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By Adrian Sainz in Memphis
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The city of Memphis and the nation waited Friday for the release of police video showing five officers brutally beating Tire Nichols, a black man, whose death has led to murder charges against police and outrage at the court of last resort of the country led to police brutality.
Officers were charged Thursday with murder and other crimes in the killing of Nichols, a motorist who died three days after confronting officers during a traffic stop.
Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said at a news conference that although the officers each played different roles in the murder, “they are all responsible.”
The officers, all black, face charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official repression, respectively.
Nichols family members and their lawyers said the footage showed officers brutally beating the 29-year-old FedEx employee for three minutes, in an attack the legal team likened to the infamous 1991 police beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King . His family urged supporters to protest peacefully.
Memphis Police Director Cerelyn Davis said she expected protests after the release of a video showing the actions of officers, which she called “despicable, inconsiderate and inhumane,” but also urged the community to remain peaceful.
“I expect our citizens to exercise their First Amendment right to protest, demand action and demand results, but we must ensure our community is safe in this process,” she said. “None of this is a calling card for inciting violence or destruction in our community or against our citizens.”
Davis said Friday that her department could not prove the reckless driving allegations that led to the stop.
“As far as I know today, I believe the stop itself was very questionable,” she told Good Morning America.
Video of the Jan. 7 traffic incident will be released to the public sometime Friday night, Mulroy said, noting that local and state investigators wanted to do as many interviews as possible before releasing it.
Davis told GMA that the decision to release the video Friday night rather than earlier in the day was made after consulting with other local leaders, who believe it’s best to do it when schools are out and the people coming home from work.
As a precaution, schools in the Memphis area canceled all after-class activities and postponed a school event scheduled for Saturday morning.
Nichols’ stepfather, Rodney Wells, told The Associated Press by phone that he and his wife, RowVaughn Wells, Nichols’ mother, had discussed the second-degree murder charges and “agreed with it.” They had been charged with first degree murder.
“There are other charges, so I agree with them,” he said.
The Wellses were joined by several dozen supporters for a candlelight vigil and prayer service at a skate park in Memphis on a cold Thursday night. Nichols, who had a 4-year-old son, was an avid skateboarder.
RowVaughn Wells, who said her family was “sad,” warned supporters about the “horrific” nature of the video, which is due to be released on Friday, but like Davis, pleaded for peaceful protests.
“I don’t want us to burn down our city and tear up the streets because that’s not what my son stood for,” she said. “If you are here for me and Tyre, you will protest peacefully.”
Activists and clergy led the group in prayer and a drummer played a steady rhythm to introduce the spoken portion of the vigil. Afterwards, skaters rode their boards while the Wellses looked on.
Court records showed 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 reached.
“Nobody out there wanted Tire Nichols to die that night,” Massey said.
Both attorneys said they did not see the video.
“We’re in the dark about a lot of things, just like the general public,” Ballin said.
Second-degree murder carries a penalty of 15 to 60 years in prison under Tennessee law.
Attorneys for the Nichols family, Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, issued a statement saying that Nichols “lost his life in a particularly sickening manner that points to the urgent need for change and reform to ensure that this violence ceases during low-threat procedures. like in this case a traffic stop.”
At the White House, President Joe Biden said the Nichols family and the city of Memphis deserve “a prompt, full, 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 being investigated for violating department guidelines. In addition, she said a “full and independent review” of the department’s specialized units was being carried out, without giving further details.
Two firefighters were also dismissed from duty over the Nichols’ arrest.
While the state and federal investigations continue, Davis pledged the police department’s “full and complete cooperation” to determine 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 returning home from a suburban park where he had been taking photos of the sunset.
Police said Nichols was pulled over for reckless driving and eventually fled the scene.
Relatives have accused police of causing Nichols a heart attack and kidney failure. Authorities have said only that Nichols experienced a medical emergency.
One of the officers, Haley, was previously accused of using excessive force. He was named as a defendant in a federal civil rights lawsuit in 2016 while employed by the Shelby County Division of Corrections.
The lawsuits were eventually dismissed after a judge ruled that Sledge had failed to file a complaint against the officers within 30 days of the incident.
Associated Press reporters Aaron Morrison in New York, Travis Loller in Nashville, and Rebecca Reynolds in Lexington, Kentucky contributed to this report.