Video shows Tyre Nichols calling for his mother, beaten by officers now charged in his death
By Elizabeth Hartfield, Jason Hanna and Jay Croft, CNN
Tyre Nichols screamed for his mother and Memphis police officers struck him multiple times — including in the face while his hands were restrained — toward the end of the Black man’s deadly encounter with the officers this month, video released by the city shows.
The city on Friday night released body camera and surveillance video of the January 7 traffic stop and beating that led to the 29-year-old’s death in hospital three days later — video the city’s police chief warned would show a “disregard for life.”
The footage drew stunned reaction from law enforcement experts CNN interviewed Friday: “It’s clearly excessive force,” former New York City police Lt. Darrin Porcher said. “What’s even more troubling is, no officer was wiling to intervene and say, ‘Stop.’ “
Live updates: Memphis to release Tyre Nichols arrest videos
President Joe Biden is “outraged and deeply pained” after seeing the video, he said. “It is yet another painful reminder of the profound fear and trauma, the pain, and the exhaustion that Black and Brown Americans experience every single day.”
Five Memphis officers — who also are Black — were fired this month and then charged Thursday over Nichols’ death from his injuries in a hospital January 10. Police nationwide have been under scrutiny for how they treat Black people, particularly since the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and the mass protest movement known as Black Lives Matter.
The basics of the encounter were this: Police pulled Nichols over in Memphis in what they initially said was on suspicion of reckless driving. After officers pulled him out of his car, a struggle ensued and he ran away; minutes later, officers would catch up with him and hit him numerous times, video shows.
Moments from the videos include:
• During the initial encounter after the stop, Nichols sounded calm, body cam video from an officer arriving at the scene shows.
As the officer approaches the scene, an officer is yelling at Nichols to “Get the fuck out of the car.”
Officers pull Nichols out of the vehicle and someone is heard saying, “Get the fuck on the ground and turn his ass around.” Nichols responds by saying, “I didn’t do anything,” and, “Alright, I’m on the ground.”
Officers yell at him to lie down and threaten to tase him. One officer tells him, “Bitch put your (hands) behind your back before I break them.”
Nichols can be heard telling them, “You guys are doing a lot right now. I am on the ground.”
A struggle ensues. Nichols gets up and runs, and the officers chase him.
• A different body-cam video shows some of what happens when officers catch Nichols on a neighborhood street minutes later.
Nichols screams for his mom as the video shows an officer arriving at this scene.
Officers tell Nichols to “give them his hand,” as a struggle ensues on the ground. An officer asks Nichols, “Do you want to get sprayed again?”
Two officers hit and kick Nichols as he is on the ground.
Nichols screams: “Mooooom!” and continues to call for his mom for a while.
An officer is eventually heard yelling at Nichols: “I’m going to baton the fuck out of you. Give me your fucking hands.”
• A remotely operated pole-mounted police surveillance video in the neighborhood gives the clearest view of the blows. This shows officers hitting Nichols at least nine times without visible provocation.
When the camera first turns toward the scene, an officer shoves Nichols hard to the pavement with a knee or leg. Nichols is pulled up by his shoulders and then kicked in the face twice.
After being pulled up into a sitting position, Nichols is hit in the back with what appears to be a nightstick. After being pulled to his knees, Nichols is hit again.
Once pulled to his feet, the video shows officers hitting Nichols in the face multiple times while his hands are restrained behind his body, after which he falls to his knees. Less than a minute later, an officer appears to kick Nichols. More than three minutes after the encounter is first seen on this camera, officers let go of Nichols, and he rolls on his back.
One minute later, Nichols is dragged along the pavement and propped up in a sitting position against the side of a car, where he is largely ignored by officers for the next three-and-a-half minutes.
Ten minutes into the video, a person who appears to be a paramedic finally engages Nichols.
Van Jones, a former special adviser to President Barack Obama, put it this way to CNN after seeing the videos: “(Nichols) goes from a voice from calm (during the initial encounter) to panic … to agony.”
‘Acts that defy humanity,’ police chief says
Earlier Friday, Memphis’ police chief said the video would show “acts that defy humanity.”
“You’re going to see a disregard for life, duty of care that we’re all sworn to and a level of physical interaction that is above and beyond what is required in law enforcement,” Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis told Don Lemon ahead of the videos’ release.
Ahead of the videos’ release, officials were urging any demonstrations Friday to be civil.
“Individuals watching will feel what the family felt,” Davis said. “And if you don’t, then you’re not a human being. … There will be a measure of sadness, as well.”
Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, told CNN on Friday before the videos were released, “It’s still like a nightmare right now.”
“I’m still trying to understand all of this and trying to wrap my head around all of this,” Wells said. “I don’t have my baby. I’ll never have my baby again.”
“Just the disregard for humanity … That’s what really pulls at your heartstrings and makes you wonder: Why was a sense of care and concern for this individual just absent from the situation by all who went to the scene?”
Davis said police have not been able to find anything to substantiate the probable cause for reckless driving by Nichols before his fatal encounter with police.
‘They had beat him to a pulp’
Police officials in a number of major cities nationwide have said they are monitoring for any possible public outcry this weekend over the video footage.
Before the videos’ release, Nichols’ mother asked for supporters to be peaceful during demonstrations, saying at a vigil in Memphis on Thursday she wants “each and every one of you to protest in peace.”
“I don’t want us burning up our cities, tearing up the streets, because that’s not what my son stood for,” Wells said. “And if you guys are here for me and Tyre, then you will protest peacefully.”
Memphis police officers arrived at Wells’ home between 8 and 9 p.m. on January 7 to tell her Nichols had been arrested, she told CNN.
Officers told her that her son was arrested for a DUI, pepper sprayed and tased, she said. Because of that, he was going to the hospital and would later be taken to booking at the police station, she said.
“They then asked me (if) was he on any type of drugs or anything of that nature because they were saying it was so difficult to put the handcuffs on him and he had this amount of energy, superhuman energy,” Wells said. “What they were describing was not my son, so I was very confused.”
Wells said officers told her Nichols was “nearby” but would not tell her exactly where. They also told her she could not go to the hospital, she said.
However, at about 4 a.m., she said, she received a call from a doctor asking her to see Nichols.
“The doctor proceeded to tell me that my son had went into cardiac arrest and that his kidneys were failing,” she said, adding it didn’t “sound consistent” with what police had described as Nichols being tased and pepper-sprayed.
“When my husband and I got to the hospital and I saw my son, he was already gone,” Wells said. “They had beat him to a pulp.”
Wells described the horrific injuries her son had when she saw him in the hospital.
Read stepfather’s description of video: ‘No one rendered aid to him’
“He had bruises all over him. His head was swollen like a watermelon. His neck was busting because of the swelling. They broke his neck. My son’s nose look like a S,” she said. “They actually just beat the crap out of him. And so when I saw that, I knew my son was gone, the end. Even if he did live, he would have been a vegetable.”
A Memphis church is scheduled to hold Nichols’ funeral Wednesday.
Five fired officers scheduled for February arraignment
The five Memphis police officers identified — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin and Desmond Mills Jr. — were fired January 20 for violating police policies including on use of excessive force, police said.
They were then charged this week. Each has been charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, two charges of aggravated kidnapping, two charges of official misconduct and one charge of official oppression, Mulroy, the Shelby County district attorney, said.
Martin and Haley were released from jail on a $350,000 bond, according to Shelby County Jail records, while Smith, Bean and Mills Jr. have been released after each posting a $250,000 bond.
The five former officers are scheduled for arraignment on February 17.
Two fire department employees who were part of Nichols’ “initial patient care” were relieved of duty “while an internal investigation is being conducted,” department Public Information Officer Qwanesha Ward told CNN’s Nadia Romero.
The US Department of Justice has said it is conducting a federal civil rights investigation of Nichols’ death.
Crump, in a news conference Friday in Memphis, called Memphis’ rapid criminal charges — compared to other cities and states that have waited months or years in similar cases — a “blueprint” moving forward.
“We have a precedent that has been set here in Memphis, and we intend to hold this blueprint for all America from this day forward,” Crump said.
He called for Tennessee to enact what he called “Tyre’s Law”: A proposed measure which would require police officers to intervene when they see crimes being committed, including by fellow officers.
Blake Ballin, an attorney for Mills Jr., one of the officers, said he doesn’t believe his client “is capable of” the accusations, and his client is “remorseful” to be “connected to the death” of Nichols.
Ballin told CNN he has not yet seen the video, but has spoken to people who have. He urged those who watch the video to “treat each of these officers as individuals.”
“The levels of culpability amongst these five officers are different, and I expect that you’re going to see in this video that my client Desmond Mills is not, in fact, guilty of the crimes he’s been charged with,” Ballin said.
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CNN’s Eric Bradner, Alisha Ebrahimji, Travis Caldwell, Rebekah Riess, Andy Rose, Jamiel Lynch, Sharif Paget, Tina Burnside, Nick Valencia, Mallika Kallingal, Joe Sutton, Shawn Nottingham, Amanda Watts, Sara Sidner, and Andi Babineau contributed to this report.