Jan 26, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Memphis police chief: 5 officers responsible for "physical abuse" of Tyre Nichols

Tyre Nichols' mother, RowVaugn Wells, and stepfather, Rodney Wells, flanked by attorneys Ben Crump (right) and Antonio Romanucci (left) in a Memphis church on Jan. 23.

Tyre Nichols' mother, RowVaugn Wells, and stepfather, Rodney Wells, flanked by attorneys Ben Crump (right) and Antonio Romanucci (left) in a Memphis church on Jan. 23. Photo: Brandon Dill for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis on Wednesday said she had fired five police officers who were found to be "directly responsible" for the "physical abuse" of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who died days after a forceful encounter with officers during a traffic stop.

Why it matters: Davis said other Memphis Police Department officers are also under investigation for department policy violations during the Jan. 7 stop, though she did not say how many officers in total are currently under investigation.

  • Per Davis, at least five officers involved in the arrest were fired last week.
  • The police department previously said that officers involved in the traffic stop were relieved of duty pending the outcome of a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe.
  • “Some infractions are less egregious than others,” Davis said of the ongoing investigations.

The Department of Justice and the FBI Memphis Field Office are investigating whether Nichols' civil rights were violated during the encounter with police officers.

  • Attorneys representing Nichols' family alleged earlier this week that video from the traffic stop showed police officers "beating" Tyre Nichols for three minutes.
  • The police department said earlier in January that Nichols was taken to hospital "in critical condition" after two confrontations between Nichols and officers during an attempted arrest on Jan. 7.
  • The family's attorneys said Nichols died on Jan. 10 and that preliminary findings from an independent autopsy revealed he "suffered extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating."
  • An official cause of death for Nichols has not been issued by the Shelby County medical examiner's office.

What they're saying: "This is not just a professional failing. This is a failing of basic humanity toward another individual," Davis said in a video address released Wednesday.

  • "As this investigation, and other external investigations, continue, I promise full and complete cooperation from the Memphis Police Department with the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Shelby County District Attorney's office to determine the entire scope of facts that contributed to Tyre Nichols' death," Davis said.

Video of the traffic stop has yet to be publicly released by state and local authorities, though it has been seen by Nichols' family and their attorneys, who said it shows Nichols being subjected to “unadulterated, unabashed, nonstop beating” by police officers.

  • Chief Davis said the video will show that the incident "was heinous, reckless and inhumane" when it is released "in the coming days."
  • "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."
  • "I expect our citizens to exercise their First Amendment right to protest, to demand action and results, but we need to ensure our community is safe in this process. None of this is a calling card for inciting violence or destruction on our community or against out citizens."

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