MEMPHIS, Tenn. — After-school activities in Memphis were canceled and President Joe Biden called for peaceful protests ahead of the Friday release of footage of a traffic stop that led to the death of a 29-year-old Black driver.
Tyre Nichols, an avid skateboarder and FedEx worker who had a 4-year-old son, was pulled over on Jan. 7. He was hospitalized in critical condition after what police initially described as “confrontations” with officers and died three days later. Police have released few details about what occurred during the stop, but Nichols’ family and their attorneys say video showed officers beating Nichols for several minutes.
Five former officers, who were fired last week, were charged Thursday with second-degree murder and other crimes in connection to Nichols’ death. Nichols’ family and officials including Biden are calling for peaceful protests following the release of the video expected after 6 p.m. CT.
Nichols’ stepfather, Rodney Wells, said at a press conference Friday the family is satisfied with the charges brought against the officers and urged demonstrators to gather peacefully. RowVaughn Wells, Nichols’ mother, on Thursday said the video is “horrific,” but asked supporters to “protest in peace.”
“More than anything we want peace,” Wells said. “We do not want any type of uproar, we do not want any type of disturbance.”
Crump: ‘We have never seen swift justice like this’
Attorney Ben Crump, who has been retained by the family, called the swift nature of the charges and the firing of the officers involved in Nichols’ death “the blueprint” for holding law enforcement accountable in the future.
“We have never seen swift justice like this,” Crump said at a press conference Friday.
Crump said Nichols’ family want his death to lead to police reform including a law that codifies a police officer’s duty to intervene when they see a colleague committing a crime.
Family attorney Antonio Romanucci called for the Memphis police Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis to immediately disband the unit some of the officers involved belonged to. The unit is called SCORPION, which stands for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods.
RowVaughn Wells again called for justice for her son and thanked the community for supporting her family.
“I still haven’t had time to grieve,” she said. “No mother should go through what I’m going through right now.”
Federal officials call for peaceful protests before release of ‘appalling’ footage
Biden said Nichols’ family deserves a “swift, full and fair investigation” into his death and called for “peaceful protests” after charges against the five former officers were announced.
“We cannot ignore the fact that fatal encounters with law enforcement have disparately impacted Black and Brown people,” Biden said, renewing his call for policing reform legislation that stalled in Congress last year.
Federal authorities have opened a civil rights investigation into Nichols’ death. Friday, FBI Director Chris Wray called video of the encounter “appalling.”
Both Wray and Attorney General Merrick Garland appealed for “calm” in advance of any protests following the release of the video.
—Joey Garrison and Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY
Memphis police chief: Traffic stop ‘was very questionable’
Davis told Good Morning America on Friday investigators have not been able to verify the allegation that Nichols was driving recklessly before the stop, saying “the stop itself was very questionable.”
Davis, who previously called the incident “heinous, reckless and inhumane,” said Wednesday more officers are under investigation.
After-school activities canceled in Memphis
Memphis-Shelby County Schools canceled all after-school activities scheduled for Friday “out of an abundance of caution.” School officials said they will monitor events and will determine Friday night if Saturday’s events will be canceled.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Tyre Nichols, and those across the Mid-South affected by this tragedy,” school district officials said in a release.
2 former officers will plead ‘not guilty,’ attorneys say
Defense attorneys Blake Ballin and William Massey said their clients Desmond Mills Jr. and Emmitt Martin III will plead not guilty to the charges they face in connection with Nichols’ death. The defense attorneys said they had not yet seen the video of Nichols’ death.
“No one out there that night intended for Tyre Nichols to die,” Massey said. “It’s shocking.”
Ballin said he hopes people who view the video do so “with the understanding that there’s more to the story.”
It was not clear Thursday who represented the other three officers charged in Nichols’ death.
— Micaela A Watts and Katherine Burgess, Memphis Commercial Appeal
What happened to Tyre Nichols during the traffic stop?
Officers pulled Nichols over around 8:30 p.m. Jan. 7 on suspicion of reckless driving and a “confrontation” ensued, according to a statement from Memphis police. Nichols fled, was arrested and another “confrontation” happened, police said. Police have not clarified what happened during those “confrontations.”
Nichols later “complained of a shortness of breath,” and was hospitalized in critical condition, police said.
Preliminary findings of an independent autopsy showed Nichols “suffered extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating,” Nichols’ family’s attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci said in a joint statement.
Nichols was “kicked” and was subjected to “multiple uses of force” during the “unadulterated…beating of [Nichols] for three minutes,” Romanucci said.
Five officers charged in Tyre Nichols death
Former officers Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin III and Desmond Mills Jr. have each been charged with one count of second-degree murder, aggravated assault – acting in concert, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of official misconduct and one count of official oppression, court records show.
The five men, who are all Black, were booked at the Shelby County Jail, and all posted bond Thursday, with bonds ranging between $250,000 and $350,000.
Second-degree murder is punishable by 15 to 60 years in prison under Tennessee law.
Two Memphis firefighters were also “relieved of duty” pending an internal investigation into their actions after the stop, a fire department spokeswoman said.
Contributing: The Associated Press
Contact Breaking News Reporter N’dea Yancey-Bragg at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @NdeaYanceyBragg