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News / Nation & World

5 former officers charged in death of Tyre Nichols are now also facing federal charges

By ADRIAN SAINZ and JONATHAN MATTISE, ADRIAN SAINZ and JONATHAN MATTISE, Associated Press
Published: September 12, 2023, 11:53am

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Five former Memphis police officers were charged Tuesday with federal civil rights violations in the beating death of Tyre Nichols as they continue to fight second-degree murder charges in state courts arising from the killing.

Tadarrius Bean, Desmond Mills, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin and Justin Smith were indicted in U.S. District Court in Memphis. The four-count indictment charges each of them with deprivation of rights under the color of law through excessive force and failure to intervene, and through deliberate indifference; conspiracy to witness tampering, and obstruction of justice through witness tampering.

The new charges come nine months after the violent beating of Nichols by police officers during a Jan. 7 traffic stop near his home in Memphis. Nichols died at a hospital three days later, and the five officers have pleaded not guilty to state charges of second-degree murder and other alleged offenses in connection with the case. The five officers charged in the case are Black, like Nichols.

Blake Ballin, an attorney representing Mills on the state criminal charges, said the federal indictment “is not unexpected” and Mills will defend himself against the federal charges as he is in state court.

William Massey, the attorney for Martin, said the federal charges were expected. “They are not a surprise,” he said in a text message.

There was no immediate response from attorneys for other defendants in the case.

A hearing was set for Friday morning in the federal lawsuit filed by Nichols’ mother against the five officers, the city of Memphis and its police department. The officers then are scheduled to appear in state court Friday afternoon.

Caught on police video, the beating of the 29-year-old Nichols was one in a string of violent encounters between police and Black people that sparked protests and renewed debate about police brutality and police reform in the U.S.

The Justice Department announced an investigation in July into how Memphis Police Department officers use force and conduct arrests, one of several “patterns and practices” investigations it has undertaken in other U.S. cities.

In March, the Justice Department said it was conducting a separate review concerning use of force, de-escalation strategies and specialized units in the Memphis Police Department.

Nichols’ mother has sued the city and its police chief over her son’s death.

The officers were part of a crime-suppression team known as Scorpion. They punched Nichols, kicked him and slugged him with a baton as he yelled for his mother, authorities and video showed. Authorities disbanded the Scorpion unit after Nichols’ death, though members of the unit have been moved to other teams.

The Memphis City Council subsequently passed an ordinance that outlawed so-called pretextual traffic stops, which include minor violations such as a broken tail light. But some activists have complained that the ordinance has not been consistently enforced.

Elsewhere, a federal civil rights case was filed last year against four Louisville, Kentucky, police officers over a drug raid that led to the death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman whose fatal shooting helped fuel racial justice protests that swept the nation in 2020. In Minneapolis, former police officers were convicted of violating the civil rights of George Floyd, whose death sparked those protests. Former officer Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 21 years after pinning Floyd to the pavement for more than nine minutes as the Black man pleaded, “I can’t breathe.”

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