5 former Memphis officers indicted by federal grand jury in Tyre Nichols' death

Tyre Nichols died three days after a violent confrontation with police.

September 12, 2023, 8:10 PM

Five former Memphis police officers have been indicted by a federal grand jury in connection with the death of Tyre Nichols.

Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin III and Desmond Mills Jr. were indicted on charges relating to the deprivation of rights under color of law, including excessive force and failure to intervene as well as deliberate indifference, and conspiracy to witness-tamper, according to court records.

Nichols, 29, died on Jan. 10, three days after a violent confrontation with police following a traffic stop.

"Tyre Nichols should be alive today," Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. "It is tragic to see a life cut short at 29, with so many milestones unmet, so many words unsaid, so much potential unfulfilled. These federal charges reflect the Justice Department's unwavering commitment to protecting the constitutional and civil rights of every American and preserving the integrity of the criminal justice system. We stand ready to hold law enforcement officers accountable for their misconduct because no one is above the law in our country."

Tyre Nichols who was pulled over while driving and died three days later, is beaten by Memphis Police Department officers on January 7, 2023, in this screen grab from a video released by Memphis Police Department, Jan. 27, 2023.
Memphis Police Department/via Reuters

All five former officers also face state felony charges, including second-degree murder, aggravated assault and aggravated kidnapping, in connection with Nichols' death. They pleaded not guilty.

Mike Stengel, the attorney for Haley in his state case, confirmed he will also be representing him on the federal charges.

"The indictment is disappointing, but not surprising," Stengel told ABC News. "He'll plead not guilty and defend himself in court."

William Massey, who represents Martin, said, "We have been expecting it and are ready to move forward." Bean's attorney, John Perry, said he had no comment.

The indictment outlines in detail what prosecutors allege were efforts by the five officers to brutally assault Nichols, purposely ignore his need for immediate medical care and later seek to cover up their actions.

Each of the defendants, according to the indictment, were involved in beating Nichols during the Jan. 7 traffic stop and none relayed information about their assault to the Memphis police dispatcher, their supervisor or the EMTs and paramedics who were coming to the scene.

The officers allegedly spoke at the scene about how they had struck Nichols, "including hitting Nichols with straight haymakers and taking turns hitting him with so many pieces," but they also did not relay that information to first responders or their supervisors even as his condition "deteriorated and he became unresponsive," the indictment alleges.

The indictment also alleges the officers used their body-worn cameras to limit the capture of evidence, with Martin moving his body cam to a location where their assault of Nichols wouldn't be captured and Haley and Smith only activating their cameras after the group attacked Nichols.

PHOTO: This combo of booking images provided by the Shelby County Sheriff's Office shows, from top row from left, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, bottom row from left, Desmond Mills, Jr. and Justin Smith.
This combo of booking images provided by the Shelby County Sheriff's Office shows, from top row from left, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, bottom row from left, Desmond Mills, Jr. and Justin Smith. The five former Memphis police officers have been charged with second-degree murder and other crimes in the arrest and death of Tyre Nichols, a Black motorist who died three days after a confrontation with the officers during a traffic stop.
Shelby County Sheriff's Office via AP, FILE

After EMTs arrived, Haley and Mills removed their body-worn cameras and the group allegedly discussed their assault of Nichols making statements like, "Everybody rocking his a**, Pop pop, please fall; and I thought when he wasn't going to fall, we about to kill this man."

Afterward, at the police station, the group met and lied to an MPD detective about the arrest for the Incident Report, the indictment alleges, claiming Nichols had actively resisted arrest "by pulling gun belts" and grabbing one officer by his vest. Mills and Smith also falsely told the detective that "Nichols was so strong that he lifted two officers into the air."

The group further omitted information about how they had punched and kicked Nichols and the eventual incident report falsely stated that, "After several verbal command[s], Detectives were able to get the suspect Tyre Nichols in custody."

The defendants are expected to make their first court appearance in the coming days, U.S. Attorney Kevin Ritz told reporters during a press briefing on Tuesday.

If convicted, the two counts alleging civil rights violations resulting in death carry a sentence of up to life in prison, and the two obstruction of justice counts carry a potential sentence of up to 20 years in prison, according to Ritz.

Ritz did not comment if prosecutors expect further charges.

The DOJ is also separately investigating whether the Memphis Police Department engaged in "discriminatory policing," including in how it conducted traffic stops, in the wake of Nichols' death. That probe, also known as a pattern or practice investigation, is ongoing, Clarke said during the briefing.

Ben Crump, an attorney for Nichols' family, called the officers' actions "unjustified," "unnecessary" and "unconstitutional."

"The grand jury affirmed that for us today here in Memphis, Tennessee," Crump said during a press event with Nichols' family on Tuesday.

RowVaughn Wells, Nichols' mother, said they were surprised the indictment happened so quickly "but we're very thankful that it did."

"Tyre shouldn't be gone, he should be here today," she said.

ABC News' Stephanie Wash contributed to this report.

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