By Adrian Sainz
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Memphis authorities released video footage Friday showing Tyre Nichols being beaten by police officers who held the Black motorist down and repeatedly struck him with their fists, boots and batons as he screamed for his mother and pleaded, “’I’m just trying to go home.”
The video is filled with violent moments showing the officers, who are also Black, chasing and pummeling Nichols and leaving him on the pavement propped against a squad car as they fist-bumped and celebrated their actions.
The footage emerged one day after the officers were charged with murder in Nichols’ death. The chilling images of another Black man dying at the hands of police renewed tough questions about how fatal encounters with law enforcement continue even after repeated calls for change.
As the Memphis Police Department prepared to release body cam video, the chief of police in Birmingham, Scott Thurmond, issued a statement:
“The Birmingham Police Department would like to extend our condolences to the family of Tyre Nichols of Memphis, Tennessee.
“Anytime a tragic incident occurs such as this, all law enforcement agencies are hurt because of the shame that is now brought upon our profession. As police officers, we all take an oath and should hold ourselves accountable for our actions.
“At The Birmingham Police Department, we share in holding all our officers to a higher standard of displaying our motto of commitment, excellence, and integrity in every situation that our officers are placed in.
“We do not condone the actions that these former officers took and will remain firm in our stance that as a department, we will follow and uphold a true moral compass in all our actions.”
The recording shows police savagely beating the 29-year-old FedEx worker for three minutes while screaming profanities at him throughout the attack. The Nichols family legal team has likened the assault to the infamous 1991 police beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King.
After the first officer roughly pulls Nichols out of a car, Nichols can be heard saying, “I didn’t do anything,” as a group of officers begins to wrestle him to the ground.
One officer is heard yelling, “Tase him! Tase him!”
Nichols calmly says, “OK, I’m on the ground.”
“You guys are really doing a lot right now,” Nichols says. “I’m just trying to go home.”
“Stop, I’m not doing anything,” he yells moments later.
Nichols can then be seen running as an officer fires a Taser at him. The officers then start chasing Nichols.
Other officers are called, and a search ensues before Nichols is caught at another intersection. The officers beat him with a baton and kick and punch him.
Security camera footage shows three officers surrounding Nichols as he lies in the street cornered between police cars, with a fourth officer nearby.
Two officers hold Nichols to the ground as he moves about, and then the third appears to kick him in the head. Nichols slumps more fully onto the pavement with all three officers surrounding him. The same officer kicks him again.
The fourth officer then walks over, unfurls a baton and holds it up at shoulder level as two officers hold Nichols upright, as if he were sitting.
“I’m going to baton the f— out you,” one officer can be heard saying. His body camera shows him raise his baton while at least one other officer holds Nichols. The officer strikes Nichols on the back with the baton three times in a row.
The other officers then appear to hoist Nichols to his feet, with him flopping like a doll, barely able to stay upright.
An officer then punches him in the face, as the officer with the baton continues to menace him. Nichols stumbles and turns, still held up by two officers. The officer who punched him then walks around to Nichols’ front and punches him three more times. Then Nichols collapses.
Two officers can then be seen atop Nichols on the ground, with a third nearby, for about 40 seconds. Three more officers then run up and one can be seen kicking Nichols on the ground.
At one point, as Nichols is slumped up against a car, and not one of the officers renders aid. The body camera footage shows a first-person view of one of them reaching down and tying his shoe.
Delayed Medical Attention
It takes more than 20 minutes after Nichols is beaten and on the pavement before any sort of medical attention is provided to him, even though two fire department officers arrived on the scene with medical equipment within 10 minutes.
Cities across the country braced for large demonstrations. Nichols’ relatives urged supporters to protest peacefully.
Memphis Police Director Cerelyn Davis described the officers’ actions as “heinous, reckless and inhumane,” and said that her department has been unable to substantiate the reckless driving allegation that prompted the stop.
She told The Associated Press in an interview that there is no video of the traffic stop that shows Nichols recklessly driving.
During the initial stop, the video shows the officers were “already ramped up, at about a 10,” she said. The officers were “aggressive, loud, using profane language and probably scared Mr. Nichols from the very beginning.”
Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, pleaded for peace.
“I don’t want us burning up our city, tearing up the streets, because that’s not what my son stood for,” she said Thursday. “If you guys are here for me and Tyre, then you will protest peacefully.”
Speaking at the White House, President Joe Biden said Friday that he was “very concerned” about the prospect of violence and called for protests to remain peaceful.
Biden said he spoke with Nichols’ mother earlier in the day and told her that he was going to be “making a case” to Congress to pass the George Floyd Act “to get this under control.” The legislation, which has been stalled, is meant to tackle police misconduct and excessive force and boost federal and state accountability efforts.
Court records showed that all five former officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith — were taken into custody.
The officers each face charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression. Four of the five officers had posted bond and been released from custody by Friday morning, according to court and jail records.
Second-degree murder is punishable by 15 to 60 years in prison under Tennessee law.
Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner said in a statement late Friday that two deputies who appeared on the scene after the beating have been relieved of duty pending the outcome of an internal investigation.
Patrick Yoes, the national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, condemned the alleged actions of the Memphis officers.
“The event as described to us does not constitute legitimate police work or a traffic stop gone wrong. This is a criminal assault under the pretext of law,” Yoes said in a statement.
Rallies and demonstrations were planned Friday night in Memphis, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New York City, Portland, Oregon and Washington.
Romanucci and civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who also represents Nichols’ family, called on the police chief to disband the department’s so-called scorpion unit focused on street crime.
Davis said other officers are still being investigated for violating department policy. In addition, she said “a complete and independent review” will be conducted of the department’s specialized units, without providing further details.
As state and federal investigations continue, Davis promised the police department’s “full and complete cooperation.”
Associated Press reporters Aaron Morrison in New York; Travis Loller in Nashville, Tennessee; and Rebecca Reynolds in Lexington, Kentucky, contributed to this report.