Tire Nichols arrest recalls Rodney King beating: lawyers

Memphis police officers beat motorist Tyree Nichols for three minutes, treating him like a “human piñata” in a “savage” encounter reminiscent of the infamous 1991 Los Angeles police beating of Rodney King, family lawyers said Monday.

Prosecutor Ben Crump said police video viewed by the family Monday showed Nichols shocked, pepper-sprayed and restrained when the 29-year-old FedEx worker and father was pulled seven minutes from his home while returning from a suburban park where he had take photos of the sunset. Another attorney, Antonio Romanucci, said Nichols, who is Black, was kicked before Crump stopped him from saying more.

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Crump said Nichols’ family agreed to a request by investigators to wait a week or two before releasing the video to “make sure they give this family what they want most, and that’s justice.” Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said in a statement Monday that investigators do not want to risk jeopardizing the investigation.

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Crump said the video shows the encounter was “violent” and “problematic on every level.” Romanucci called it “brutal” and disproportionate to the alleged offense.

The city has been concerned about releasing the police footage because of the potential for unrest. Nichols’ stepfather, Rodney Wells, called for any protests to remain peaceful, saying violence “is not what Tyre wanted and will not bring him back.”

Police officers fired after being involved in a crash that killed Tyree Nichols pose in an undated photo combination in Memphis, Tennessee.
(LR) Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills, Jr., Emmitt Martin III, Justin Smith and Tadarrius Bean were sacked for their roles in the catch.
via Reuters

Nichols — described by family as a “good kid” who loved skateboarding, photography and his 4-year-old son — was arrested after officers pulled him over for reckless driving. Police said in a statement the day after the encounter that “a collision occurred” as officers approached the vehicle and Nichols ran. they said officers arrested him and that “another collision occurred” while they were holding him. Police said Nichols complained of shortness of breath and was taken to a hospital where he died three days later.

Relatives accused police of beating Nichols and causing him to have a heart attack and kidney failure. Authorities said only that Nichols experienced a medical emergency. The US Department of Justice has launched a civil rights investigation into the arrest, and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is looking into whether excessive force was used.

Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis announced Friday that five officers involved in the arrest have been fired after a police investigation found they used excessive force or failed to intervene and render aid. The officers were identified as Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills, Jr. and Justin Smith.

Kenyana Dixon is comforted during a rally for her brother Tire Nichols at the National Civil Rights Museum on January 16, 2023.
Kenyana Dixon is comforted during a rally for her brother Tire Nichols at the National Civil Rights Museum on January 16, 2023.

All five officers are black, though Crump said that was irrelevant and that black and brown motorists are often treated differently than white motorists, regardless of the officers’ race, and that the pain of Nichols’ death “is the same.” .

Nichols’ stepfather, Rodney Wells, who said the family wants the officers charged with first-degree murder, told reporters his stepson had good reason to run from officers.

“Our son ran because he was afraid for his life,” Rodney Wells said. “And when you see the video, you’ll see why he feared for his life.”

Attorneys said Nichols can be heard in the video yelling for his mother.

RowVaughn Wells said that on the day of the arrest, her son was looking forward to a chicken she was going to cook for dinner that night.

“All my son was trying to do was get home,” said Wells, who wept during the news conference and told reporters that Nichols was less than 80 yards from the house when Memphis police officers ” they murdered him.”

“We will get justice for my son, Tyre, if this is my last breath,” he said.

After the family’s news conference, about 10 activists entered the lobby of Mulroy’s office to demand answers about why the district attorney withheld the video from the public for up to two more weeks and why he had not charged the officers.

“People want to see what happened to Tyre,” said activist Pamela Beres. “And we’re angry about it.”

The Nichols case is the latest high-profile death to rock the city. Since November 2021, Memphis has seen the fatal shooting of rapper Young Dolph in a daytime ambush at a bakery, a crime spree in which a man is accused of fatally shooting three people and wounding three others, the killing of a pastor of the United Methodist Church during a carjacking on her driveway and the early morning abduction of a jogger whose body was later found near a home.