Five Memphis police officers involved in the traffic stop that preceded the hospitalization and subsequent death of a 29-year-old man were fired Friday night.
The police department said in a statement that the officers, who had been on the force for between two and a half and five years, violated several department policies, including those about the use of force, failure to render assistance and their duty to intervene. Tire D. Nichols of Memphis died three days after the traffic stop.
“Earlier today, every accused officer was fired from the Memphis Police Department,” said a written statement from Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis. “The egregious nature of this incident is not a reflection of the good work our officers do with integrity, every day.”
The charges mentioned by Davis are internal, departmental, not criminal.
Officers Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith were fired on Friday night. They had been with the department since August 2020, August 2020, March 2018, March 2017 and March 2018 respectively.
The officers’ release followed a nearly two-week internal investigation into possible policy violations that occurred during the traffic stop.
“Seeing their faces makes me angry,” said Keyana Dixon, Nichols’ older sister. “I’m trying to control myself, but my heart has been torn apart. This is torture.”
Jamal Dupree, one of Nichols’ older brothers, and Angelina Paxton, one of Nichols’ longtime friends, said they both felt let down by the officers involved.
“Knowing the history of police interactions with the black community over time, these men took a position of power and instead of doing something to improve the future and honor the past, they became no better than the days of Emmett. Till,” Dupree and Paxton said in a joint statement. “They let us down. Justice will be done to them.”
Nichols died on January 10, three days after he was pulled over at a traffic stop.
According to a statement from the Memphis Police Department, officers pulled Nichols over at around 8:30 pm on January 7 and a “showdown” ensued. Nichols eventually escaped, but was later arrested. Police officers said another “confrontation” took place at that time, but he had already been detained.
It was after this that police said Nichols “complained of shortness of breath” and was taken to St. Francis in critical condition.
An image of Nichols shared with the public shortly after his death showed Nichols intubated. His face was marred by a combination of significant welts. His nose was almost bent into an “s” shape. Blood was seen on his intubation tube and on his hospital sheets.
Nichols’ family said he suffered multiple injuries, including kidney failure and brain swelling. He was hooked up to a dialysis machine before his death, said Rodney Wells, Nichols’ stepfather.
The officers involved were removed and an internal investigation was opened by the city hall and police station. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation was immediately called in to investigate the officers’ “use of force” at the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office stop.
A federal investigation would be announced just over a week after Nichols’s death, with the United States Attorney’s Office, the FBI Memphis Field Office and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division saying that an investigation into possible civil rights violations by police was underway.
The response from public officials, including Davis, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy, has been to ask the public for patience while an internal investigation unfolds.
The family and the public demanded transparency, including immediate release of any footage recorded during the traffic stop.
That footage is scheduled to be released on Monday, according to a city spokesperson, but will first be viewed by Nichols’ family before being released publicly. The original announcement that the footage would be released publicly came just minutes before a memorial service for Nichols.
The family also demanded that all officers involved be charged with “murder one”, Wells said at the memorial service.
Nichols was remembered by friends and family as someone who “lit up the room” when he walked in. Paxton said that Nichols died “in a dark way” for someone who had “so much light”.
Lucas Finton is a reporter for The Commercial Appeal. He can be found at Lucas.Finton@commercialappeal.com and followed on Twitter @LucasFinton.
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