Sheriff's office suspends 2 deputies for trying to hide involvement in Tyre Nichols' death

Both deputies have been suspended without pay for five days.

February 16, 2023, 5:48 AM

A local sheriff's office in Tennessee has suspended two patrol deputies in connection with the death of 29-year-old Memphis resident Tyre Nichols.

The Shelby County Sheriff's Office announced in a press release Wednesday that Johntavious Bowers and Jeremy Watkins, who have been deputies since June 2021, were suspended without pay for five days after an administrative investigation into their conduct. The sheriff's office said both Bowers and Watkins "appeared on the scene following the physical confrontation" on Jan. 7 between Memphis police officers and Nichols, who died from his injuries in a local hospital three days later.

A "thorough review of the circumstances" determined that the two deputies violated several regulations, the sheriff's office said. Both Bowers and Watkins violated radio communication procedures, mobile video recording system procedures as well as patrol field job duties and responsibilities. Watkins also violated a fourth regulation: operational responsibility of daily activity log at 201 Poplar, according to the sheriff's office.

"Because I had concerns about two deputies who appeared on the scene following the physical confrontation between police and Tyre Nichols, I ordered this internal investigation," Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. said in a statement Wednesday. "Our investigation was thorough and complete. I am satisfied that the discipline given to these deputies is appropriate and just. We must continue to maintain the highest standards of excellence for the citizens of Shelby County through service, integrity, and accountability."

According to Watkins' writeup, obtained by Memphis ABC affiliate WATN, the deputy did not report in his daily activity log that he was at the scene in Memphis on the night of Jan. 7, when Nichols was arrested and beaten by police officers after a traffic stop. Watkins also did not activate his body-worn camera, nor did he notify a supervisor he was on scene, WATN reported, citing his writeup.

Both suspensions went into effect on Wednesday. The sheriff's office said it "believes it is appropriate to release the outcome of the internal review at this time" due to its "current belief that there will be no charges" against the two deputies from the ongoing investigation by the Shelby County District Attorney's Office and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Various members of the Memphis Police Department and the Memphis Fire Department have been fired for their alleged involvement in Nichols' death. Five former Memphis police officers -- Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith -- have since been arrested and charged with several felonies, including second-degree murder. They were booked into the Shelby County Jail, with bonds set at $350,000 for Martin and Haley and $250,000 for Bean, Mills and Smith, according to the TBI. Online jail records show they have since been released after posting bond.

Mills' lawyer, Blake Ballin, and the attorney for Martin, William Massey, told reporters last month that their clients were "devastated" about the charges and will be pleading not guilty. The defense attorneys representing Bean, Haley and Smith have either declined to comment or did not respond to ABC News' previous requests for comment.

Video of the Jan. 7 traffic stop, comprised of footage from the city's surveillance cameras and the former officers' body-worn cameras, was made public on Jan. 27. The graphic video, which shows the officers beating Nichols, has sparked nationwide outrage. Nichols' family has described him as a "beautiful soul" who loved skateboarding and was a father to a 4-year-old son.

According to a preliminary independent autopsy commissioned by Nichols' family and released by their lawyers, he suffered from "extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating."

Neither the independent autopsy report nor official autopsy report have been publicly released.

ABC News' Kiara Alfonseca, Nakylah Carter, Ahmad Hemingway and Whitney Lloyd contributed to this report.

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