflection of the good work that many Memphis police officers do every day and she pledged to take action to make improvements at the agency.

"It is my intent, as a proactive measure, to ensure that a complete and independent review is conducted on all of the Memphis Police Department's specialized units and the commitment of my executive leadership to ensure that policies and procedures are adhered to in our daily encounters with the citizens we are sworn to serve," she said.

Two fire department workers were also removed from duty over the Nichols' arrest.