Officials on Friday released harrowing video footage showing police beating Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee, earlier this month, leading to injuries from which he later died.
On January 7, five police officers attempted to arrest Nichols, a 29-year-old black man, after pulling him over while driving. The incident escalated into a physical altercation that resulted in Nichols’s hospitalisation, state investigators said. He died three days later.
The five officers involved, who were fired following Nichols’s death, were indicted by a grand jury in Memphis’s Shelby County on Thursday for second-degree murder, among other charges related to the killing.
A series of videos released by the Memphis Police Department on Friday evening showed Nichols being punched, kicked, struck with a baton and repeatedly pepper sprayed by a group of police officers.
The shocking footage captured a 35-minute window during which the traffic stop descended into a beating, ending with Nichols being placed on a stretcher with injuries that proved to be fatal.
In the videos, which were taken from a combination of body-worn cameras and a mounted pole camera, Nichols was recorded telling officers “I didn’t do anything” as he was pulled from his car.
After being pushed to the ground — where he was seen complying with officers’ requests — and tasered by the officers, Nichols was shown running away. A separate video captured minutes later showed two police officers holding Nichols from behind, while a third punched him repeatedly in the face, before a fourth hit Nichols using a baton. Nichols could be heard screaming “mom” repeatedly.
At one point, the footage showed a weakened and subdued Nichols on the ground, with police trying to pull him up. “I’m going to baton the fuck out [of] you,” an officer said.
There were at least eight officers on the scene.
In a statement released after the footage, US President Joe Biden said: “The footage that was released this evening will leave people justifiably outraged.” He said those who seek justice should not resort to violence.
There were protests on Friday night in Memphis, near the White House in Washington, in New York and elsewhere around the US.
“In a word, it’s appalling,” said David Ranch, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, of the footage of the assault. “Let me be clear: what happened here does not, at all, reflect proper policing. This was wrong. This was a crime.”
US attorney-general Merrick Garland told reporters on Friday morning he had been briefed on the video, calling it “deeply disturbing . . . horrific, from the descriptions I’ve been given”. He urged the public to be “peaceful and nonviolent” upon the release of the footage.
Christopher Wray, FBI director, said all FBI field offices had been told to “work closely” with partners, particularly in Memphis, “in the event of something getting out of hand”.
For Memphis, a majority-Black city of 630,000, the incident has revived memories of the infamous assault of Rodney King by Los Angeles police in 1991. It is also one of the most high-profile police killings in the US since the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others triggered nationwide protests three years ago.
On Thursday, the five now-former Memphis police officers involved in Nichols’ arrest, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills, Jr, and Justin Smith, who are all black, were charged on seven counts: second-degree murder, aggravated assault, two forms of aggravated kidnapping, two forms of official misconduct, and official oppression.
Bond was set for each at between $250,000 and $350,000.
Memphis police department chief Cerelyn Davis said in a video statement that “this incident was heinous, reckless, and inhumane” and that the public would see this for themselves after the video had been released.
“I expect you to feel what the Nichols family feels. I expect you to feel outrage in the disregard of basic human rights,” she said.
Nichols’s death is being investigated by city, state, and federal officials, while the Department of Justice is conducting a civil rights investigation.