Tyre Nichols death condemned
A person speaks with Tyre Nichols, 29, a Black man who was pulled over while driving and died three days later, after being beaten by Memphis police officers on Jan. 7. The screen grab is from a video released by the Memphis Police Department on Jan. 27. Handout via REUTERS

Tyre Nichols, a Black motorist stopped by Memphis police earlier this month, is seen in newly released video being pummeled into submission while crying “Mom, mom.”

The graphic footage released by the city Friday shows five police officers – later charged with his murder – delivering kicks, punches and baton blows to Nichols, 29.

The video, culled from police body-worn cameras and another mounted on a utility pole, was posted online a day after the officers were charged with second-degree murder, assault, kidnapping, official misconduct and oppression in the Jan. 7 beating of Nichols.

He died three days later.

The impact of the images reached all the way to San Diego as law enforcement officials condemned the officers’ violence against Nichols.

San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit, in a joint statement with San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, called Nichols’ death a “brutal murder,” but also urged residents to remain calm and “promote peace during this time.”

We – inclusive of our entire San Diego Police Department – condemn this betrayal of the badge and the public trust, and we support the firing and prosecution of the officers involved,” they said. “What happened in Memphis will never be tolerated in San Diego. Our Police Department and its officers will continue to treat everyone with dignity and respect while keeping our communities safe.”

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department followed with a general statement – not attributed to new Sheriff Kelly Martinez – bemoaning the “deeply troubling, upsetting, and unprofessional” actions by the officers who beat Nichols and those who failed to intervene.

The department also called the decisions by the district attorney and police chief in Memphis “swift and appropriate,” while urging the public to consider “the hard work of the men and women of law enforcement at large in this country should be supported as they go about the business of protecting our communities everyday.”

Taken together, the four video clips released in Memphis chronicle a highly aggressive escalation of violence directed at a motorist who police had initially said they pulled over for reckless driving, though the police chief has since said that has not been substantiated.

The beatings appear to continue far beyond a point where Nichols could pose any threat, and at one point two officers hold him upright as another punches him repeatedly in the face, as other officers on the scene stand idly by without intervening.

The first video shows officers dragging Nichols from the driver’s seat of his car as he yells, “Damn, I didn’t do anything … I am just trying to go home,” then forcing him to the ground as they order him to lie on his stomach and squirt him in the face with pepper spray.

Nichols then breaks free, scrambles to his feet and sprints away down a road with officers chasing him on foot; at least one fires a stun gun at him.

Other footage shows a subsequent struggle after officers catch up with Nichols again. Two officers are seen holding him down as a third kicks him and a fourth delivers blows with what appears to be a baton before another punches Nichols.

Nichols is heard repeatedly screaming for his mother as he struggles with officers. She has said her son was only about 80 yards (meters) from home when he was beaten. A stretcher is seen arriving 19 minutes after the first emergency medical personnel get to the scene.

The officers, all Black, already had been dismissed from the police department on Jan. 20 nearly two weeks after the confrontation.

Nichols, the father of a 4-year-old, has been described by friends and family as an affable, accomplished skateboarder who recently enrolled in a photography class. Raised in Sacramento, Nichols moved before the coronavirus pandemic to the Memphis area, where he lived with his mother and stepfather and worked at FedEx.

As the video first appeared and was being broadcast by news outlets on Friday evening, a group of protesters gathered in Memphis, shouting, “no justice, no peace.” Several dozen protesters marched along Interstate 55, shutting down traffic near a bridge that crosses the Mississippi River into Arkansas.

Memphis police chief Cerelyn Davis and lawyers for Nichols’ family who watched the video with his relatives before it was released warned that the images were brutal and likely to cause outrage, while appealing to the public for calm.

“You are going to see acts that defy humanity,” Davis told CNN in describing the footage.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, representing Nichols’ family, called earlier in the day for the city police department to disband its SCORPIONS unit, a squad that is supposed to focus on violent street crime and to which at least some of the officers involved were assigned.

“No mother should go through what I am going through right now, no mother, to lose their child to the violent way that I lost my child,” Tyre Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, said on Friday.

U.S. President Joe Biden said he was “outraged” and “deeply pained” after watching the Memphis video.

Nichols’ family and Biden appealed for protests to stay peaceful in Memphis, a city of 628,000 where nearly 65% of residents are Black. Schools closed early, and Saturday morning events were canceled.

Biden spoke with RowVaughn Wells and Rodney Wells, Nichols’ stepfather, on Friday afternoon to express condolences, the White House said.

Nichols’ death marked the latest high-profile instance of police officers accused of using excessive force in the deaths of Black people and other minorities in recent years.

Protests under the banner of the “Black Lives Matter” movement against racial injustice erupted globally following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes.

Antonio Romanucci, another lawyer for Nichols’ family, told National Public Radio in an interview on Friday that Nichols was a strong supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement and “basically died for his own cause.”

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday announced a federal civil rights investigation into Nichols’ death.

Police have described the circumstances of Nichols’ arrest in vague terms. Police chief Davis said her department has not yet been able determine there was probable cause for the officers to pull Nichols over for reckless driving.

Records show Justin Smith, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III, Demetrius Haley and Tadarrius Bean, who were fired along with one other officer after Nichols’ death, were released on bond after they were booked into the Shelby County Jail on Thursday morning.

Reuters and staff reports