MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The officer who pulled Tyre Nichols from his car before police fatally beat him never explained why he was being stopped, newly released documents show, and emerging reports from Memphis residents suggest that was common.
Documents released Tuesday by the Tennessee Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission blast the conduct of Demetrius Haley and four other officers as “blatantly unprofessional.” They include revelations that Haley took photographs of Nichols as he lay propped against a police car.
Haley then sent the photos to other officers and a female acquaintance, the Memphis Police Department wrote in requesting that the five officers be stripped of the ability to work as police for their role in the Jan. 7 beating. Nichols died three days later — the latest police killing to prompt nationwide protests and an intense public conversation about how police treat Black residents.
Yet what led to it all remains a mystery.
The five officers — Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Tadarrius Bean, Justin Smith and Emmitt Martin III — have been fired and charged with second-degree murder. The new documents offer the most detailed account to date of those officers’ actions. Their attorneys have not commented to The Associated Press about the documents.
Another officer also has been fired and a seventh relieved of duty. Six others could receive administrative discipline, officials disclosed, without providing any details. That would bring the total involved to 13.
Erica Williams, a spokeswoman for the top prosecutor in Memphis, said more charges could still be filed because an investigation is ongoing.
Meanwhile, other residents are coming forward about interactions with Memphis police.
A federal lawsuit filed Tuesday accuses the same officers now charged with murdering Nichols with also violating the rights of a 22-year-old Memphis man from the same neighborhood as Nichols during a similarly violent arrest three days before Nichols’ arrest.
According to the lawsuit, Monterrious Harris was visiting a cousin at an apartment on the evening of Jan. 4 when his car was “suddenly swarmed by a large group of assailants wearing black ski-masks, dressed in black clothing, brandishing guns, other weapons, hurling expletives and making threats to end his life if he did not exit his car.”
Harris thought the men were trying to rob him, the lawsuit says, and he tried to back up his car before hitting something. He then reluctantly exited with his hands raised and was “grabbed, punched, kicked and assaulted” for up to two minutes, the complaint states. The beating stopped only after people came out of their apartments to see what was happening, the lawsuit alleges.
Photos of Harris’ face taken after his release on bail about nine days later show thick scabs on his forehead and a healing black eye.
The suit accuses officers of fabricating evidence to support charges against Harris, including being a convicted felon in possession of a handgun, criminal trespass and evading arrest.
Also, a woman told WREG-TV that she tried to warn the Memphis Police Department about Haley after a Feb. 21, 2021, encounter. Kadejah Townes said she was returning a movie to a Redbox machine at a Walgreens when police responded to a false shooting call. Police initially told her she could leave, she said, but then officers stopped her when she put her car in reverse. Haley placed handcuffs on Townes so roughly that she feared her arm was dislocated, she said.
Her aunt recorded the encounter. Then police stopped her aunt and brother while they followed a squad car as it took Townes to a hospital. Townes said she was never charged with anything.
Haley’s disciplinary file showed that after Townes filed a complaint, he was written up for failing to fill out proper paperwork — not for use of force.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Townes told the TV station.
Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis has signed requests seeking to prohibit the five charged officers from working in law enforcement again. The Tennessee Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission will decide later whether to decertify the officers.
Haley, who was driving an unmarked car and wearing a black hoodie, forced Nichols from his car using loud profanity, then sprayed him directly in the eyes with a chemical irritant spray, according to the documents released Tuesday.
“You never told the driver the purpose of the vehicle stop or that he was under arrest,” the documents state.
Haley did not have his body camera on when he stopped Nichols but was on a phone call with someone who overheard.
Nichols ran from officers but was apprehended again a few blocks away. At that point, Haley kicked him in the torso as three other officers were handcuffing him. Other officers kicked Nichols in the face, punched him or struck him with a baton.
Charges against the other officers include that they mislead officials about what happened.
Martin, for instance, claimed Nichols tried to snatch the officer’s gun from his holster after another officer forced him out of the vehicle, with Martin helping by grabbing Nichols’ wrist. However, video doesn’t corroborate the gun-grab claim, the documents said.
In a letter from Smith included in his file, he defended his conduct, stating that Nichols was “violent and would not comply.”
Audio from a body camera did not capture Nichols using profanity or making violent threats — instead, he appeared calm and polite in his comments to the officers.
The documents also highlight the failure to provide aid afterward, with Bean’s indifference to Nichols’ distress reported by a civilian who recorded video that’s not been released.
For more of AP’s coverage on Tyre Nichols’ death: https://apnews.com/hub/tyre-nichols