Video shows Memphis police officers beating Tyre Nichols as he cried out for his mom
Amber Sherman speaks as protesters gather Friday, January 27, 2023, in Memphis, Tennessee, before a police video is released showing five Memphis officers beating Tire Nichols Gerald Herbert/The Associated Press
Tire Nichols, a black motorist pulled over by Memphis police earlier this month, is seen being caned into submission while yelling “mama, mama” while five police officers later charged with his murder Kicks, punches and batons deliver in a graphic video the city released on Friday.
Footage from police body-worn cameras and another mounted on a power pole came a day after the five were charged with second-degree murder, assault, kidnapping, misconduct and suppression in the death of 29-year-old Nichols on March 10 January online .
Taken together, the four video clips show a highly aggressive escalation of violence against a motorist who police initially said had stopped for reckless driving, although the police chief has not since substantiated this.
The beatings appear to extend well beyond the point where Nichols could pose a threat to police, and at one point two officers hold him upright while another repeatedly punches him in the face while other officers stand idly by at the scene without intervening .
The first video shows officers dragging Nichols out of the driver’s seat of his car as he yells, “Damn, I haven’t done anything… I’m just trying to go home,” then forcing him to the ground as they tell him to on the belly and squirt pepper spray in his face.
Nichols then breaks free, gets to his feet, and sprints down a street while officers pursue him on foot. at least one fires a stun gun at him.
Other footage shows an ensuing fight after officers catch up with Nichols again. Two officers hold him down while a third kicks him and a fourth deals punches with a baton before another punches Nichols.
Nichols can be heard repeatedly screaming, “Mom! Mom!” while struggling with officers. His mother said her son was only about 80 yards from home when he was beaten. A stretcher will arrive 19 minutes after first emergency medical personnel arrived at the scene.
The officers, all black, had previously been released from the police department on January 20 following their confrontation with Nichols after the January 7 traffic stop. He succumbed to his injuries and died in hospital three days later.
The father of a 4-year-old, Nichols was described by friends and family as an easy-going, accomplished skateboarder who recently enrolled in a photography course. Raised in Sacramento, California, prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Nichols relocated to the Memphis area where he lived with his mother and stepfather and worked at FedEx.
When the video first appeared and was being aired by news outlets Friday night, a group of protesters rallied in Memphis and shouted, “No justice, no peace.” Several dozen protesters marched along Interstate 55, blocking traffic near a bridge that crosses the Mississippi River into Arkansas.
Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis and attorneys for the Nichols family, who viewed the video with his relatives before it was released, warned that the images were brutal and likely to cause outrage while calming the public prompted.
“You will see acts that defy humanity,” Davis told CNN in describing the footage.
Earlier in the day, civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing the Nichols family, called on the city police department to disband its SCORPIONS unit, a unit designed to focus on violent street crime and to which at least some of the officers involved have been assigned.
“No mother should go through what I’m going through right now, no mother to lose her child in the violent way I lost my child,” Tire Nichols’ mother RowVaughn Wells said Friday.
US President Joe Biden said he was “outraged” and “deeply distressed” after seeing the Memphis video.
Demonstrators gather during a protest over the death of Tire Nichols Friday, January 27, 2023 in Atlanta.Alex Slitz/The Associated Press
Nichols’ family and President Joe Biden have called for protests to remain peaceful in Memphis, a city of 628,000 where nearly 65 percent of residents are black. Schools were due to close early and Saturday morning events were cancelled.
Biden spoke to RowVaughn Wells and Rodney Wells, Nichols’ stepfather, on Friday afternoon to express his condolences, the White House said, adding that it was coordinating with relevant government agencies should the protests turn violent.
Nichols’ death was the latest high-profile case by police officers accused of using excessive force in the deaths of blacks and other minorities in recent years. These have been publicly condemned as systemic racism in the US criminal justice system.
Protests under the banner of the Black Lives Matter movement against racial injustice erupted around the world after the May 2020 killing of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes.
Antonio Romanucci, another attorney for Nichols’ family, told National Public Radio in an interview on Friday that Nichols was a strong supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement and “basically died to his own cause.”
US Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday announced a nationwide civil rights investigation into Nichols’ death, while law enforcement officials in some major cities including New York, Atlanta and Washington said they were preparing for possible protests following the video’s release.
Police have only vaguely described the circumstances of Nichols’ arrest. Even Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy, who called for indictments against the officers, was cautious in announcing the charges.
After Nichols was pulled over for reckless driving, “an altercation” ensued in which officers pepper sprayed him and Nichols attempted to flee on foot, Mulroy said. “There was another altercation at a nearby location where Mr. Nichols sustained serious injuries.”
Davis said her department has not yet been able to determine if there was probable reason for officers to pull over Nichols for reckless driving, a traffic stop that set in motion the violent events that followed.
Crump said the speed with which criminal charges were filed against the officers — less than three weeks after Nichols’ death — should be a standard for police killings.
In some other high-profile cases, like the 2014 police killing of Laquan McDonald in Chicago, more than a year elapsed before police video was released and charges were brought.
Crump compared the encounter to the 1991 videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King by four police officers, whose subsequent acquittal sparked days of unrest in Los Angeles.
Records show Justin Smith, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III, Demetrius Haley and Tadarrius Bean, who were released along with another officer following Nichols’ death, were released on bail after being booked into the Shelby County jail Thursday morning had been.