By Adrian Sainz and Rebecca Reynolds
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Five former Memphis police officers have been charged with second-degree murder and other crimes in the arrest and death of Tyre Nichols, a Black motorist who died three days after a confrontation with the officers during a traffic stop, records showed Thursday.
Shelby County Sheriff’s Office online records show that Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills, Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith were in custody. All five are charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression.
Defense attorney William Massey confirmed to The Associated Press that his client, Emmitt Martin III, had been charged and had turned himself in.
It was not immediately clear if Smith had a lawyer to speak on his behalf about the charges. Blake Ballin, the lawyer for Mills, said he planned to hold a news conference later Thursday.
Second-degree murder is a class A felony punishable by 15 to 60 years in prison under Tennessee law.
Nichols’ stepfather, Rodney Wells, told The Associated Press by phone that he and his wife RowVaughn Wells, who is Nichols’ mother, discussed the second-degree murder charges and are “fine with it.” They had pushed for first-degree murder charges.
“There’s other charges, so I’m all right with that,” he said.
He said he was “ecstatic” that authorities have moved quickly in the case.
Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said he would provide an update on the state’s investigation Thursday afternoon.
Video footage of the arrest has not been made public, but officials have pledged to release it this week or next week.
The Memphis police chief has called the actions of five officers involved in the violent arrest of Nichols “heinous, reckless and inhumane” and made a plea to residents of the city to protest peacefully when video of the arrest is released to the public.
“”This is not just a professional failing. This is a failing of basic humanity toward another individual,” Memphis Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said in a video statement that was released late Wednesday on social media.
The five Black officers found to be “directly responsible for the physical abuse of Mr. Nichols,” who also was Black, were fired last week, but Davis said other officers are still being investigated for violating department policy. In addition, she said “a complete and independent review” will be conducted of the department’s specialized units, without providing further details.
As state and federal investigations continue, she promised “full and complete cooperation” from the Memphis Police Department to determine what contributed to Nichols’ death three days after his Jan. 7 arrest.
Video footage of the arrest has been shown to Nichols’ family, but has not been made public, though local officials have pledged to release it this week or next week.
Mulroy told The Associated Press on Tuesday that local and state investigators want to complete as many interviews as possible before releasing the video. The timetable has rankled some activists who expected the video to be released after Nichols’ family viewed the footage Monday.
Ben Crump, the attorney representing Nichols’ family, said police video the family viewed showed Nichols — a 29-year-old FedEx worker and father — was shocked, pepper-sprayed and restrained when he was pulled over for a traffic stop near his home. He was returning home from a suburban park, where he had taken photos of the sunset. The legal team said officers beat Nichols for three minutes in a “savage” encounter reminiscent of the infamous 1991 police beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King.
Relatives have accused the police of causing Nichols to have a heart attack and kidney failure. Authorities have only said Nichols experienced a medical emergency.
When video of the arrest is publicly released, Davis said she expects the community to react.
“I expect our citizens to exercise their First Amendment right to protest, to demand actions and results, but we need to ensure our community is safe in this process,” she said. “None of this is a calling card for inciting violence or destruction on our community or against our citizens.”
Davis said the fired officers’ actions aren’t a reflection of the good work that many Memphis police officers do every day and she pledged to take action to make improvements at the agency.
“It is my intent, as a proactive measure, to ensure that a complete and independent review is conducted on all of the Memphis Police Department’s specialized units and the commitment of my executive leadership to ensure that policies and procedures are adhered to in our daily encounters with the citizens we are sworn to serve,” she said.
Two fire department workers were also removed from duty over the Nichols’ arrest.
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