Tyre Nichols, 29, was beaten by Memphis police officers for three minutes on Jan. 7 after the officers had stopped him for reckless driving, lawyers for his family said on Monday. The stop escalated into a violent confrontation that ended with Mr. Nichols hospitalized in critical condition. Three days later, he died.
The circumstances of the traffic stop remain murky, as officials have disclosed little information. But Mr. Nichols’s death has stoked anger and frustration in Memphis as his family, their lawyers and activists seek answers.
Memphis is now waiting for the release of video footage of the stop, which city officials have vowed to make public. Mr. Nichols’s family and their lawyers watched the video on Monday. In it, they could see that Mr. Nichols, who was Black, had been pepper sprayed, shocked with a stun gun and restrained, Antonio Romanucci, one of the lawyers, told reporters after watching the footage.
The police, in an initial statement, said that a “confrontation occurred” as the officers, all of whom are also Black, approached Mr. Nichols’s vehicle on the evening of Jan. 7 and he ran away. There was then “another confrontation” as officers arrested him, the statement said.
“He was a human piñata for those police officers,” Mr. Romanucci said Monday, standing with Mr. Nichols’s mother, RowVaughn Wells. “Not only was it violent, it was savage.”
What is the status of the investigation into Mr. Nichols’s death?
State and federal investigations are underway as prosecutors determine whether to pursue criminal charges against the officers who were involved in the stop. An internal investigation by the Memphis Police Department has already found that the officers used excessive force and failed to intervene or provide help.
On Friday, the department announced that the five officers involved — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — had been fired. The officers had all joined the department between 2017 and 2020.
“The egregious nature of this incident is not a reflection of the good work that our officers perform, with integrity, every day,” Cerelyn Davis, the Memphis police chief, said in a statement.
The Memphis Police Association, the union representing the city’s officers, declined to comment on the firings. “The citizens of Memphis, and, more importantly, the family of Mr. Nichols deserve to know the complete account of the events leading up to his death” and what may have contributed to it, Lt. Essica Cage-Rosario, the union’s president, said in a statement.
Mr. Nichols’s family is pushing for the officers to be charged with first-degree murder. “Anything short of that we will not accept,” Rodney Wells, Mr. Nichols’s stepfather, said at a news conference on Monday after watching the videos, which he described as “horrific.”
Who was Tyre Nichols?
Mr. Nichols worked the second shift at a FedEx facility, the shipping company that is a major employer and corporate presence in Memphis. Every evening, around 7 p.m., he would return to his mother’s house for his “lunch” break, according to his family. He had worked there for roughly nine months.
He had a 4-year-old son. He went to the same Starbucks most mornings around 8:30 a.m., his mother said. He often went to Shelby Farms, a sprawling public park just outside Memphis. He photographed sunsets and skateboarded, a passion that he’d had since he was 6 — one his stepfather thought he was too old for. “You’ve got to put that skateboard down,” Mr. Wells remembered telling Mr. Nichols not long before he died. “You’ve got a full-time job now.”
His mother said that Mr. Nichols had her name tattooed on his arm. “That made me proud,” she said. “Most kids don’t put their mom’s name. My son was a beautiful soul.”
According to the family’s lawyers, Mr. Nichols told the officers during the Jan. 7 events that he just wanted to go home, and in what they believed were his final words, he called out for his mother. Her home was about 100 yards from where he was beaten, the lawyers said.
When will the video of the incident be released?
City officials have promised transparency, including the public release of the footage of the beating. But the timing for that remains unclear. It could be an additional week, at least, the family’s lawyers said. Other details are also uncertain, such as how much footage is being released and whether it is only from the officers’ body cameras or includes other sources.
Mr. Nichols’s family has urged the community to give officials time to finish their investigation.
But on Monday, they and their lawyers shared some of what they had seen on the video.
“His mother couldn’t get through the first minute of it,” Ben Crump, a civil rights lawyer who is representing the family, said in the news conference. “What we can tell you about the video is that it is appalling, it is deplorable, it is heinous.”
Mr. Crump said Mr. Nichols had pleaded with officers for an explanation of why he had been stopped before things escalated.
“‘What did I do?’ — that was his question,” Mr. Crump said. “‘What did I do?’”
Jessica Jaglois and Laura Faith Kebede contributed reporting.