Former officer pleads guilty to federal charges in Tyre Nichols' death

Desmond Mills Jr. was one of five former Memphis police officers facing charges.

November 2, 2023, 1:46 PM

Desmond Mills Jr., one of the five former Memphis police officers charged in connection with the death of Tyre Nichols, pleaded guilty Thursday to federal civil rights and conspiracy offenses, the Department of Justice said.

Mills, 33, had previously pleaded not guilty back in September after being indicted on federal civil rights, conspiracy and obstruction offenses.

During a change of plea hearing on Thursday, Mills pleaded guilty to two of the four counts in the indictment -- excessive force and failing to intervene, as well as conspiring to cover up his use of unlawful force, according to the DOJ.

The government said it will recommend a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, based on the terms of Mills' plea agreement.

In this photo released by the Memphis Police Department, Desmond Mills, Jr., is shown.
Memphis Police Department

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

The federal indictment alleges that Mills -- along with Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith and Emmitt Martin III -- deprived Nichols of his constitutional rights during the confrontation.

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 emergency medical technicians and paramedics who were coming to the scene.

The officers allegedly spoke at the scene about how they had struck Nichols, 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.

As part of his plea agreement, Mills admitted to "repeatedly and unjustifiably striking Nichols with a baton and to failing to intervene in other officers' use of force against Nichols," the DOJ said in a press release.

He also admitted to not providing any medical aid to Nichols afterward, despite knowing he "had a serious medical need," and not alerting police or EMTs that Nichols had been struck in the head and body, the DOJ stated.

A screen at the entrance of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church displays the celebration of life for Tyre Nichols on Feb. 1, 2023 in Memphis, Tenn.
Lucy Garrett/Getty Images, FILE

He further admitted to making false statements and accounts about Nichols' arrest and the use of force used on him to a supervisor and in a Memphis Police Department report, according to the DOJ.

"Desmond Mills' plea today is entirely consistent with our allegations in the civil lawsuit against the City of Memphis," attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, who are representing the family of Nichols, said in a statement Thursday. "We stand strong in our belief that these officers, including Mills, acted at the direction of a policy that not only violated civil rights of innocent civilians but which caused needless pain to many."

The other four defendants pleaded not guilty to the federal charges. They still face a federal trial scheduled for May 6, 2024, the DOJ said.

If convicted, two of the counts in the indictment carry a maximum penalty of life in prison, while the other two each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, according to the DOJ.

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.

The Memphis Police Department fired the five officers -- who were on the department's now-disbanded SCORPION unit -- following an investigation into Nichols' death.

Correction: A version of this story from Wednesday was updated to say Desmond Mills' lawyer has announced his client will change his plea, but he has not said what the change of plea will be.

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