Police chief warns Memphis not to react violently after release of Tyre Nichols video

Memphis’ top cop has warned the local community not to react with “violence or destruction” when the body camera video of the brutal beating of black motorist Tyre Nichols is released, as law enforcement agencies Thursday brace for protests.

Police Chief Cerelyn Davis issued a video statement Wednesday night, in which she described Nichols’ beating as “heinous, reckless and inhumane” — but at the same time urged the community not to lash out in response to the video.

“I expect you to feel what the Nichols family feels,” she said. “I expect you to feel outrage in the disregard of basic human rights, as our police officers have taken an oath to do the opposite of what transpired on the video.”

“I expect our citizens to exercise their First Amendment right to protest, to demand action and results,” she continued. “But we need to ensure our community is safe in this process. None of this is a calling card for inciting violence or destruction on our community or our citizens.”

A portrait of Tyre Nichols is displayed at a memorial service for him on Tuesday, Jan. 17.
Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old FedEx worker and father, was beaten by a group of police officers after a traffic stop in Memphis on Jan. 7.

Tyre Nichols is pictured in the hospital.
Nichols died in the hospital three days after what his family’s attorney described as a “savage” beating.
Family of Tyre Nichols

Nichols’ family members were shown the body camera recording earlier this week, and one of their attorneys later said that Nichols was treated by the officers like a “human piñata,” and likened his encounter with the police to the infamous 1991 beating of Rodney King that sparked riots in Los Angeles.

Nichols, 29, who has a 4-year-old son, was beaten by a group of Memphis police officers during a traffic stop on Jan. 7 for reckless driving.

Police said in a statement the day after the encounter that “a confrontation occurred” as officers approached the vehicle and Nichols ran; they said officers caught up to him and that ”another confrontation occurred” while they were taking him into custody.

Police said Nichols complained of shortness of breath and was taken to a hospital, where he died three days later.

Relatives have accused the police of beating Nichols and causing him to have a heart attack and kidney failure. Authorities have only said that Nichols experienced a medical emergency. 

(L-R) Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills, Jr., Emmitt Martin III, Justin Smith and Tadarrius Bean were fired for their roles in the arrest.
Memphis police officers (L-R) Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills, Jr., Emmitt Martin III, Justin Smith and Tadarrius Bean were fired for their roles in Nichols’ arrest.

Davis explained that the video of Nichols’ traffic stop was being released “in the vain of transparency,” but also “to show those who watch us now that this behavior is not what will define our community and this great city.”

She added: “This is not a reflection of the good work that many Memphis police officers do every day. “

Davis stressed that she was not only speaking as a chief of police but also as a citizen, “a mother” and a “caring human being who wants the best for all of us.”

Five black officers were fired Friday in connection with the incident after an internal investigation found that they used excessive force and failed their duties to intervene and render aid. Additional law enforcement officials could face disciplinary actions.

The chief said that the officers “were found to be directly responsible” for the 29-year-old FedEx worker’s physical abuse. They were named as Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills, Jr. and Justin Smith.

Two Memphis Fire Department employees who were involved in Nichols’ care after the police encounter have also been removed from duty pending an investigation.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump speaks at a news conference with the family of Tyre Nichols.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represents Nichols’ family, watched the police video and said it shows the motorist being shocked, pepper sprayed and restrained.

“This is not just a professional failing. This is a failing of basic humanity towards another individual,” Davis said, adding that those officers who were involved in the incident “failed our community, and they failed the Nichols family. This is beyond regrettable.”

The chief said she was committed to ensuring that those responsible for Nichols’ death face “absolute accountability.” To that end, Davis promised full cooperation with external investigations by the Justice Department, the FBI, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office.

During a news conference Wednesday, US Attorney Kevin G. Ritz the federal investigation into Nichols’ death “may take some time,” which he told the man’s family during a recent meeting.

“As I told Mr. Nichols’ family, our federal investigation may take some time. These things often do,” Ritz said. “But we will be diligent, and we will make decisions based on the facts and the law.”

Kenyana Dixon is comforted during a rally for her brother Tyre Nichols at the National Civil Rights Museum on Jan. 16.
Kenyana Dixon is comforted during a rally for her brother Tyre Nichols at the National Civil Rights Museum on Jan. 16.

In her videotaped statement, Davis did not say when the body camera footage will be made public, but Shelby County DA Steve Mulroy said that its release will be carefully timed to allow investigators to interview as many suspects or witnesses as possible to deprive them of the chance to tailor their statements to what they saw in the footage.

Mulroy said he feared that releasing the video too early in the investigation could influence witnesses. He asked for patience from the public as activists expressed outrage at the delay.

Nichols’ family viewed the body camera video Monday. Civil rights attorney Ben Crump later said the recording shows the motorist being shocked, pepper sprayed and restrained after being pulled over on his way home.

He was driving back from a nearby park where he had taken photos of the sunset.

Nicholas was driving home from taking sunset photos in a park when he was pulled over for reckless driving.
Nicholas was driving home from taking sunset photos in a park when he was pulled over for reckless driving.
Family of Tyre Nichols

Attorneys representing the family said that police officers beat Nicholas for three minutes in a “savage” encounter.

District Attorney Mulroy said Wednesday he was distraught by the video.

“My heart went out to the family,” he said. “I’m a parent … I can’t imagine anything worse than losing a child, with the possible exception of losing a child under really violent, prolonged circumstances.”

The release of the body camera video could coincide with a decision on whether to charge the five fired Memphis cops, the DA added.

With Post wires

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