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Judge halts release of more videos linked to Tyre Nichols’ beating

The expected release Wednesday (March 8) of 20 additional hours of Tyre Nichols-related beating video was delayed by a Shelby County Criminal Court judge at the request of an attorney representing a former Memphis police officer charged with fatally beating Nichols.

Also Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it is creating a nationwide guide on special police units after Tyre Nichols’ death in Memphis.

The review will be conducted by the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, known as COPS. The DOJ said the review and guide is separate from its scrutiny of the Memphis Police Department.

The officers accused of fatally beating Nichols were part of a now-disbanded crime-prevention unit.

And in another Nichols’ related development, Jennifer Sink, chief legal officer for the City of Memphis, on Tuesday (March 7) told Memphis City Council members that administrative investigations and hearings into the city employees involved in Nichols’ death are finished. 

Appearing at the council’s Public Safety Committee, Sink said, “At this stage, the investigations has been concluded. We have had hearings for all employees who have been charged to date and we are prepared to begin to release information to the public.”

The video footage

Criminal Court Judge James Jones granted a motion ordering that the release be delayed until the State of Tennessee and the defendants have reviewed the information. 

The delay order included records related to the charges and administrative investigations, which also were set for release Wednesday.

Allison Fouche, chief communications officer with the city, said in a statement, “In a response to a Motion for Protective Order filed by attorneys for defense this morning, the Criminal Court of Tennessee for the 30th Judicial District Division 3 has ordered that no video, audio or records related to the City’s administrative investigation may be released until further order by the court.” 

A statement from the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office, said:

“For the sake of transparency and the public interest, our office supports MPD’s decision to release the remainder of the video footage in the Tyre Nichols investigation. 

“Regarding other material planned for release, our office needs to review it carefully to ensure it doesn’t prejudice the defendant or jeopardize our prosecution. 

“We know the judge has the final say in this matter and trust that the appropriate decision has been made to protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation. 

“We will work to review the material promptly in the hopes that the majority of it will be released sooner rather than later.”

In the motion, filed by attorney Blake Ballin, who represents fired police officer Desmond Mills Jr., Ballin acknowledged the public has a right to see much of the information, but said it would harm his client’s right to a fair trial.

Ballin wrote, “While the public has a right to information involving a judicial proceeding, that right is not unfettered. 

“The public dissemination of discovery documents to the public can have a prejudicial effect upon the defendant, the defendant’s right to a fair trial and right to an impartial jury as guaranteed to a defendant by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

Mills is charged with second-degree murder and other related felonies in Nichols’ bludgeoning death. 

Four co-defendants – Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Justin Smith and Mills – joined Ballin’s motion. All were fired and they also are charged with second-degree murder, among other charges, in Nichols’ death.

The Justice Department review

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, in a news release,  said, “In the wake of Tyre Nichols’s tragic death, the Justice Department has heard from police chiefs across the country who are assessing the use of specialized units and, where used, appropriate management, oversight and accountability for such units.

“The COPS Office guide on specialized units will be a critical resource for law enforcement, mayors and community members committed to effective community policing that respects the dignity of community members and keeps people safe.” 

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis, a senior member of the U.S. House’s Judiciary Committee, Wednesday welcomed the Justice Department’s decision.

In a statement, Cohen said, “Tyre Nichols’ brutal beating stunned the nation and serves as an egregious example of police misconduct and the need to improve public safety practices… Every Memphian deserves to live in a city that prioritizes safety and has a police department that lives up to its promise of protecting and serving the community. 

“This review, and the policy and training changes that may come of it, will support the vast majority of MPD officers who are dedicated public servants who work in dangerous and unpredictable circumstances.”

City administrative hearing and charges

Sink told council members that 13 police officers were investigated in Nichols’ death, resulting in seven terminations, three suspensions; two charges were dismissed. 

Another officer resigned before he could be fired. He remains eligible for his pension. Four Memphis Fire Department personnel were also charged administratively, ending with three terminations and a suspension.

Sink said all city employees who engaged in violence against Nichols have been terminated.

Nichols allegedly was stopped for reckless driving in Hickory Hill, not far from his home, on Jan. 7. Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” said there is no indication Nichols was driving recklessly.

Video showed Nichols offering no resistance when he was pulled from his vehicle, tasered and sprayed with a chemical. Nichols fled but was caught and savagely beaten. He eventually was taken to St. Francis Hospital by a Fire Department ambulance, where he died Jan. 10.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation also is reviewing the beating.

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