Editor’s Note: This article contains graphic videos and descriptions of violence.
As protesters gathered across US cities over the weekend following the Memphis police beating that led to the death of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, officials have said the investigation into the incident will continue amid questions over whether there could be additional charges.
The fallout from the January 7 encounter has been relatively swift. The five Memphis officers involved were fired and charged with murder and kidnapping in Nichols’ death and the police unit they were part of was disbanded.
As the investigation continues, Nichols’ family attorney Ben Crump said he thinks there will be additional fallout, but “whether that’s going to lead to criminal charges, we have to see.”
Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said he can’t comment on whether there might be additional charges brought, but “nothing we did last Thursday regarding indictments precludes us from bringing other charges later.”
“We are going to need time to allow the investigation to go forward and further consideration of charges,” Mulroy told CNN Sunday.
Mulroy called it “unprecedented” that indictment charges were brought against the officers in just a matter of weeks after the fatal confrontation.
Officials knew releasing the video without charges for the officers could be “incendiary,” Mulroy said. “The best solution was to expedite the investigation and to expedite the consideration of charges so that the charges could come first and then the release of the video,” he added.
Video of the encounter is difficult to watch. It begins with a traffic stop and goes on to show officers repeatedly beating Nichols with batons, punching him and kicking him – including at one point while his hands are restrained behind his back.
He was left slumped to the ground in handcuffs, and 23 minutes passed before a stretcher arrived at the scene. Nichols was eventually hospitalized and died three days later.
“All of these officers failed their oath,” Crump told CNN on Sunday. “They failed their oath to protect and serve. Look at that video: Was anybody trying to protect and serve Tyre Nichols?”
As a makeshift memorial grew on the corner where Nichols was beaten, marching protesters in many cities – from New York City to Atlanta, Boston and Los Angeles – carried signs bearing the name of the young Black man, who the country heard calling for his mother as he was kicked, beaten and pepper-sprayed.
Nichols’ family, now at the center of unfamiliar media attention, remembered him as a good son and father who enjoyed skateboarding, photography and sunsets. They recalled his smile and hugs and mourned the moments they’ll never have again.
They also promised to “keep saying his name until justice is served.”
All five officers charged in Nichols’ beating – who are also Black – were members of the now-scrapped SCORPION unit, Memphis police spokesperson Maj. Karen Rudolph told CNN on Saturday. The unit, launched in 2021, put officers into areas where police were tracking upticks in violent crime.
Memphis police announced Saturday that it will permanently deactivate the unit, saying that “while the heinous actions of a few casts a cloud of dishonor on the title SCORPION, it is imperative that we, the Memphis Police Department take proactive steps in the healing process for all impacted.”
“That reprehensible conduct we saw in that video, we think this was part of the culture of the SCORPION unit,” Crump said. “So we demanded that they disbanded immediately before we see anything like this happen again.”
“It was the culture that was just as guilty for killing Terry Nichols as those officers,” Crump said.
Memphis City Councilman Frank Colvett said disbanding the unit was the right move.
“I think the smart move and the mayor is correct in shutting it down. These kinds of actions are not representative of the Memphis Police Department,” Colvett said.
Memphis City Councilwoman Michalyn Easter-Thomas also commended the move and said the case should give the city a chance to “dig deeper” into community and police relations.
“We saw a very peaceful and direct sense of protest in the city of Memphis, and I think it’s because maybe we do have faith and hope that the system is going to get it right this time,” Easter-Thomas said.
The officers charged in the encounter with Nichols – Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin and Desmond Mills Jr. – are expected to be arraigned on February 17. They face charges of second-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping, among other counts.
The attorney for one of the officers indicted, Mills Jr., put out a statement Friday night saying that he didn’t cross lines “that others crossed” during the confrontation. The attorney, Blake Ballin, told CNN Mills was a “victim” of the system he worked within.”
Meanwhile, the fallout has also stretched to other agencies.
Two Memphis Fire Department employees who were part of Nichols’ initial care were relieved of duty, pending the outcome of an internal investigation. And two deputies with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office have been put on leave pending an investigation.
The Congressional Black Caucus is requesting a meeting with President Joe Biden this week to push for negotiations on police reform, caucus chair Steven Horsford wrote in a news release Sunday.
“The brutal beating of Tyre Nichols was murder and is a grim reminder that we still have a long way to go in solving systemic police violence in America,” he wrote.
Gloria Sweet-Love, the Tennessee State Conference NAACP President applauded Memphis Police Chief Davis for “doing the right thing,” by not waiting six months to a year to fire the officers who beat up Tyre Nichols.
She had no applause for Congress, who she called to action saying, “by failing to craft and pass bills to stop police brutality, you’re writing another Black man’s obituary. The blood of Black America is on your hands. So stand up and do something.”
On the state level, two Democratic state lawmakers in Tennessee said Saturday that they intend to file police reform legislation ahead of the Tennessee general assembly’s Tuesday filing deadline. The bills would seek to address mental health care for law enforcement officers, hiring, training, discipline practices and other topics, said Rep. G.A. Hardaway, who represents a portion of Memphis and Shelby County.
While Democrats hold the minority with 24 representatives compared to the Republican majority of 99 representatives, Rep. Joe Towns Jr. said this legislation is not partisan and should pass on both sides of the legislature.
“You would be hard-pressed to look at this footage (of Tyre Nichols) and see what happened to that young man, OK, and not want to do something. If a dog in this county was beaten like that, what the hell would happen?” Towns said.