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Pain and anger fuel calls for action and change

Criminal justice and local elected officials urged patience this week as they investigated the fatal bludgeoning of Tyre D. Nichols, 29, during a Jan. 7 encounter with police officers near his Hickory Hill home.

During a news conference Wednesday (Jan. 25), Kevin G. Ritz, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, said, “I would like to share with the community what I told Mr. Nichols’ family. What I said was that the Department of Justice cares deeply about potential violations of constitutional rights here in Memphis and throughout America.

“I told them we have opened a criminal civil rights investigation. I told them this criminal civil rights investigation will be thorough.  It will be methodical. And will continue until we gather all the relevant facts. As with any other federal investigation, we will go where the facts take us.”

Ritz added, “I want this community to hear that message, as well. As I told Mr. Nichols’ family, our federal investigation may take some time. These things often do. But we will be diligent, and we will make decisions based on the facts and the law…”

Ritz’s statement mirrored the comments from Memphis City Council members toward the end of that body’s regular meeting Tuesday (Jan. 24).

During the meeting’s public comments segment, speaker after speaker, some angrily, demanded that the council act to intervene in the investigation, calling for, among other things, the immediate release of video footage of the incident.

Council Chairman Martavius Jones said, “The last thing that we want is some technicality based upon premature actions of any individual up here, anybody, any representative of the City of Memphis that would allow these crimes to go unpunished…

 “This investigation is beyond the council’s purview and it’s beyond the mayor. If the family is OK with this…,”  Jones said in reference to the family, which has seen videos of the beating, agreeing to wait at least two weeks for officials to release the videos.

Council Vice Chairman JB Smiley Jr. said, “At the next council meeting, I will be offering… (an) ordinance to amend and require reporting of traffic stops; require reporting of excessive force. We’ve got to hold their feet to the fire.” 

The ordinance would amend the Memphis City Charter’s public safety section by requiring the Memphis Law Enforcement Office to collect and distribute data on traffic stops, arrests, use of force and complaints. 

Nichols reportedly was stopped by Memphis Police officers Jan. 7 near the intersection of Raines and Ross Roads in southeast Memphis. His mother, RowVaughn Wells, said he was within two minutes of their home. He died on Jan. 10 from injuries sustained in the incident.

The family’s attorneys, Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, said findings from an independent autopsy “indicate Tyre suffered extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating…”

After a Police Department internal investigation and an administrative hearing, police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis on Friday (Jan. 20) fired five officers ⸺ Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith ⸺ for violating departmental rules regarding, among other things, use of excessive force and failure to render aid.

Shelby County District Attorney General Steve Mulroy has also called for patience. He has asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to investigate the incident.

A Memphis Fire Department spokesperson said two of MFD’s personnel involved in the “initial patient care” of  Nichols have been relieved of duty pending an internal investigation. The spokesperson did not identify the personnel or a reason for the investigation.

Nichols’ death has garnered national news coverage.

Tuesday, City Council member Frank Colvett and Romanucci appeared in separate interviews on CNN.

Romanucci said videos showed that Nichols was beaten “unabashedly, unabatedly” for several minutes.

Memphis Branch NAACP President Van Turner Jr. and a former County Commissioner appeared on CNN Wednesday. 

Asked about the potential for violent protests when the video of the beating was released, Turner, an announced candidate for Memphis mayor, said he hopes the transparency shown so far in the investigation and the quick release of the video “will curtail any acts of potential violence.”

He pointed out that Nichol had agreed to give officials time to do what was needed on their end before the video was released.

Regarding the fact all of the police officers involved were African American, Turner said, “it was disturbing and devastating,” adding, however, that Black and brown people suffer more in these kinds of incidents.

Civil rights activist Al Sharpton will speak at a public funeral for Nichols at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday (Feb. 1) at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church at North Bellevue and Jefferson. 

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