Tyre Nichols’ death: seven officers have been removed from duty, police confirm

<span>Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Two more Memphis police officers have been disciplined and three emergency responders fired in connection with the death of Tyre Nichols, officials said on Monday. That brings the total number of officers who have been disciplined to seven, including the five Black officers who were fired and charged last week with second-degree murder and other offenses in Nichols’ beating and 10 January death.

Officer Preston Hemphill, who is white, was relieved of duty and put on what is known as administrative leave, the Memphis police major Karen Rudolph said on Monday, according to multiple reports.

Later in the day it said another officer had also been relieved, but without naming the person or specifying what role they played in the incident.

Rudolph stopped short of saying what role Hemphill had at the scene of Nichols’ deadly beating or whether he would be charged with a crime in connection with the killing, as several other officers have been. But Rudolph said that the investigation into Nichols’ death continued and “more information will be shared as it develops”. In a statement, police said all seven officers had been relieved of duty on 8 January.

Related: ‘We’re not done’: end of Scorpion unit after Tyre Nichols death is first step, protesters say

Also on Monday, fire department officials announced the firing of the emergency medical technicians Robert Long and JaMicheal Sandridge and Lt Michelle Whitaker in connection with Nichols’ death.

The fire chief, Gina Sweat, said in a statement that the department had received a call from police to respond to a report of a person who had been pepper-sprayed, and the workers arrived as Nichols was handcuffed and leaning up against a squad car. Long and Sandridge, based on the nature of the call and information police gave them, “failed to conduct an adequate patient assessment of Mr Nichols”, the statement said. Whitaker and the driver remained in the vehicle.

An investigation determined that all three had violated “multiple” policies and protocols, the statement said.

Hemphill was the third officer at a traffic stop that preceded the violent arrest but was not at the scene where Nichols was beaten, his lawyer Lee Gerald said.

Lawyers for the Nichols family asked on Monday why the department had not disclosed the disciplinary action against Hemphill earlier and why he had not been fired or charged.

“We have asked from the beginning that the Memphis police department be transparent with the family and the community – this news seems to indicate that they haven’t risen to the occasion,” said the statement from Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci. “It certainly begs the question why the white officer involved in this brutal attack was shielded and protected from the public eye, and, to date, from sufficient discipline and accountability.”

News of the additional officers’ removal comes as calls for changes to American policing intensify after Nichols’ death.

The chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Steven Horsford, said the group of 60 members of Congress had asked to meet with the president this week to “push for negotiations on much-needed national reforms to our justice system – specifically, the actions and conduct of our law enforcement”.

The appeal to Biden, who has called on Congress to pass police reforms, came as protests prompted by Nichols’ killing continued in Memphis over the weekend.

Nichols, who was Black, died on 10 January, three days after Memphis police officers beat him after a traffic stop. Nichols’ parents, who have been invited to attend Biden’s State of the Union speech on 7 February, said the 29-year-old was driving home after photographing the sunset.

Video footage released by Memphis officials last week showed officers kicking and punching Nichols and hitting him with a baton.

Five Memphis officers were fired after the attack and have since been charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression.

“No one in our nation should fear interacting with the police officers who serve our diverse communities, large and small,” Horsford, a Democratic congressman from Nevada, said. “We all want to be safe.

“Many Black and brown people, however, and many young people in general, are justifiably afraid to interact with law enforcement officials.”

Horsford continued: “We are calling on our colleagues in the House and Senate to jumpstart negotiations now and work with us to address the public health epidemic of police violence that disproportionately affects many of our communities.

“The brutal beating of Tyre Nichols was murder and is a grim reminder that we still have a long way to go in solving systemic police violence in America.”

A protest at the Oscar Grant Plaza in Oakland, California.
A protest at the Oscar Grant Plaza in Oakland, California. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The Senate judiciary committee’s chairperson, Dick Durbin, said on Sunday that Congress can pass additional policing measures like “screening, training, accreditation, to up the game so that the people who have this responsibility to keep us safe really are stable and approaching this in a professional manner”.

Law enforcement primarily falls under the jurisdiction of states, rather than the federal government. But Durbin said that should not “absolve” Congress from acting.

“What we saw on the streets of Memphis was just inhumane and horrible,” he said. “I don’t know what created this – this rage in these police officers that they would congratulate themselves for beating a man to death. But that is literally what happened.”

Also on Sunday, Crump called for Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

The bill, drafted after a Minneapolis police officer murdered Floyd in May 2020, would ban chokeholds, create national standards for policing ostensibly to increase accountability and reform qualified immunity, which shields police officers from civil liability for misconduct.

The legislation passed the US House – then controlled by Democrats – in March 2021 but stalled in the Senate. With the House now under Republican control, it remains to be seen whether progress can be made on the bill.

Crump told CNN there could be further criminal charges brought against Memphis police while Steve Mulroy, the prosecutor handling the case, said in an interview with the news channel that “nothing we did last Thursday [when the five officers were charged] regarding indictments precludes us from bringing other charges later”.

“We are going to need time to allow the investigation to go forward and further consideration of charges,” Mulroy said.

The Memphis police department on Saturday announced it would disband its “Scorpion” unit, which was tasked with proactively taking on street crime. The five officers charged over Nichols’ death were all part of the unit.

Later that night protesters gathered outside Memphis city hall to mark the victory but said it was just the first step.

Local community organizer LJ Abraham said that organizers are still demanding that Memphis police dismantle other task forces they run – such as the multi-agency gang unit – and transparency in releasing body-camera footage.

She showed the Guardian video from 2020 from a woman showing multiple Memphis police kneeling on her husband’s back while they tried to handcuff him, reportedly on his property.

“Right now, when somebody is shot by police, we can’t see that video,” Abraham said, adding that four people had been killed by Memphis police since November. “The only reason we got to see Tyre’s footage was because of the manner in which he died.”

A New York Times analysis found that police had given Nichols dozens of “contradictory and unachievable orders” during the traffic stop and subsequent beating. In the 13 minutes between officers stopping Nichols and taking him into custody, police shouted at least 71 commands, the Times reported.

“Officers commanded Mr Nichols to show his hands even as they were holding his hands,” the Times found. “They told him to get on the ground even when he was on the ground. And they ordered him to reposition himself even when they had control of his body.”