Five officers charged over Tyre Nichols’ death

Police have called for calm ahead of the release bodycam video of Tyre Nichols' traffic stop.

Police have called for calm ahead of the release bodycam video of Tyre Nichols' traffic stop. Photo: AAP

Five former Memphis police officers have been charged with murder in the death of Tyre Nichols, a black man who died three days after a traffic stop, prosecutors say.

Mr Nichols, a 29-year-old father, died in a hospital on January 10, three days after sustaining injuries during his arrest by the five police officers.

Lawyers for Mr Nichols’ family, Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci said “police brutalised him to the point of being unrecognisable”.

Officials are expected to release police body-worn camera footage of the traffic stop on Friday night (local time).

“We’re here today because of a tragedy that wounds one family deeply but also hurts us all,” Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said on Thursday.

The five officers, who are black, had been charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression, Mr Mulroy said.

The Memphis Police Department on Friday identified them as Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr, and Justin Smith, who are aged between 24 and 32.

Each had served with the department for about two to five years.

They were dismissed last Saturday for violating multiple departmental policies, including using excessive force, failing to intervene and failing to render aid, and were taken into custody on Thursday.

“These officers were found to be directly responsible for the physical abuse of Mr Nichols,” Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis said late on Wednesday.

“This is not just a professional failing, this is a failing of basic humanity toward another individual. This incident was heinous, reckless and inhumane.”

Ms Davis said other Memphis officers remained under investigation for policy infractions. In a video posted on YouTube, she asked for calm when the video footage of Mr Nichols’ arrest was made public.

Mr Mulroy said that after Mr Nichols was stopped in his vehicle, there was “an altercation” in which officers used pepper spray. Mr Nichols ran away.

“There was another altercation at a nearby location, at which the serious injuries were experienced by Mr Nichols,” Mr Mulroy said.

Memphis police initially said an ambulance was called because Mr Nichols “complained of having a shortness of breath” and he was taken to hospital in critical condition.

David Rausch, the director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, said he was sickened by what he saw in the police body-worn camera videos.

“What happened here does not at all reflect proper policing,” he said. “This was wrong. This was criminal.”

Blake Ballin, a lawyer representing Mr Mills, said the former officer was “devastated to find himself charged with a crime”.

Mr Ballin was joined by William Massey, representing Mr Martin. Both lawyers said they had not seen the bodycam video.

Their clients would each post a bond to be released from jail on Thursday and intended to plead not guilty, they said.

The White House also issued a statement from President Joe Biden pleading for calm and “peaceful protest”.

“Outrage is understandable, but violence is never acceptable,” Mr Biden said.

“Tyre’s death is a painful reminder that we must do more to ensure that our criminal justice system lives up to the promise of fair and impartial justice, equal treatment, and dignity for all.”

Several cases of police officers using excessive force on black people in the US in recent years have been condemned by the public and led to calls for changes in policing.

Protests broke out globally following the May 2020 killing of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes, as well as other deaths during encounters with police officers.

The Nichols family viewed the police footage on Monday with Mr Crump.

Mr Nichols’ mother Ravaughn Wells described him as a “good boy” who spent his Sundays doing laundry and getting ready for the week.

“Does that sound like somebody that the police said did all these bad things?” she said.

“Nobody’s perfect OK, but he was damn near.

“I know everybody says that they had a good son, and everybody’s son is good, but my son, he actually was a good boy.

Mr Crump compared Mr Nichols’ beating to the 1991 Los Angeles police assault on Rodney King, which was caught on video.

-with AAP

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