Five Tennessee police officers were fired on Friday for using excessive force in connection with the arrest of a 29-year-old Black man who died days after being arrested and allegedly beaten by cops during a traffic stop.
In a statement, Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said his department determined that the officers violated several department policies, “including excessive use of force, duty to intervene, and duty to render aid.” The department identified the officers, who are all Black, as Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith and shared their photos alongside the statement.
“The egregious nature of this incident is not a reflection of the good work that our officers perform, with integrity, every day,” Davis said.
Tyre Nichols was pulled over by officers for reckless driving at 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 7, according to an initial account shared by police. As the officers approached him, a “confrontation occurred” and Nichols “fled the scene on foot.” A second confrontation occurred, police said, shortly before the officers ultimately took him into custody.
“Afterward, the suspect complained of having a shortness of breath, at which time an ambulance was called to the scene,” police said.
Nichols arrived at the hospital in critical condition and died three days later, on Jan. 10. Officials have not released a cause of death.
Memphis police have not shared any additional details about the arrest, but Nichols’s family believes the officers tased, pepper-sprayed, and brutally beat him to the point where he was “unrecognizable.” The family has been sharing a graphic photo of Nichols laying in a hospital bed shortly before his death at protests over his death. In the image, his face appears swollen and bruised. A breathing tube is shown coming out of his bloodied mouth.
“What they did to my brother, they might have well killed us all,” Nichols’s sister Kenyana Dixon, said during a demonstration last weekend.
“No one should die from a traffic stop,” Nichols’s stepfather Rodney Wells told a local NBC station. “They must’ve pulled him out of the car aggressively and he feared for his life, so he ran.”
The family has retained civil rights lawyer Ben Crump and attorney Antonio Romanucci as they demand that Memphis police release the officers’ body camera footage of the incident. City officials have said they will release the videos to the public following the conclusion of the internal investigation.
“We understand and agree that transparency around the events surrounding the death of Mr. Tyre Nichols is critically important, especially the release of the video footage,” Mayor Jim Strickland said in a statement Tuesday.
In a statement following the announcement of the officers’ firings, Crump and Romanucci said the family supported the department’s decision and called it “the first step towards achieving justice for Tyre and his family.”
“They must also be held accountable for robbing this man of his life and his son of a father,” the attorneys said.
A representative for Memphis police did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment Saturday. Essica Cage-Rosario, president of the Memphis Police Association, declined to comment on the termination of the officers.
“The citizens of Memphis, and more importantly, the family of Mr. Nichols deserve to know the complete account of the events leading up to his death and what may have contributed to it,” Cage-Rosario said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News.
Nichols worked for FedEx and was a father who loved skateboarding and photography, friends told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Kris Volker described him as nonconfrontational, happy-go-lucky, and a free spirit.
“He was a loving guy and loved to make people laugh,” Volker told the newspaper. “We got our first tattoos together when we turned 18. He got a wolf on his leg because he felt that it was his spirit animal. He cared more about others than himself.”
The friend said he was surprised and confused to learn about the course of events shared by police, saying that he believes that if Nichols did try to run away from the officers he only did so “because he was scared.”
“He's never had to deal with police,” Volker said, “and as a Black man, he knows better than to fight cops. He was very vocal about BLM. I honestly never thought it would happen to him.”