By Daniel Trotta and Eric Beech (Reuters) -A federal grand jury on Tuesday indicted five former Memphis police officers in the beating death of Black motorist Tyre Nichols, accusing them of trying to cover up their unlawful assault by turning away body cameras and lying to superiors about what happened. The federal charges of civil […]
US charges five ex-Memphis police officers beating death of Tyre Nichols
By Daniel Trotta and Eric Beech
(Reuters) -A federal grand jury on Tuesday indicted five former Memphis police officers in the beating death of Black motorist Tyre Nichols, accusing them of trying to cover up their unlawful assault by turning away body cameras and lying to superiors about what happened.
The federal charges of civil rights violations, witness tampering and obstruction of justice will proceed separately from an existing state prosecution that has charged the five African-American officers with second-degree murder, aggravated assault and official misconduct.
The Shelby County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement it was moving forward with its Tennessee state case and welcomed the assistance of the federal government, adding that the two probes were unlikely to intersect.
Police video captured images of the officers beating and kicking Nichols, hitting him with a baton, spraying him with pepper spray and firing a stun gun at him on Jan. 7 following a traffic stop. The case renewed a long-running national discussion of race relations and police brutality.
Nichols, 29, a father, aspiring photographer and avid skateboarder, cried out for his mother during the beating, expressing disbelief at being targeted and saying: “I’m just trying to go home.”
The federal charges allege the officers refused to render first aid afterwards and concealed the beating from emergency medical responders, violating his civil rights.
“Tyre Nichols should be alive today. No one in this country should have to bury a loved one because of police violence,” Kristen Clarke, who leads the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights division, told a press conference.
The five former officers – Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith – pleaded not guilty in February to the state charges after they were fired from the Memphis Police Department.
All the defendants were expected to make their initial court appearances on the federal charges in the coming days, said Kevin Ritz, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.
Defense attorney Michael Stengel, who represents Haley, said his client would plead not guilty and defend himself in court.
“The indictment is disappointing, but not surprising,” Stengel said in an email.
William Massey, an attorney representing Martin, said in an email: “We have been expecting it and are ready to move forward.”
Attorney Blake Ballin, who represents Mills, said the federal indictment “does not change Mr. Mills’s position … (he) will continue to defend himself against all allegations in both the state and federal court systems.”
Each of the two civil rights charges carry a maximum punishment of life in prison if convicted, Ritz said.
The other two counts each have a maximum sentence of 20 years. They accuse the officers of lying to superiors and investigators to cover up their crimes, in part by removing or turning away their body cameras at crucial moments and fabricating an account that Nichols tried to grab their weapons and “was so strong that he lifted two officers into the air.”
In July, the Justice Department opened a separate, civil investigation into whether the Memphis Police Department has an unconstitutional “pattern or practice” of using excessive force and racial discrimination.
The Justice Department said it had received multiple reports of Memphis officers using excessive force and reports they may have used force against people who are already restrained or in police custody. The department was conducting community meetings as part of that civil investigation, Clarke said.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta, Eric Beech, Jonathan Allen and Kanishka Singh; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Eric Beech; Editing by Caitlin Webber and Deepa Babington)