MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) – The city of Memphis and the nation on Friday braced for the release of police video depicting five officers viciously beating Tire Nichols, a black man whose death prompted murder charges against them and outrage over the country’s latest instance of police brutality.
The officers were charged Thursday with murder and other felonies in the killing of Nichols, a motorist who died three days after a collision with officers during a traffic stop on Jan. 7.
Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said in a news conference that although the officers played different roles in the killing, “they are all responsible.”
The officers, who are all black, are each charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression.
Nichols’ family members and their attorneys said the footage shows officers savagely beating the 29-year-old FedEx employee for three minutes in an assault the legal team compared to the infamous 1991 police beating of the Los Angeles motorist. Angeles Rodney King.
Memphis Police Director Cerelyn Davis described the officers’ actions as “heinous, reckless and inhumane” and said Friday her department was unable to substantiate the reckless driving charge that led to the arrest.
“As far as I know today, I think the stop itself was very questionable,” he told Good Morning America.
The traffic jam video will be released to the public Friday night, Mulroy said, noting that local and state investigators wanted to complete as many interviews as possible before releasing it. Nichols’ family members saw the footage on Monday.
Davis told GMA that she and other local officials decided it would be best to release the video later on Friday, after schools have closed and people have come home from work, as protests are expected to erupt.
As a precaution, Memphis-area schools have canceled all after-class activities and postponed a school event scheduled for Saturday morning. Other early closures include the Memphis Power Company community offices and the University of Memphis.
Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, who said her family is “grieved”, warned supporters of the “horrible” nature of the video but called for peaceful protests.
“I don’t want us to burn our city down, destroying the streets, because that’s not what my son stood for,” she said Thursday. “If you guys are here for me and Tire, then you will protest peacefully.”
Davis also called for calm following the release of the video.
“I expect our citizens to exercise their First Amendment right to protest, to demand action and results, but we must ensure that our community is safe in this process,” he said Thursday. “None of this is a calling card to incite violence or destruction of our community or against our citizens.”
Nichols’ stepfather, Rodney Wells, told the Associated Press by telephone that he and RowVaughn Wells had discussed the second-degree murder charges and that he “is fine.” They had asked for first-degree murder charges.
“There are other allegations, so that’s fine with me,” he said.
Rodney and RowVaughn Wells were joined by several dozen supporters on a chilly Thursday night for a candlelight vigil and prayer service at a Memphis skate park. Nichols, who had a 4-year-old son, was an avid skateboarder.
Activists and clergy led the group in prayer and a drummer boy played a steady beat to guide in the speaking portion of the vigil. Afterwards, the skaters rode their boards while the Wells watched.
Court records showed that all five former officers – Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith – were taken into custody.
Martin’s attorney, William Massey, confirmed that his client had turned himself in. He and Mills’ attorney Blake Ballin said their clients would plead not guilty. Smith, Bean and Haley’s attorneys could not be contacted.
“Nobody out there that night wanted Tire Nichols to die,” said Massey.
Both attorneys said they had not seen the video.
“We are in the dark about a lot of things, just like the general public is,” Ballin said.
Second-degree murder is punishable by 15 to 60 years in prison under Tennessee law.
Nichols’ family lawyers Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci released a statement saying Nichols “lost his life in a particularly disgusting way that points to the desperate need for change and reform to ensure this violence stops happening during the proceedings.” low threat, as in this case, a traffic blocker.
At the White House, President Joe Biden said the Nichols family and the city of Memphis deserve a “prompt, complete 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.
Davis said other officers are still under investigation for violating department policy. Furthermore, he said, “a complete and independent review” would be conducted on the department’s specialist units, without providing further details.
Two firefighters were also removed from duty over Nichols’ arrest.
As the state and federal investigation continues, Davis pledged the police department’s “full and complete cooperation” in determining what contributed to Nichols’ Jan. 10 death.
Crump said the video showed Nichols being shocked, pepper sprayed and restrained when he was stopped near his home. He was walking home from a suburban park where he had photographed the sunset.
Police said Nichols was pulled over for reckless driving and fled the scene at one point.
Relatives accused police of causing Nichols to have a heart attack and kidney failure. Authorities only said Nichols experienced a medical emergency.
One of the officers, Haley, had previously been accused of using excessive force. He was named a defendant in a 2016 federal civil rights lawsuit while employed by the Shelby County Division of Corrections.
The claims were ultimately denied after a judge ruled that the plaintiff had not filed a complaint against the officers within 30 days of the incident.
Associated Press reporters Aaron Morrison in New York, Travis Loller in Nashville, Tennessee, and Rebecca Reynolds in Lexington, Kentucky, contributed to this report.