Video of Tire Nichols beating leaves questions unanswered
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The nation and the city of Memphis struggled to subdue a video on Saturday showing police beating Tire Nichols – footage that has left many unanswered questions about the traffic stop involving the black motorist and about other law enforcement officers who stood aside as he lay motionless on the sidewalk.
The five disgraced Memphis Police Department officers, who are also black, were fired and charged with second-degree murder and other crimes in Nichols’ death three days after the arrest. The video released on Friday renewed questions about how fatal encounters with law enforcement continue even after repeated calls for change.
A Memphis police spokeswoman declined to comment on the role played by other officers who showed up at the scene.
Memphis Police Superintendent Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said other officers are being investigated, and Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner said two deputies were relieved of their duties without pay while their conduct was under investigation.
Rodney Wells, Nichols’ stepfather, said the family “will continue to seek justice and have more officers arrested.” He said several others failed to render assistance, making them “just as culpable as the officers who carried out the beatings”.
Cities across the country had prepared for demonstrations, but the protests were scattered and nonviolent. In Memphis, several dozen protesters blocked the Interstate 55 bridge that carries traffic over the Mississippi River into Arkansas. The semi-trailers were backed up a distance.
Protesters at times blocked traffic by chanting slogans and marching through the streets of New York, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon. In Washington, protesters gathered in front of the White House and near Black Lives Matter Plaza.
Memphis remained on edge. Ahead of the protests, some businesses in downtown Memphis closed windows and the school system canceled after-school activities. Schools in Memphis-Shelby County, which has about 100,000 students, postponed sports and extracurricular activities on Saturday.
“I cried,” said protester Christopher Taylor, from Memphis, who said officers appeared to be laughing as they stood after the beatings.
Blake Ballin, the attorney for fired officer Desmond Mills, told The Associated Press in a statement on Saturday that while the videos “have produced as many questions as they have answers,” the question of whether the city would remain peaceful “received an answer”.
Some of the other questions will focus on what Mills “knew and could see when he arrived late at the scene” and whether his actions “crossed the lines that were crossed by other officers during this incident,” Ballin said.
The arrest was made by the so-called Scorpion Unit, which has three teams of about 30 street officers who target violent offenders in high-crime areas, Davis said.
In an AP interview on Friday, she said she wouldn’t shut down a unit if a few officers did “a blatant act” and because she needed that unit to keep working.
“The very idea that the Scorpion unit is a bad unit, I just have a problem with that,” she said.
Hours later, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said the unit had been inactive since the Jan. 7 arrest.
The city “has launched an outside and independent review of the training, policies and operations of our specialty units,” Strickland said in a statement.
Davis acknowledged the police department lacked supervisors and said city officials have pledged to provide more.
“The lack of supervision in this incident was a major issue,” Davis said.
The recording shows police savagely beating Nichols, a 29-year-old FedEx employee, for three minutes while shouting profanities at him throughout the attack. The Nichols family’s legal team compared the assault to the infamous beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King in 1991.
Questions have swirled around what led to the traffic stoppage in the first place. An officer can be heard saying that Nichols would not stop and then swerved as if intending to hit the officer’s car. The officer said when Nichols stopped at a red light, officers jumped out of the car.
“We tried to have him arrested,” regrets the officer. “He didn’t stop.”
But Davis said the department could not substantiate the reason for the stoppage.
“We don’t know what happened,” she said, adding, “All we know is that the force applied in this situation was exaggerated.”
In the video, officers can be seen holding Nichols to the ground and hitting him repeatedly with their fists, boots and batons as the black motorist screamed for his mother.
The video is filled with violent moments showing the officers chasing Nichols and leaving him on the sidewalk leaning against a police cruiser as they bump fists and celebrate their actions.
After the first officer brutally pulls Nichols out of a car, Nichols can be heard saying, “I didn’t do anything”, as a group of officers begin knocking him to the ground.
An officer is heard shouting, “Tase it! Tase it!”
Nichols said calmly, “OK, I’m down.”
“You’re really doing a lot right now,” Nichols says. “I’m just trying to get home.”
“Stop, I’m not doing anything!” he shouts a few moments later.
Nichols can then be seen running as an officer fires a Taser at him. His mother’s house, where he lived, was only a few houses away from the beating, and his family said he was trying to get there. The officers then begin to pursue Nichols.
More officers are called and a search ensues before Nichols is caught at another intersection. The police beat him with a truncheon, kicked him and punched him.
Security camera footage shows three officers surrounding Nichols as he is on the street pinned between police cars, with a fourth officer nearby.
Two officers hold Nichols to the ground as he moves, then the third appears to kick him in the head. Nichols collapses more completely on the sidewalk with the three officers surrounding him. The same officer kicks him again.
The fourth officer then approaches, draws a baton and holds it at shoulder level while two officers hold Nichols upright, as if he were seated.
“I’m going to bludgeon you,” an officer can be heard saying. His body camera shows him raising his baton while at least one other officer holds Nichols. The officer hits Nichols in the back with the baton three times in a row.
The other officers then appear to hoist Nichols to his feet, with him falling like a doll, barely able to stay upright.
An officer then punches him in the face, as the officer with the baton continues to threaten him. Nichols stumbles and turns, still restrained by two officers. The officer who punched him then walks to the front of Nichols and punches him four more times. Then Nichols collapses.
Two officers can then be seen atop Nichols on the ground, with a third nearby, for about 40 seconds. Three other officers then rush in, and one can be seen kicking Nichols to the ground.
As Nichols is slumped against a car, none of the officers come to help. Body cam footage shows a first-person view of one of them bending over and tying his shoe.
It takes more than 20 minutes after Nichols was beaten and on the sidewalk before medical attention is provided, although two firefighters arrived on the scene with medical equipment within 10 minutes.
Throughout the videos, officers make statements about Nichols’ behavior that are not supported by the footage or that the district attorney and other officials say did not occur. In one of the videos, an officer claims that during the initial traffic stop, Nichols grabbed the officer’s gun before running away and almost had his hand on the handle, which is not shown in the video.
After Nichols was handcuffed and leaned against a police car, several officers say he must have been stoned. Later, an officer says no drugs were found in his car, and another officer immediately retorts that Nichols must have dropped something while he was driving away.
Authorities did not release an autopsy report, but said nothing of note was found in the car.
Court records showed the five former officers – Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith – were arrested.
Second degree murder is punishable by 15 to 60 years in prison under Tennessee law.
Associated Press reporters Aaron Morrison in New York, Travis Loller in Nashville, Tennessee and Rebecca Reynolds in Lexington, Kentucky contributed to this report.
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