Ex-Memphis Cops Indicted Over Fatal Beating of Tyre Nichols


Five previous members of the Memphis police force, indicted by a federal grand jury, have been implicated in the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols, as revealed in recent court documents. The former officers, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith, face a variety of charges such as federal civil rights, conspiracy, and obstruction offenses which resulted in the death of Nichols.

Nichols, a 29-year-old black man, was violently assaulted by these officers in January, leading to his death in the hospital due to the injuries suffered. It was alleged that after a brief foot chase following a traffic stop, Nichols was mercilessly kicked and punched by the five officers, his injuries necessitating hospital care. Unfortunately, Nichols passed away three days later.

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Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a statement saying, “Officers who betray their oath and violate the civil rights of citizens, who they swore to protect, compromise trust in law enforcement, which is fundamental to public safety.” He further added that the Justice Department will persistently hold culpable officers accountable for their actions.

The former officers allegedly deprived Nichols of his constitutional rights, including the right to be free from unreasonable force by a police officer. The federal indictment states that the officers unlawfully attacked Nichols and failed to intervene in this unlawful conduct, actions that led to his fatal injuries.

In reaction to the federal indictment, Blake Ballin, defense attorney for Desmond Mills, was quoted as saying, “This is going to cause us to change gears a little bit. This adds another layer of things that we’ll have to look into and investigate.”

These tragic events sparked a fierce national debate on justice in policing and reform, stirring a country already conversant with videos of police aggression against people of color. Protests and candlelight vigils in Memphis and other major U.S. cities followed.

Body camera videos and surveillance footage of Nichols’ arrest were released in January, showing the severity of the assault. In contradiction to the statements in the initial police report, the county prosecutor stated that the videos demonstrated a far more brutal scene.

According to the original police report, Nichols “started to fight” with the officers and attempted to grab one of their weapons. However, neither of these claims was affirmed by the footage. The police report further alleged that Nichols was stopped for reckless, high-speed driving – a claim not supported by the video evidence.

Nichols’ death led authorities to dissolve the SCORPION unit, a department created in 2021 to combat a rise in violent crime in Memphis. The unit, to which the five officers belonged, was disbanded shortly after Nichols’ death.

The federal indictment also alleges that the five officers intentionally manipulated their body-worn cameras to conceal the assault on Nichols. Following the beating, the officers are said to have given misleading information and concealed the severity of the assault from their superior officers and the officer who wrote the initial incident report. They also allegedly lied about Nichols pulling on their gun belts and about Nichols’ strength, claiming he lifted two officers off the ground.

“This is tragic. Tyre Nichols should be alive today,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who leads the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

In July, the Justice Department began a civil rights investigation into the Memphis city and its police department to determine if there were systemic violations of the Constitution or federal law by the agency. This investigation is ongoing and is separate from the federal criminal civil rights investigation of the officers.

Last month, Shelby County District Attorney Steven Mulroy announced the dismissal of more than 30 cases involving the five former police officers charged in Nichols’ death, citing concern about their credibility as witnesses. Charges were also reduced in about a dozen other cases after approximately 100 cases involving the officers were reviewed.

The tragic story of Tyre Nichols’ untimely death at the hands of those entrusted with the security and safety of civilians continues to unfold, a somber reminder of the pressing need for law enforcement reform.