This still image from a Memphis Police Department body-cam video released by the city of Memphis on Jan 27, 2023, shows Tyre Nichols handcuffed on the ground surrounded by police officers, in Memphis, Tennessee. (PHOTO / AFP)
MEMPHIS, Tenn – Tyre Nichols, a Black motorist stopped by Memphis police earlier this month, is seen pummeled into submission while crying "Mom, mom," as five police officers later charged with his murder deliver kicks, punches and baton blows in graphic video the city released on Friday.
The footage from police body-worn cameras and another mounted on a utility pole were posted online a day after the five were charged with second-degree murder, assault, kidnapping, official misconduct and oppression in the Jan 10 death of Nichols, age 29.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday announced a federal civil rights investigation into Nichols' death, while law enforcement agencies in some major cities said they were preparing for possible unrest
Taken together, the four video clips chronicle a highly aggressive escalation of violence directed at a motorist who police had initially said they pulled over for reckless driving, though the police chief has since said that has not been substantiated.
The beatings appear to continue far beyond a point where Nichols could pose any threat to police, and at one point two officers hold him upright as another punches him repeatedly in the face, as other officers on the scene stand idly by without intervening.
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The first video shows officers dragging Nichols from the driver's seat of his car as he yells, "Damn, I didn't do anything… I am just trying to go home," then forcing him to the ground as they order him to lie on his stomach and squirt him in the face with pepper spray.
Nichols then breaks free, scrambles to his feet and sprints away down a road with officers chasing him on foot; at least one fires a stun gun at him.
Other footage shows a subsequent struggle after officers catch up with Nichols again. Two officers are seen holding him down as a third kicks him and a fourth delivers blows with what appears to be a baton before another punches Nichols.
Nichols is heard repeatedly screaming, "Mom! Mom!" as he struggles with officers. His mother has said her son was only about 80 yards (meters) from home when he was beaten. A stretcher is seen arriving 19 minutes after the first emergency medical personnel get to the scene.
The officers, all Black, had already been dismissed from the police department on Jan 20 following their Jan 7 confrontation with Nichols after the traffic stop. He succumbed to his injuries and died three days later while hospitalized.
Protesters observe a moment of silence during rally against the fatal police assault of Tyre Nichols, in Atlanta, Georgia, on Jan 27, 2023. (CHENEY ORR / AFP)
Nichols, the father of a 4-year-old, has been described by friends and family as an affable, accomplished skateboarder who recently enrolled in a photography class. Raised in Sacramento, California, Nichols moved before the coronavirus pandemic to the Memphis area, where he lived with his mother and stepfather and worked at FedEx.
As the video first appeared and was being broadcast by news outlets on Friday evening, a group of protesters gathered in Memphis, shouting, "no justice, no peace." Several dozen protesters marched along Interstate 55, shutting down traffic near a bridge that crosses the Mississippi River into Arkansas.
Memphis police chief Cerelyn Davis and lawyers for Nichols' family who watched the video with his relatives before it was released warned that the images were brutal and likely to cause outrage, while appealing to the public for calm.
"You are going to see acts that defy humanity," Davis told CNN in describing the footage.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, representing Nichols' family, called earlier in the day for the city police department to disband its SCORPIONS unit, a squad that is supposed to focus on violent street crime and to which at least some of the officers involved were assigned.
"No mother should go through what I am going through right now, no mother, to lose their child to the violent way that I lost my child," Tyre Nichols' mother, RowVaughn Wells, said on Friday.
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US President Joe Biden said he was "outraged" and "deeply pained" after watching the Memphis video.
Nichols' family and Biden appealed for protests to stay peaceful in Memphis, a city of 628,000 where nearly 65 residents of residents are Black. Schools closed early, and Saturday morning events were canceled.
Biden spoke with RowVaughn Wells and Rodney Wells, Nichols' stepfather, on Friday afternoon to express condolences, the White House said.
Nichols' death marked the latest high-profile instance of police officers accused of using excessive force in the deaths of Black people and other minorities in recent years.
Protests under the banner of the "Black Lives Matter" movement against racial injustice erupted globally following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes.
Antonio Romanucci, another lawyer for Nichols' family, told National Public Radio in an interview on Friday that Nichols was a strong supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement and "basically died for his own cause."
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US Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday announced a federal civil rights investigation into Nichols' death, while law enforcement agencies in some major cities said they were preparing for possible unrest. Protesters rallied in several cities following the video's release, including New York, Atlanta and Washington, but the demonstrations appeared peaceful.
Police have described the circumstances of Nichols' arrest in vague terms. Police chief Davis said her department has not yet been able determine there was probable cause for the officers to pull Nichols over for reckless driving.
Records show Justin Smith, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III, Demetrius Haley and Tadarrius Bean, who were fired along with one other officer after Nichols' death, were released on bond after they were booked into the Shelby County Jail on Thursday morning.
William Massey and Blake Ballin, lawyers for Martin and Mills, respectively, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the videos. Both have said their clients would plead not guilty. Attorneys for Smith, Bean and Haley could not be reached.