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Tyre Nichols: five Memphis ex-police officers charged with murder over motorist’s death

<span>Photograph: MPD/Reuters</span>
Photograph: MPD/Reuters

Five former Memphis police officers were charged Thursday with murder and other crimes in the killing of Tyre Nichols, a Black motorist in Memphis, Tennessee, who died three days after a 7 January traffic stop spiraled into a fatal physical attack, local jail records indicated.

Related: Tyre Nichols: what we know about his death after Memphis police encounter

Shelby county sheriff’s office online records showed that Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr, Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith were in custody. All five were charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression.

“While each of the five individuals played a different role in the incident in question, the actions of all of them resulted in the death of Tyre Nichols and they are all responsible,” Steve Mulroy, the Shelby county district attorney, said during a press conference on Thursday.

David Rausch, director of the Tennessee bureau of investigation, said: “Let me be clear: What happened here does not, at all, reflect proper policing.

“This was wrong,” Rausch said. “This was a crime.”

Nichols’s stepfather, Rodney Wells, told the Associated Press by phone that he and his wife, RowVaughn Wells, who is Nichols’ mother, discussed the second-degree murder charges and are “fine with it”. They had sought first-degree murder charges.

“There’s other charges, so I’m all right with that,” he said.

Nichols, 29, endured a three-minute attack, Mulroy said. An attorney representing his family reportedly said an independent autopsy indicated that he “suffered extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating”.

“He was a human piñata for those police officers,” the family attorney, Antonio Romanucci, told reporters. “Not only was it violent, it was savage.”

Police officials initially said there was a “confrontation” when officers came toward Nichols’s vehicle and then another “confrontation” after they arrested him.

The five former officers accused of involvement in the deadly encounter, who are all Black, were fired last week. Memphis police officials said the officers flouted “multiple department policies, including excessive use of force, duty to intervene, and duty to render aid”.

Other officers are being investigated for possible policy violations. Two Memphis fire department members who worked on Nichols’s initial care have been “relieved of duty” pending an internal investigation, officials said.

A portrait of Tyre Nichols is displayed at a memorial service for him on Tuesday.
A portrait of Tyre Nichols is displayed at a memorial service for him on Tuesday. Photograph: Adrian Sainz/AP

State and federal officials are investigating the fatal encounter.

Memphis authorities said they would release video of the incident. The public has not yet seen the footage, but family members and their attorneys have. During the press conference on Thursday afternoon, officials indicated that the footage would be released after 6pm local time on Friday.

This chilling recording showed that Nichols “called repeatedly for his mother” throughout the beating, which took place some 100 yards from his mother’s home, family representatives told reporters.

Speaking to reporters after viewing the video, Romanucci said officers pepper-sprayed Nichols, used a stun–gun and restrained him. Family representatives said Nichols said he wanted just to return home.

“Tyre was brutalized by Memphis police, much like how Rodney King was beaten more than 30 years ago – but unlike Rodney, Tyre lost his life from this violent attack,” the civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is on the family legal team, said after seeing the video.

“How are we here again so many years later? These former officers must face the consequences of taking this young man’s life and robbing his family of their loved one – justice is the only path forward.”

A day before charges were announced, the city’s police chief, CJ Davis, denounced the fatal encounter as “heinous, reckless and inhumane”.

“Aside from being your chief of police, I am a citizen of this community we share,” Davis said in a video published on YouTube. “I am a mother, I am a caring human being who wants the best for all of us.

“This is not just a professional failing. This is a failing of basic humanity toward another individual … and in the vein of transparency when the video is released in the coming days, you will see this for yourselves.”

A description of Nichols’s health provided by his family suggested a dramatic disparity between his physical strength and that of the arresting officers. Nichols had Crohn’s disease and had trouble maintaining his body weight, the Washington Post reported.

Nichols’s weight was about 145lb. All the officers allegedly involved in his death exceeded 200lb. Two of the officers were on college football teams, the Post noted.

RowVaughn told the Post her son was a “gentle soul”. Nichols, who had a four-year-old son, worked for the shipping giant FedEx. Every night, during his evening meal break, he would return to his mother’s home. His hobbies included taking photos of sunsets and skateboarding, the New York Times reported. He had a tattoo of his mother’s name on his arm.

“That made me proud,” RowVaughn told the New York Times. “Most kids don’t put their mom’s name. My son was a beautiful soul.”

Rodney, Nichols’s stepfather, said: “He was a great, great kid, he didn’t deserve what he got, now what he deserves is justice.”

Memphis remains on edge as residents await the video release. The Democratic congressman Steve Cohen, who represents the city, said the killing was “awful” while urging calm, the Times said.

While people might “want to exercise their first amendment rights to protest actions of the police department”, Cohen said, “and people should, they should be peaceful and calm”.