Editor’s note: On July 26, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it will conduct a “pattern or practice” review into the Memphis Police Department.
After a grand jury returned indictments Thursday against the fired Memphis Police Department officers involved in the death of Tyre Nichols, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy announced charges against all five.
“We’re here today because of one tragedy that hurts one family deeply but also all of us,” he said.
Nichols, 29, died on Jan. 10, three days after being pulled over in a traffic stop. (Memphis Police Department Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis stated in an interview with CNN on Friday, “We have not been able to substantiate the reckless driving.”) He was taken to St. Francis Hospital for “shortness of breath.” Photos released by Nichols’ family showed his battered and swollen face as he lay in a hospital bed.
Editor’s Note: The officers pictured above were charged Thursday in connection with Tyre Nichols’ death. MLK50 has chosen not to use the police-provided booking photos of these officers. We have chosen to take an anti-carceral stance even when it would be easy not to.
Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith are all in custody. They’ve been charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of official misconduct and official oppression.
Want to report your encounter with police?
If you’ve experienced violence from the police or had an encounter with the Memphis Police Department that you think violated your civil rights, the U.S. Department of Justice wants to hear your story.
Tell them about it here: https://civilrights.justice.gov/report/
Mulroy said the City of Memphis will make public a video of the incident after 6 p.m. Friday.
While the press conference made public something that doesn’t happen that often — charges against police officers — we didn’t get to ask all the questions we have for Mulroy, for Memphis Police Department Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis and about what happens next so that this never happens again.
So, we’ll ask them here (And if we get answers, we’ll let you know.):
- MPD has said that Nichols was pulled over for reckless driving, but they haven’t said specifically what was reckless. Was he swerving in and out of traffic? Was he speeding – and if so, by how much?
- Why did the officers take Nichols to St. Francis Hospital instead of Regional One Health, the only Level 1 trauma center within 150 miles of Memphis?
- MPD has previously said that the 50-member SCORPION (Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods) unit was assembled to fight violent crime in the city’s hot spots. If so, why were they making traffic stops?
- What qualified these officers – some of whom had been on the force less than 2-and-a-half years — to be on the SCORPION unit?
- Is this the end of the SCORPION unit?
- Has an officer in Memphis or Shelby County ever been charged with second-degree murder in relation to an on-duty incident before?
- Since 2015, Memphis police have killed at least 15 people. How many people would need to die at the police’s hands before city leaders concede that the latest incident isn’t an indictment of a few bad apples, but reflects an institution that requires immediate overhaul?
- In a YouTube video released at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, Davis called for the public to be calm. Is Davis, who became the city’s top cop in 2021, aware that the violence that accompanies demonstrations is primarily at the hands of police?
(In 2017, during the #TakeEmDown901 campaign, cops dragged protesters out of the park where slaver Nathan Bedford Forrest’s equestrian statue stood. In 2020 and 2021, police turned chemical agents on protesters. In 2020, they surrounded demonstrators with mounted police. In 2020, MPD was accused of using excessive force after officers dragged organizer Victoria Jones Downtown. Also, in 2020, Strickland promised an investigation after an MPD officer was caught on camera shoving a demonstrator with a riot shield.)
- On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest, how ironic is it for Davis to call for residents to exercise the sort of restraint that officers did not?
- Given the police culture of protecting their own, how much blowback will Davis face from her own officers?
- What steps is Davis willing to take to restore public trust?
- Will MPD change its culture? If so, how? When?
- In 2020, as part of Mayor Jim Strickland’s “Reimagine Policing in Memphis” campaign, the city posted claiming that MPD was already in compliance with national criminal justice reformers’ “Eight Can’t Wait” demands. How many of these did MPD violate when the police violently beat Nichols?
- Does the district attorney’s office keep a record of officers charged with excessive force?
- Why doesn’t a state agency track police officers’ disciplinary records?
- If high crime rates make it difficult to attract tourists and new businesses to Memphis, how do the Greater Memphis Chamber and the business community calculate the economic toll when officers beat a man to death?
- For years, Strickland has insisted that Memphis needs hundreds of more officers to keep the city safe. Does he think Nichols’ killing makes the city more or less safe? Will residents be more likely or less likely to cooperate in police investigations?
This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by these generous donors.