On Thursday, five Memphis police officers were charged with second-degree murder in the death of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who was killed after a traffic stop turned violent. The video of the incident is expected to be released Friday evening.
Officials in Memphis have braced for the potential civil unrest that will follow the video’s release.
Authorities say the footage shows how a traffic stop for perceived reckless driving ended in Nichols being hospitalized in critical condition. He died three days later.
Hospital photos taken by his family showed Nichols with a bruised and swollen face, unconscious and relying on a ventilator to breathe. An autopsy showed he had “suffered extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating.”
A grand jury indicted the five officers involved in the incident— Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — with charges including kidnapping, official misconduct, official oppression and second-degree murder.
After a “thorough review of the circumstances surrounding this incident,” the Memphis Police Department announced last week that the five officers had been fired. They were found to have violated departmental policy regarding their duty to intervene, render aid and not use excessive force.
On Thursday, Memphis district attorney Steven J. Mulroy told reporters, “The actions of all of them resulted in the death of Tyre Nichols, and they are all responsible.”
Mulroy described the second-degree murder charge as a “knowing killing.”
The video that will release Friday evening will include nearly an hour of footage captured by police body cameras and stationary cameras. Only individuals who are not city employees will have their faces blurred. A federal civil rights investigation into the incident is also underway.
“People will be able to see the entire incident from beginning to end.”
Tyre Nichols was stopped on the evening of Jan. 7 near the city’s southeastern corner. The indicted officers were part of a specialized unit in charge of patrolling high-crime areas of the city known as the Scorpion Unit.
The police said in a statement that a “confrontation occurred,” and Nichols “ran away.” There was then “another confrontation” while the police arrested him. After the confrontation, Nichols complained of shortness of breath and was hospitalized in critical condition.
The officers were booked into the Shelby County Jail on Thursday, with bail set between $250,000 and $350,000. All but one of the officers posted bail and had been released.
David Rausch, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, led the investigation and called what he witnessed in the footage “absolutely appalling.”
“I’m shocked. I’m sickened by what I saw and what we learned through our investigation. Let me be clear, what happened here does not reflect proper policing. This was wrong. This was criminal.”
Earlier this week, the Nichols family demanded that all the officers involved be charged with first-degree murder. Ben Crump, the prominent civil rights attorney representing the family, said that the charges are a step in the right direction.
“The news today from Memphis officials that these five officers are being held criminally accountable for their deadly and brutal actions gives us hope as we continue to push for justice for Tyre.”
On Thursday, the attorneys representing the five police officers said they had not seen the video and therefore had no comment on the allegations. They advised residents not to jump to conclusions and disputed media reports that portrayed the officers as vicious and violent.
William Massey, representing police officer Martin said that “No one out there that night intended for Tyre Nichols to die.”
“At this point, we don’t know what proof they have. We do not have discovery, and we’ve not seen the video. So we’re kind of in the blind right now.”
President Biden stated Nichols’s family deserved a “swift, full and transparent investigation into his death.”
“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. Tyre’s death is a painful reminder that we must do more to ensure that our criminal justice system lives up to the promise of fair and impartial justice, equal treatment, and dignity for all.”
He also called on Congress to pass a police reform bill that stalled in the Senate during his first year in office.
Tennessee’s governor Bill Lee said in a statement that “Cruel, criminal abuse of power will not be tolerated in the State of Tennessee.” He added that Memphis and its Police Department “need to take a hard look at the misconduct and failure that has occurred within this unit.”
In a video statement posted online on Wednesday, Cerelyn Davis, Memphis Police Chief, described the footage as “infuriating and unsettling.”
“This incident was heinous, reckless and inhumane, and in the vein of transparency, when the video is released in the coming days, you will see this for yourself. I expect you to feel what the Nichols family feels. I expect you to feel outrage in the disregard of basic human rights, as our police officers have taken an oath to do the opposite of what transpired on the video.”
Davis also told CNN’s Don Lemon that the video of Nichols’s beating is “about the same if not worse” than the 1991 police beating of Rodney King, which led to riots in Los Angeles.
When Nichols’s mother, RowVaughn Wells, attempted to watch the video, she could not finish it. According to family lawyer Antonio Romanucci, Nichols was treated like a ” human Piñata” in the footage.
Nichols was beaten by officers for three minutes while also being pepper sprayed, shocked with a stun gun and restrained. According to Crump, Nichols can be heard asking, “What did I do?” He told the officers he wanted to go home. His parents’ house was less than 100 yards away.
Before the video’s release, authorities, local community leaders, and Nichols family urged residents to refrain from violence during protests. Ian Randolph, chairman of the Memphis N.A.A.C.P.’s political action committee, said he hopes demonstrations remain peaceful.
“The last thing we need on top of this tragedy is for a protest to get out of hand.”
Wells shared the same sentiment at a vigil that was held for her son on Thursday night.
“When that tape comes out tomorrow, it’s going to be horrific. I didn’t see it, but from what I hear, it’s going to be horrific, but I want each and every one of you to protest in peace. I don’t want us burning up our cities, tearing up the streets because that’s not what my son stood for. And if you guys are here for me and Tyre, you will protest peacefully. You can get your point across, but we don’t need to tear up our cities, people, because we do have to live in them.”
N.A.A.C.P. President Van Turner said at a news conference in Memphis Friday afternoon that the city has to come together and persevere.
“Tonight will be one of the toughest nights we’ve ever experienced in this city, but we will get through. Let’s stand together. Let’s fight together.”
Moumita Basuroychowdhury is a Contributing Reporter at The National Digest. After earning an economics degree at Cornell University, she moved to NYC to pursue her MFA in creative writing. She enjoys reporting on science, business and culture news. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.