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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

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Second-degree murder and more for former officers charged in Tyre Nichols’ death

Shortly after 6 p.m. rolls around on Friday, video footage likely will be released showing the fatal beating of Tyre D. Nichols by five former Memphis Police Department officers now facing multiple charges, including second-degree murder.

Shelby County District Atty. Gen. Steve Mulroy said city officials had alerted him to the planned release, a detail shared on Thursday during a press conference he called to officially announce charges against Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith.

The five former officers, already fired by the Memphis Police Department, also are charged with aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping causing bodily injury, aggravated kidnapping while possessing a weapon, official misconduct through unauthorized exercise of official power, official misconduct through failure to perform a duty imposed by law and official oppression.

After the indictments by a Shelby County grand jury, all five were taken into custody, with several having posted bond at TSD press time.

“While each of the five individuals played a different role in the incident in question, the actions of all of them resulted in the death of Tyre Nichols, and they are all responsible,” Mulroy said.

Directing comments to Nichols’ family and “to the broader community here in Memphis and Shelby County,” Mulroy said, “we all want the same thing. We want justice for Tyre Nichols.”

While charges have been filed, D.A. Steve Mulroy said an investigation is ongoing. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

Nichols’ family is represented by the law firm of renowned attorney Benjamin Crump. After the charges were announced officially, Crump and his associate attorneys issued a statement.

“The news today from Memphis officials that these five officers are being held criminally accountable for their deadly and brutal actions gives us hope as we continue to push for justice for Tyre,” the statement began.

“This young man lost his life in a particularly disgusting manner that points to the desperate need for change and reform to ensure that this violence stops occurring during low­threat procedures, like in this case, a traffic stop.

“This tragedy meets the absolute definition of a needless and unnecessary death. Tyre’s loved ones’ lives were forever changed when he was beaten to death, and we will keep saying his name until justice is served.”

Crump, attorney Antonio Romanucci and Memphis NAACP Branch President Van Turner Jr. are set to join Nichols’ family at a press conference at Mt. Olive Cathedral C.M.E. Church, 538 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive on Friday at 11 a.m.

A candlelight vigil was set for 7 p.m. Thursday at Tobey Scatepark.

In a social media video, Strickland confirmed that video footage would be released on Friday after 6 p.m.

“It is clear that these officers violated the department’s policies and training,” said Strickland. “But we are doing everything that we can to prevent this from happening again.”

Mayor Jim Strickland on the video regarding the plan to release video footage and administrative moves underway. (Screen capture)

Nichols’ parents have said “justice for Tyre” meant first-degree murder for them.

The DA’s office provided these distinctions between first-degree murder and second-degree murder”

First-degree murder usually falls into one of the following two categories: premeditated, intentional killings and felony murder.

Second-degree murder is generally either: An unplanned, intentional killing (reacting in the heat of the moment when angry) or a death caused by a reckless disregard for human life.

The press conference was held in the auditorium of the Walter L. Bailey Jr. Criminal Justice Center at 201 Poplar. It was moved from the district attorney’s office because of the large press contingent following a case garnering intense national attention.

TBI Director David Rausch: “This was wrong, this was criminal.” (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku/The New Tri-State Defender)

Mulroy’s office sought grand jury indictments after the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which he called in, completed its investigation. TBI Director David Rausch spoke at the press conference.

“Simply put, this shouldn’t have happened,” said Rausch. “I’ve been policing for more than 30 years. I’ve devoted my life to this profession, and I’m grieved. Frankly, I’m shocked. I’m sickened by what I saw and what we’ve learned through our extensive and thorough investigation.”

Saying he had seen the video footage, Rausch said, “In a word, it’s absolutely appalling. Let me be clear. What happened here does not at all reflect proper policing. This was wrong, this was criminal.”

Calling the TBI investigation “deliberate and thorough,” he said, “our work is not finished. We continue to pursue every lead. Justice demands it and our agency exists so that guilt shall not escape nor innocence suffer.”

By the time Mulroy opened the press conference he called, details already were bouncing through the country in part because he preempted it with an interview on CNN minutes before coming on stage.

Taking questions, Mulroy said, “Nothing we do today or did today precludes the addition of any further charges … we’re still actively reviewing everything.”

In a video released late Wednesday night, Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis revealed that “others” are under investigation to determine if they performed their duties according to code.

Davis also announced that a “complete review” is underway of the Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods operation, which is dubbed the SCORPION unit. The five former officers were assigned to the SCORPION unit.

That “complete review,” which Strickland affirmed in his Wednesday video statement, also extends to all specialized units.

While there is an “ongoing investigation” regarding the criminal prosecution of the former officers, Mulroy said he did not contemplate his office being involved with the city’s policy and procedures review.

Operating on a separate but related track is the criminal civil rights investigation being conducted by the office of Kevin G. Ritz, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.

Mulroy said it was his “hope that if there is any silver lining to be drawn from this very dark cloud, it’s that perhaps this incident can open a broader conversation about the need for police reform.”

Adding that “the world is watching us,” Mulroy said, “we need to show the world what lessons we can learn from this tragedy. I’m hopeful that we can show them who I know us to be – a community working towards positive change here in Memphis and Shelby County.”

Shelby County District Atty. Gen. Steve Mulroy said, “We did work quickly to expedite this investigation because of the extraordinary nature of the case. … We worked swiftly but also fairly, and most importantly, in a way calculated to ensure that we have a strong case.” (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku/The New Tri-State Defender)

State House Minority Leader Karen Camper, who has expressed an interest in running for mayor, and State Sen. Raumesh Akbari were on hand for the announcement of the charges.

“I’m trying to allow the process to work, the wheels of justice to turn the way we hope and expect and desire,” said Camper. “So, we expect this to work for the family, justice for Tyre Nichols. And if there are problems in the system, then that we can fix them … and I do understand (hesitancy) based on our history in this country.”

Acknowledging public calls for first-degree murder charges, Akbari said, “I think that the DA had to charge something he could prove. When you look at first-degree versus second-degree, I think that (second-degree) is something he can prove based on the facts that are there right now. … And so for me, I think he can add additional charges if he has to. …

“But DA Mulroy charged them with everything that he possibly could charge them with so that they could be proven guilty. And that’s what I wanna focus on. They will never again be out on the streets to do anything to anyone like this, ever.”

Asked how she thought the activists’ segment of the community might view the charges, Akbari said, “I think they wanted first-degree murder. I do think that. But I do think that these charges are serious enough that it will, hopefully, let them know justice for Tyre is going to try to be served.

“We can’t have true justice because if we did, Tyre Nichols would still be alive.”

Theryn C. Bond: “When does the leadership meet the pavement with the public to address what’s going on and what are we going to do differently?” (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

The activists’ community certainly is not a monolith. However, listening at the press conference was Theryn C. Bond, a native Memphian, who long has advocated for improvements on multiple levels, investing, as she said, “blood, sweat, and tears into this city.”

“We’re tired. We are tired in general. We are tired of being lied to,” she said when asked for her assessment of the activists’ pulse in light of the Nichols tragedy. “We are tired of being told to be nice and polite because that’s not gotten us the amount of movement that we need to see. That’s not gotten us the progress.

“And here’s the thing, being mean or loud or bold or boisterous also does not equal violent. People can be non-violent and advocate loudly and boldly, and in my opinion, that should happen. How that happens, we will all wait to see. But people are here. All eyes are on Memphis right now, locally, regionally, and nationally. What is Memphis gonna do to show up for its citizens?”

Bond said she wanted to know if Chief Davis planned to dissolve the SCORPION unit and the names of every city official or other officer involved, whether with the Police Department or the Memphis Fire Department.

“What are their names? What are their charges potentially gonna be? When will they be terminated? What does it look like for trials to start? Why wasn’t murder one considered? Will Chief Davis resign from her position? …

“When does the leadership meet the pavement with the public to address what’s going on and what are we going to do differently?”

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