Tire Nichols loved his family, photographing sunsets and skateboarding
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — He was an amateur photographer who loved to skateboard and watch the sunsets darken the woods and ponds of his adopted hometown.
He enjoyed his mother’s sesame seed chicken and greeted her and her stepfather, Rodney Wells, when he arrived home with a warm “Hello, parents!”
Those words will not be heard again from Tire Nichols, a 29-year-old black man who was hospitalized in critical condition and died three days after a traffic stop on January 7.
“Nobody’s perfect, okay, but he was damn close,” his mother, RowVaughn Wells, said at a press conference on Monday.
Nichols, the youngest of four children, had a 4-year-old son. He was visiting family in Memphis from his home in Sacramento, Calif., when the pandemic started, so he stayed put and got a night job for FedEx.
When he wasn’t working or taking pictures, he skateboarded, an activity he started when he was 6, Wells said.
“It was his passion,” she said at the press conference, three days before a candlelight vigil was held for him at a local skatepark.
Photographing sunsets at Shelby Farms Park, a sprawling green space in Memphis, was another passion, she said. It was part of her many routines, like running Starbucks every morning and doing her laundry for the week on Sunday.
“Does this sound like someone the police are trying to say did all these bad things?” says Wells.
She told a news conference Friday that Nichols was driving home from Shelby Farms when he was arrested. Before leaving, he had asked Wells how she prepared the chicken they had for dinner.
“I said I was going to give him sesame seeds,” she said. “He loved her.”
She said her son loved her dearly and even had her name tattooed on his arm.
“Most kids don’t put their mom’s name in, but he did,” Wells said.
Wells said she will miss the cheery greeting that sounded when Nichols came home from work, the skatepark or Shelby Farms.
“I just think about the fact that I will never see my son again. I will never see that smile again. He will never see his son grow up,” Wells told NBC News on Friday. “I’m waiting for my son to walk through the door and he doesn’t.”
Angelina Paxton, a friend from Sacramento who met Nichols in their early teens, said he always had words of encouragement for those he loved.
Nichols’ death “just made me lose my faith in life and in humanity,” she said. “Bad things like that don’t happen to the right people in my head. It scared the world out of me now.
Paxton, 28, said she and Nichols couldn’t go anywhere without him knowing at least one person they met and stopping to chat.
Once, they stopped at a grocery store on their way to spend their day by a river. People in three different aisles knew him, as did the cashier, she said.
“Wherever I took him, he just had to talk to everyone,” Paxton said.
Nichols’ sister, Keyana Dixon, 41, of Sacramento, said her brother dreams of one day making a living from photography by starting a graphic design business.
This desire was reinforced when she was planning her wedding. Upon hearing that a photographer wanted to charge her $3,000, Nichols looked at her as if to say “that’s way too much money” and offered to take the pictures himself.
“He captured my wedding day,” Dixon said. “He wanted to see other people happy.”
After her death, Dixon looked back at the last text message he sent her, on December 30: “Sister, I love you so much, you are so valuable in my life. I just want you to know.”
One of Nichols’ FedEx colleagues, Rico Howard, said he was proud of his work.
“He was the self-proclaimed box manager, taking care of packing and shipping orders for customers,” Howard said. “He was going to make sure the right product was in the right box.”
He said he liked how Nichols never tried to fit in. Where many in Memphis dressed to impress, Nichols dressed in baggy clothes, heedless of what others thought.
“He was the first skateboarder I ever saw in Memphis,” Howard said.
Nichols died on January 10, three days after the encounter with police that took him to hospital. He had been arrested for suspected reckless driving, police officials said.
A confrontation ensued and officers pursued Nichols as he fled on foot, the Memphis Police Department said. As he attempted to take him into custody, there was another confrontation and Nichols complained of shortness of breath, he added.
A photo provided by his stepfather showed a hospitalized Nichols with blood on his face and what appeared to be a swollen eye.
The officers – Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith – were fired on January 20 and a Tennessee grand jury indicted them on murder and other counts.
Video of the encounter was released on Friday evening. David Rausch, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, said Thursday that what happened on camera was horrifying.
“I have been a police officer for over 30 years, I have dedicated my life to this profession and I am aggrieved,” he said. “Frankly, I’m shocked. I’m sickened by what I’ve seen.
Howard said the manner in which Nichols died weighed heavily on him and he hoped the events of January 7 would lead to change.
“The police treated him in any way, and it hurts, it hurts a lot,” he said. “But he could be the face to make things better.”