Five Memphis police officers involved in the brutal beating of 29-year-old Black man Tyre Nichols were arrested and indicted for murder Thursday ahead of the expected release of video capturing the fatal encounter.
Nichols, who police said was pulled over for alleged reckless driving on Jan. 7, was hospitalized after the incident and died three days later when doctors removed life support.
Five police officers—Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith—were fired shortly after the fiasco. All were members of a fairly new, specialized anti-crime unit.
At a press conference at 2 p.m. local time, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy confirmed a grand jury had returned indictments of the five cops on identical charges—and said they were responsible for Nichols’ death. The charges, he said, were for second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct, and official oppression.
“Simply put: this shouldn’t have happened,” David Ross, director of the Tennesee Bureau of Investigation, told reporters, calling the video “absolutely appalling”—even “sickening.”
DA Mulroy continued to hold off on providing any coherent or robust description of what actually happened to Nichols after he was stopped that night. But he came as close as any official has yet to giving some narrative of what went so wrong, even as he flubbed in calling Nichols a suspect before immediately correcting himself.
“There was a traffic stop, and there was an initial altercation involving several officers and Mr. Nichols,” he said. “Pepper spray was deployed. The suspect—not the suspect, Mr. Nichols—fled on foot. There was another altercation at a nearby location at which the serious injuries were experienced by Mr. Nichols.”
Mulrow said the city of Memphis would be releasing the video sometime after 6 p.m. on Friday.
“I’m glad they got arrested, at least,” Nichols’ best friend Kristopher Volker told The Daily Beast on Thursday. “It gives me faith that [the] system is trying to do the right thing.”
Volker’s wife, Christina Chacon, echoed that she was pleased by the district attorney’s swift action.
“Nothing will bring Tyre back but I’m glad he’s getting justice,” she told The Daily Beast via text. “What those 5 police officers did was horrible and they need to pay for killing my best friend. So many people were affected by his death. And making an example of these officers hopefully will keep something like this from happening to anyone else.”
Two of the officers, Mills and Martin, retained attorneys in anticipation of the Thursday press conference by the DA and were due to hold their own press conference later in the afternoon, according to Fox 13.
The five cops may not be the only ones to face discipline or worse for Nichols’ fatal arrest. Late Wednesday, the Memphis Police Department announced that more officers were under investigation for an incident that even Police Chief Cerelyn Davis called “heinous, reckless, and inhumane.”
“When the video is released in the coming days, you will see for yourselves,” Davis said Wednesday. She also called for an independent investigation of the force’s specialized units.
After pulling Nichols over on Jan. 7, cops initially said that there were two separate confrontations, that he ran from police, and that, after complaining of shortness of breath, he was hospitalized.
But soon, the family of Nichols, who lived with his mother in Memphis, started crying foul. And the shocking picture of a bloody and battered Nichols in the hospital that they shared started gaining public attention.
Then an upswell of shock and rage shook Memphis as the family retained Benjamin Crump, a prominent civil rights attorney, and compared—after being allowed to view the video ahead of the public—the man’s beating to that of Rodney King.
Nichols also asked what he did wrong on the tape, according to family, who said he was beaten yards from his mother’s home.
His last words: “He calls for his mom,” said Crump. “Three times: ‘Mom.’”
On Monday, Nichols’ mom RowVaughn Wells described her son as “damn near” perfect.
“Our son ran because he was scared for his life,” Rodney Wells, Nichols’ stepfather, added. “And when you see the video, you will see why he was scared.”