Five former Memphis police officers have been indicted by a federal grand jury for murdering 29-year-old Tyre Nichols. The incident, which occurred in January, was captured on bodycam and security footage. It showed the officers viciously beating Nichols after a traffic stop, which led to his eventual death later in the hospital.
Former officers Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills, Justin Smith, and Emmitt Martin are facing charges including deprivation of rights under the color of law, failure to intervene, deliberate indifference, conspiracy to witness tampering, and obstruction of justice through witness tampering. The former officials are also facing state charges in Tennessee for Nichols’ death. They have pleaded not guilty.
Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was violently beaten by Memphis police officers in January and died in the hospital from his injuries. Nichols was repeatedly punched and kicked by the five Memphis Police Department officers after the officers conducted a traffic stop and brief foot chase.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said, “We all heard Mr. Nichols cry out for his mother and say, ‘I’m just trying to go home.’ Tyre Nichols should be alive today.”
Kristen Clarke, from the Justice Department’s civil rights division, noted that the officers had not only used excessive force but also failed to properly inform medical personnel about the severity of their victim’s injuries and conspired to conceal their misdeeds. “In our country, no one is above the law,” she said.
The officers involved in the incident were a part of the city’s “SCORPION” unit, a task force ostensibly dedicated to curbing street violence. The unit was disbanded after the incident.
Subsequent to Friday’s release of video footage capturing the deadly beating of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, the group has been deactivated. The announcement was made Saturday night.
The…SCORPION Unit – which stood for “Street Crimes Operations to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods” – is being deactivated following a meeting between Chief Cerelyn ‘C.J.’ Davis and officers on the squad.
The other officers assigned to the unit “unreservedly agree with this next step,” a statement from the department said.
“While the heinous actions of a few casts a cloud of dishonor on the title SCORPION,” the statement went on, “it is imperative that we, the Memphis Police Department take proactive steps in the healing process for all impacted.”
Davis previously said she would not disband the unit after Nichols’ death, the Associated Press reported.
Nichols, who originally came from Sacramento, California, was an avid skateboarder and photographer. That evening, he was on his way back home after photographing a sunset at a local park. He worked at FedEx and left behind a young son.
The quick response from law enforcement – in terms of the swift arrests of the officers and immediate release of the bodycam footage – could have gone a long way toward preventing widespread unrest in response to the story. In some areas, the authorities anticipated violent unrest similar to what occurred after footage of George Floyd’s murder went viral on social media. But the protests were largely peaceful in nature.
Politicians and commentators speculated that Nichols’ death was the result of racist policing practices and a racially biased justice system. Others argued that the fact that each of the officers involved is black contradicted this narrative.
Regardless of the motivation behind the officer’s alleged actions, the central tragedy of this story is that a young man needlessly lost his life in a brutal encounter with government officials sworn to protect the community and uphold the Constitution.