Tennessee, US former police officers plead not guilty in Tyre Nichols' death

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Five former police officers accused of fatally beating 29-year-old Tyre Nichols last month in Memphis, Tennessee, US, all pleaded not guilty yesterday.

Demetrius Haley, Tadarrius Bean, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin III, and Desmond Mills, Jr., all free on bail, were each charged with a count of second-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated assault, official misconduct, and official oppression.

Shelby County Criminal Court Judge James Jones scheduled the next hearing for May 1.

"We understand that there may be some high emotions in this case," said Jones, "but we ask that you continue to be patient with us."

Nichols and all five officers are African Americans.

Officers stopped Nichols as he was returning home from work on January 7, claiming he was driving recklessly. The footage depicted Haley pulling Nichols out of Nichols' car before the officers shouted orders at him. Nichols attempted to speak with them, then fled. Smith, Bean, and Mills, Jr. captured and held him while Haley kicked him; Mills, Jr. pepper sprayed Nichols and clubbed him with a baton.

One officer later alleged Nichols tried to take his gun amid the scuffle.

Police documents state Haley used his mobile phone to take pictures of the handcuffed, "obviously injured" Nichols, texting one to five people. An ambulance took Nichols, in critical condition, to St. Francis Hospital; he died on January 10.

Shortly after the incident, the five officers were dismissed from the force and indicted. Their crime unit, SCORPION, was disbanded.

Two other police officers were relieved of duty and seven more are under investigation. The Memphis Fire Department terminated three emergency medical technicians for not treating Nichols' injuries. The county sheriff suspended two deputies present at the beating.

"If you were an officer or first responder and you sat there and watched this young man die and you did nothing to help resuscitate him, you did nothing to give him aid, you're just as culpable as the people who beat him down and killed him," said Van Turner, President of the Memphis Branch of the NAACP.

Nichols' family, their attorneys, and activists called for police reform in response to his death.