MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A sixth Memphis Police Department officer has been disciplined for his involvement in the brutal beating and arrest of Tyre Nichols, a department spokeswoman said Monday.
Officer Preston Hemphill was relieved of duty shortly after the Jan. 7 arrest of Nichols, who died three days later at a hospital, Memphis police spokeswoman Karen Rudolph said. She did not disclose Hemphill’s role in the arrest.
It was the latest example in a long string of early police accounts regarding use of force that were later shown to have minimized or ignored violent and sometimes deadly encounters. Law enforcement has often been seen as being more heavy-handed and violent in dealings with Black people or in Black neighborhoods.
Hemphill’s lawyer, Lee Gerald, said in a statement that Hemphill was the third officer at a traffic stop that preceded the violent arrest and that he activated his body camera. But Hemphill was not at the scene where Nichols was beaten, Gerald said.
Rudolph said information on disciplinary action taken against Hemphill was not immediately released because Hemphill was not fired and the department typically gives out information about officers who are relieved of duty after an investigation ends.
Highly anticipated video footage released Friday showed Memphis Police Department officers using a stun gun, a baton and their fists as they pummeled Nichols during the nighttime arrest. Footage shows Nichols running away from officers toward his house after he was pulled over on suspicion of reckless driving. Nichols, a 29-year-old father, was heard calling for his mother and seen struggling with his injuries as he sat helpless on the pavement.
Five Black officers have been fired and indicted on charges including second-degree murder and kidnapping in the death of Nichols, who also was Black. Hemphill is white.
Nichols’ family and others closely watching developments surrounding the Nichols case awaited word of additional disciplinary action against officers who were at the scene but have not been fired or charged.
The police department is responsible for internal disciplinary measures, such as firings. Shelby County’s district attorney handles criminal investigations.
Memphis police and the Shelby County district attorney have their probes into the actions of other officers was ongoing. A Memphis police spokeswoman said Monday that more information will be released when it becomes available.
The five officers chatted and milled about for several minutes as Nichols remained in the ground, but there were other authorities on the scene. Two Shelby County sheriff’s deputies have been relieved of duty without pay while their conduct is investigated. Two Memphis Fire Department workers were also removed from duty over Nichols’ arrest.
On body camera footage from the initial stop, Hemphill is heard saying that he stunned Nichols and declaring, “I hope they stomp his ass.”
Lawyers for the Nichols family, questioned why the department did not disclose Hemphill’s discipline earlier and why he has not been fired or charged.
“We have asked from the beginning that the Memphis Police Department be transparent with the family and the community – this news seems to indicate that they haven’t risen to the occasion,” said the statement from Ben Crump and Anthony Romanucci,. “It certainly begs the question why the white officer involved in this brutal attack was shielded and protected from the public eye, and to date, from sufficient discipline and accountability.”
Memphis Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis told The Associated Press in an interview Friday that a “lack of supervision in this incident was a major problem.”
“When officers are working, you should have at least one supervisor for every group or squad of people,” David said. “Not just somebody who’s at the office doing the paperwork, somebody who’s actually embedded in that unit.”
Calls for more officers to be fired or charged have been loud and persistent from the Nichols family, their lawyers and community activists who have peacefully protested in Memphis since the video was released. The video was evocative of the arrest of George Floyd in 2020 and officers’ failure to intervene.
On Saturday, Nichols’ stepfather, Rodney Wells, told The Associated Press that the family was going to “continue to seek justice and get some more officers arrested.”
“Questions were raised before the video was released, I raised those questions,” Wells said. “I just felt there was more than five officers out there. Now, five were charged with murder because they were the main participants, but there were five or six other officers out there that didn’t do anything to render any aid. So they are just as culpable as the officers who threw the blows.”
Memphis City Council member Martavius Jones said he watched the video with colleagues on Friday. He acknowledged Monday that Memphis police policies of failure to render aid and de-escalation appeared to have been violated.
“When everybody saw the video, we see that you have multiple officers just standing around, when Mr. Nichols is in distress, that just paints a totally different picture,” Jones said
Jones said he believes more officers should be disciplined.
“At this point, what’s going to be helpful for this community is to see how swiftly the police chief deals with those other officers now that everybody has seen the tape and knows that is wasn’t only five officers who were at the scene the entire time,” Jones said.
The five fired officers and Hemphill were part of the so-called Scorpion unit, which targeted violent criminals in high-crime areas. Davis, the police chief, said Saturday that the unit has been disbanded.
Nichols’ funeral service is scheduled for Wednesday at a Memphis church.