MEMPHIS, Tenn., Jan 27 (Reuters) – Memphis braced for public outrage on Friday after it releases video of five police officers, now charged with murder, in a traffic stop that authorities say resulted in the brutal beating and death of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man.
Officials who have viewed the video said it is deeply disturbing but few details have yet been made public about what it contains.
Nichols died in the hospital three days after the Jan. 7 encounter with the five Black officers, who have been charged with second-degree murder, assault, kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression and fired from their jobs.
“No mother should go through what I am going through right now, no mother, to lose their child to the violent way that I lost my child,” Tyre Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, said on Friday.
Civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, representing Nichols’ family, said the last words on the video were Nichols calling out for his mother.
Police will release the video on Friday evening on YouTube. It is expected to include footage captured by cameras worn by police and mounted on dashboards of their vehicles as well as security cameras on nearby utility poles.
“You are going to see acts that defy humanity,” Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis told CNN.
Nichols’ family and President Joe Biden have appealed for protests to stay peaceful in Memphis, a city of 628,000 where nearly 65% of residents are Black. Schools were scheduled to close early and Saturday morning events were canceled.
Biden spoke with RowVaughn Wells and Rodney Wells, Nichols’ stepfather, on Friday afternoon to express his condolences, the White House said, adding that it was coordinating with relevant government agencies in case protests turn violent.
Nichols’ death marked the latest high-profile case of police officers accused of using excessive force in the deaths of Black people and other minorities in recent years. These have been publicly condemned as systemic racism in the U.S. criminal justice system.
Protests against racial injustice erupted globally following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday announced a federal civil rights investigation into Nichols’ death, while local law enforcement in some major cities, including New York, Atlanta and Washington, said they were preparing for possible protests following the video’s release.
TRAFFIC STOP BEGAN CHAIN OF EVENTS
Police have described the circumstances of Nichols’ arrest in vague terms. Even Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy, who sought the officers’ indictment, was circumspect when announcing the charges.
After Nichols was pulled over for reckless driving, “an altercation” ensued in which officers doused him with pepper spray, and Nichols tried to flee on foot, Mulroy said. “There was another altercation at a nearby location at which the serious injuries were experienced by Mr. Nichols.”
Davis said her department has not yet been able determine whether there was probable cause for the officers to pull Nichols over for reckless driving, a traffic stop which set in motion the violent events that followed.
Crump said the speed at which the criminal charges were brought against the officers – fewer than three weeks after Nichols’ death – should be a standard for police-involved killings.
In some other high-profile cases, such as the police killing of Black man Laquan McDonald in Chicago in 2014, more than a year elapsed before the release of police video and the filing of charges.
“We want to proclaim that this is the blueprint going forward for any time any officers, whether they be Black or white, will be held accountable,” Crump said. “No longer can you tell us we got to wait six months to a year.”
Lawyers for the family also called on the police department to disband the special SCORPION unit focused on violent street crime to which at least some of the officers were assigned. Davis has said the department will review SCORPION and other specialized units.
Crump compared the encounter to the 1991 videotaped beating of Black motorist Rodney King by four police officers whose subsequent acquittal of criminal charges sparked days of riots in Los Angeles.
All five officers – Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith – were fired from the police force on Jan. 21 after an internal investigation found they breached multiple department policies, including use of excessive force.
Four of the officers have posted bail and have been released from jail, a CBS affiliate reported on Friday. A lawyer for Mills, Blake Ballin, said it might be another two weeks before the defendants make their initial court appearances.
Reporting by Alyssa Pointer in Memphis; Additional reporting by Tyler Clifford, Rich McKay, Jonathan Allen, Dan Whitcomb, Steve Gorman and Eric Beech; Writing and additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Cynthia Osterman and Grant McCool
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