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White House: Harris will attend Tyre Nichols’ funeral

By ADRIAN SAINZ and AARON MORRISON, Associated Press
Published: January 31, 2023, 12:40pm
7 Photos
Rodney Wells, center, stepfather of Tyre Nichols, listens to speakers at a prayer gathering at the site where Nichols  was beaten by Memphis police officers, and later died from his injuries, in Memphis, Tenn., Monday, Jan. 30, 2023.
Rodney Wells, center, stepfather of Tyre Nichols, listens to speakers at a prayer gathering at the site where Nichols was beaten by Memphis police officers, and later died from his injuries, in Memphis, Tenn., Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) Photo Gallery

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris plans to attend the funeral of Tyre Nichols, who died three days after he was beaten by Memphis police officers just minutes from his home, the White House said Tuesday.

Harris was invited to attend the funeral services Wednesday by Nichols’ mother and stepfather, RowVaughn Wells and Rodney Wells, according to Harris’s press secretary, Kirsten Allen. Harris spoke by phone with the Wells family on Tuesday, expressing her condolences and offering her support. President Joe Biden spoke by phone to Nichols’ family last week.

Harris will be joined by former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a senior adviser to the president for public engagement, and Mitch Landrieu, a White House senior advisor and infrastructure implementation coordinator, who is a former mayor of New Orleans, Allen said.

Five Black officers have been fired and charged with second-degree murder and other offenses in Nichols’ Jan. 7 beating and subsequent death. Video of the beating, which was released publicly last week, shows that many more people failed to help Nichols, who was also Black, beyond the five officers charged in his death.

Two more Memphis police officers have been disciplined and three emergency responders fired in connection with Nichols’ death, officials said Monday. Officer Preston Hemphill, who is white, and another officer whose name wasn’t released, have been suspended, police said.

Nichols’ family, the Rev. Al Sharpton and attorney Ben Crump plan to gather Tuesday evening at the historic Mason Temple in Memphis — where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his final speech the night before he was assassinated — to speak about the latest developments in the case.

Six of the officers involved were part of the so-called Scorpion unit, which targeted violent criminals in high-crime areas. Other Memphis residents who say they also were “brutalized” by officers in the unit will also speak at Mason Temple, according to a statement from Crump.

Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said after the video’s release that the unit has been disbanded.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but due to the severity of the situation it’s not enough,” Damion Carrick, 44, said as he participated in a protest Monday evening at Shelby Farms Park. “You got a man dragged out of his car, beaten senseless, to a pulp and nobody doing nothing about it. It’s heartbreaking.”

Nichols’ death was the latest in a string of early accounts by police about their use of force that were later shown to have minimized or omitted violent and sometimes deadly encounters.

Memphis Police Department officers used a stun gun, a baton and their fists as they pummeled Nichols during the nighttime arrest. Video shows Nichols running away from officers toward his house after he was pulled over on suspicion of reckless driving. The video footage released Friday shows the 29-year-old father calling for his mother and struggling with his injuries as he sits helpless on the pavement.

The five officers chatted and milled about for several minutes as Nichols remained on the ground, but other authorities were on the scene. Two Shelby County sheriff’s deputies also have been suspended without pay while their conduct is investigated.

Nichols’ older brother, Jamal Dupree, told CNN’s Don Lemon on Tuesday that he feels guilty because he wasn’t there to protect his younger sibling.

“I’m 99% sure that my brother has never gotten into a fight before. And the one time he got into an altercation with other humans, we wasn’t there to protect him. My brother was trying to cooperate with them,” Dupree, who lives in California, said of the Memphis officers.

Dupree said he hasn’t watched the police video.

“I already knew how they treated him because I’ve seen it all over the world,” Dupree said. “Police brutality is nothing new. I already knew they treated my brother like an animal. They treated him like he was nothing. I don’t have to watch the video to know that.”

He said he has seen reports about his brother and thinks other people are learning about who he was as a person.

“I think people really know my brother did not deserve this,” he told CNN. “He was not that type of person. Yeah, he was just a good guy around the board. … We want justice.”

Nichols’ sister, Keyana Dixon, was among more than 100 friends, family and supporters who gathered for a candlelight vigil Monday night at a skate park in Sacramento, where Nichols grew up, The Sacramento Bee reported.

“This was his favorite place to skate,” she said at the vigil. “I just want to thank all of you for your continued support for our family, and making sure his name is never forgotten.”

A childhood friend, Ryan Wilson, said he met Nichols at a skate park when he was 12 and they became fast friends, sharing their dreams for the future. Nichols had some struggles while young, but he focused on making others happy, Wilson said.

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“I just feel like all he wanted to do was find his place in this world, and he just wanted to be happy,” Wilson said.

RowVaughn and Rodney Wells have accepted an invitation to attend President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address next week at the Capitol. They will attend with Rep. Steven Horsford, a Nevada Democrat and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, according to Vincent Evans, a spokesperson for the caucus.

Nichols’ funeral is set for Wednesday at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis. Sharpton will give the eulogy and Crump will speak immediately after the funeral. Those expected to be in attendance include Tamika Palmer, the mother of Breonna Taylor, and Philonise Floyd, the brother of George Floyd.

The deaths of Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, and Floyd in Minneapolis, at the hands of police sparked protests across the nation about racial injustice.

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