Memphis officers had been reprimanded after using force
Two of the former Memphis police officers charged with killing Tire Nichols had previously been reprimanded for failing to file required reports on the use of physical force during arrests, records released Tuesday show.
In a 2019 case, Officer Desmond Mills Jr. was assisting in an arrest after a traffic stop when he grabbed the suspect by the arms and pulled her to the ground, according to staff records. After a hearing two years later, Mr Mills received a written reprimand for failing to file the mandatory incident report.
The woman arrested in the case had filed a complaint alleging she was beaten by officers, grabbed by the hair and thrown into a patrol car. The recordings describe body camera footage showing two different officers struggling with the woman for several minutes, one of them hitting her with a baton, before Mr Mills and others stepped in to help . The woman “suffered bruises and abrasions during the struggle,” according to the records.
Demetrius Haley, another of the officers charged in Mr Nichols’ death, was also reprimanded in 2021 for failing to file a report after grabbing someone by the arm to turn them over to make an arrest. Mr Haley told a hearing he was wrong about ‘the amount of force needed to demand’ such documentation.
The personnel records were released on the eve of Mr Nichols’ funeral, which was scheduled for Wednesday with the Reverend Al Sharpton set to deliver the eulogy.
At a press conference on Tuesday evening, Mr. Sharpton, accompanied by Mr. Nichols’ family and civil rights activists, reiterated his demands for accountability. He called for changes to federal law that would tighten rules of police conduct and make it easier to prosecute officers accused of wrongdoing, describing what happened to Mr Nichols as “a disgrace to this country”.
“People all over the world have watched the videotape of a man, unarmed and unprovoked, being beaten to death by law enforcement officers,” Mr Sharpton said, speaking at Mason Temple, the church where Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. gave his final speech the day before he was assassinated.
“We talk a lot about the gang bangers on the streets and the colors they wear,” he added. “In Memphis, it looks like they’re wearing the color blue, that uniform.”
Other speakers echoed Mr. Sharpton’s call for tougher federal laws to regulate police and increase accountability. It had been more than two years since the death of George Floyd, said Bishop Talbert W. Swan II of the Church of God in Christ, and yet lawmakers had not promised to change the law.
“The stomach to move forward with this change seems to have left those who are now comfortably nestled in Congress,” he said. Instead, they “now say, ‘Defund the police,’ and have forgotten the promises they made to black people who put them in power.”
Personal records released on Tuesday also showed that two other officers charged with Mr Nichols’ death had disciplinary records. Officer Emmitt Martin III was suspended for not checking his vehicle after a shift, an issue that came to light when another officer found a gun inside the vehicle. Mr Martin later received a one-day suspension after failing to take a report when responding to a reported domestic violence case.
Officer Justin Smith was suspended for two days in 2021 after crashing his vehicle, records show. He and another driver were injured in the crash.
The fifth officer charged in Mr Nichols’ death, Tadarrius Bean, does not appear to have had any previous disciplinary issues since joining the department in 2020.
Disciplinary cases involving the use of force have focused on whether officers properly reported encounters; the hearings did not appear to consider whether the force had been appropriate.
Records show that officer managers sometimes showed up at disciplinary hearings to praise the work of officers. At Mr Haley’s hearing, a lieutenant spoke on his behalf, saying he was “a hardworking officer” who “regularly makes good decisions”. During Mr Martin’s audition, records show, a lieutenant called him “the best producer”.
All five officers were fired this month after Mr Nichols died. Video of his January 7 arrest showed officers kicking, pepper spraying and punching him. He was taken to hospital and died three days later.
The officers were part of a dedicated “Scorpion” unit, created in 2021 to deploy to neighborhoods where the city had documented high crime rates. The department has now disbanded the unit, with police officials saying the “heinous actions of a few” had cast a cloud of dishonor over the unit.