Biden urges calm on Memphis police homicide case

From left: Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills, Jr., Emmitt Martin III, Justin Smith and Tadarrius Bean

From left: Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills, Jr, Emmitt Martin III, Justin Smith and Tadarrius Bean

President Joe Biden is urging protests in Tennessee to remain peaceful as officials plan to release video of an arrest that led to the death of a motorist.

Five Memphis police officers were fired and face murder charges after Tire Nichols, 29, died three days after a traffic stop on Jan. 7.

Bodycam footage of the encounter is expected to be released to the public Friday evening local time.

Nichols family lawyers said they will show he was severely beaten.

“I’m disgusted by what I’ve seen,” Tennessee Bureau of Investigation director David Rausch said Thursday after reviewing the footage, describing the agents’ actions as “absolutely appalling.”

The city of Memphis is said to be on edge and police have stepped up patrols as they prepare for possible demonstrations.

Mr. Nichols takes a selfie

Mr. Nichols loved photography and skateboarding, family members say

Mr. Nichols, a black man, was stopped by five police officers, also black, on his way home after taking photos of a sunset in a local park, a lawyer for the family said.

Officials say he was suspected of reckless driving.

An initial confrontation occurred when Mr Nichols attempted to flee on foot when officers approached his car, local authorities said.

They said there was a second confrontation when officers tried to arrest him.

Mr Nichols later complained of shortness of breath and was taken to hospital, police said, where he was listed in critical condition.

A solicitor for Mr Nichols’ family said bodycam footage showed Mr Nichols being pepper sprayed, tasered, restrained and kicked.

He compared the incident to infamous footage of Los Angeles police officers beating black motorist Rodney King more than 30 years ago.

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

Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr, Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith were jailed on Thursday. They’ve all joined the Memphis Police Department in the past six years and were fired last week.

“The Failure of Basic Humanity”

President Biden issued a statement Thursday calling for calm as authorities prepare to release the footage.

“I join Tiro’s family in calling for a peaceful protest,” he said. “Indignation is understandable, but violence is never acceptable.”

Even the city’s police chief, Cerelyn Davis, the first black woman to fill that role in Memphis, called for calm amid what she called a “failure of basic humanity to another individual.”

The Nichols family and their legal team privately reviewed footage of the arrest earlier this week.

“It was a human piñata,” attorney Antonio Romanucci said of its contents. “It was pure, blatant, nonstop beating of this guy for three minutes.”

At a press conference on Thursday, lawyers for two of the former officers said their clients intended to fight the charges.

“Nobody out there that night wanted Tire Nichols dead,” a lawyer said of one of the men.

Officials said Nichols “died of his injuries” on Jan. 10, but did not provide further details. An official cause of death has not yet been disclosed.

His family says he will be remembered as a “nice guy” who enjoyed photography and skateboarding.

The father of one, who worked at package delivery company FedEx, had Crohn’s disease and suffered severe weight loss, relatives say.

Reverend Al Sharpton, a US civil rights leader, told the BBC the alleged crime was particularly hurtful because of the officers’ race.

“We fought to put black people in the police force,” he said. “For them to act so brutal is more egregious than I can tell you.”

“I don’t think these five black policemen would have done that if it was a young white man,” he added.

California-based trial attorney Adanté Pointer said cases of black men killed by black officers rarely make the news.

“This case exemplifies that it’s not simply a black-white issue, but rather that it’s a power dynamic that plays out regardless of the race of police officers,” he told the BBC.

The FBI and the Justice Department have opened a civil rights investigation into Mr. Nichols’ death.

The officers involved are members of a special team known as Scorpion, short for “Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods”.

The unit, which was created to police high-crime areas, is now under review, along with all of the city’s specialized units, according to the city’s police chief.

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