Former Memphis police supervisor in Tyre Nichols’ death retired with benefits before he could be fired
The Memphis police supervisor on the scene when Tyre Nichols was beaten to death by officers in January retired with his benefits the day before a hearing to fire him.
Lt. DeWayne Smith was identified Friday as the officer who retired just before his termination hearing, according to documents filed to revoke his law enforcement certification.
Members of the Memphis City Council have expressed frustration that an officer was allowed to retire before efforts to fire him. The council’s vice-chairman JB Smiley Jr. said it did not seem fair that the officer could keep his pension and other benefits.
“I just don’t like the fact that [Nichols’] parents are paying this officer to go on and live and that’s troubling,” Smiley said.
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The attorney for Nichols’ family, Ben Crump, said the police department should not have allowed Smith to “cowardly sidestep the consequences of his actions” and retire.
“We call for Memphis police and officials to do everything in their power to hold Lt. Smith and all of those involved fully accountable,” Crump said.
Seven other Memphis police officers were fired for the traffic stop that led to Nichols’ death. Five of those officers — Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Tadarrius Bean, Justin Smith and Emmitt Martin III — were charged with second-degree murder in connection with Nichols’ death, but Smith has not been charged.
Nichols was stopped by police for alleged “reckless driving” on Jan. 7 and was pulled roughly from his car as officers threatened to shock him with a Taser. Officers claimed a “confrontation occurred” during the traffic stop, and Nichols attempted to flee the scene on foot. Officers caught up with Nichols and began to kick him, punch him and hit him with a baton as he screamed for his mother.
During the beating, Nichols was complaining about having shortness of breath. He was transported to the hospital in critical condition and died on Jan. 10.
The decertification documents against Smith show that he heard Nichols saying, “I can’t breathe” as he was propped up against a squad car, but that Smith failed to give him medical care or remove his handcuffs, the report states.
Smith also did not receive reports from other officers about using force and told Nichols’ family that the victim was driving under the influence despite no evidence to support a charge, according to the documents. Investigators said Smith purported, without evidence, that Nichols was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Video from the scene captured Smith telling Nichols “you done took something.”
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The actions of Smith were caught on the body cameras of other officers since Smith was not wearing his body camera, a violation of the police department’s policy.
The U.S. Department of Justice is reviewing the Memphis Police Department’s policies on the use of force, de-escalation strategies and specialized units in response to Nichols’ death.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.