The city of Memphis releases videos of Tyre Nichols' arrest and beating
Updated January 27, 2023 at 10:37 PM ET
Memphis authorities released footage from the killing of Tyre Nichols at the hands of police, as cities across the country prepare for the public's response to the brutal incident.
The footage was uploaded to Vimeo in four different parts from the Memphis Police Department. It includes graphic violence and shows police officers fatally beating Nichols.
Nichols, a 29-year-old father and FedEx worker, was pulled over on Jan. 7 for what police said was reckless driving. After trying to flee on foot, Nichols was severely beaten by police. He died in a hospital three days later.
Five officers have since been fired, and are facing charges of second-degree murder, assault and kidnapping. State and federal authorities are also investigating the officers.
Following the release of this footage, more members of law enforcement could be facing punishment.
After viewing the footage for the first time Friday night, Shelby County Sherriff Floyd Bonner said the actions of two additional deputies who arrived on scene following the beating is concerning. They have been relieved of duty pending an administrative investigation, Bonner said.
"I have launched an internal investigation into the conduct of these deputies to determine what occurred and if policies were violated," Bonner said.
In the newly released videos, police officers are shown aggressively dragging Nichols from his car, shouting profanities throughout the encounter. They deploy a Taser at him, and chase him on foot. Later, officers are seen beating and kicking Nichols as he lies on the ground. At times, he is screaming, and appears to call out "Mom."
The first video shows the initial interaction between Nichols and the officers. The second (pulled from surveillance footage from a light pole), the third, and fourth videos reflect footage at the second location, a residential neighborhood in the city. These videos show the three-minute span of officers beating Nichols.
Later on, several additional officers arrive on scene at this second location shortly after Nichols' beating.
"Make no mistake: Tyre Nichols was, at all times, an innocent victim on that night. He did nothing wrong. He was caught up in a sting," said Antonio Romanucci, a lawyer representing his family, speaking at a Friday press conference.
President Joe Biden issued a statement as the footage was released on Friday, calling it "horrific." Earlier in the day he had spoken with the Nichols family to share his condolences.
"Like so many, I was outraged and deeply pained to see the horrific video of the beating that resulted in Tyre Nichols' death," Biden said in the statement. "It is yet another painful reminder of the profound fear and trauma, the pain, and the exhaustion that Black and Brown Americans experience every single day."
Cities across the U.S. are on edge and bracing for a familiar series of events: protests, outrage and calls for national police reform.
Lawyers and Nichols' family, who have privately viewed the video of the arrest, called it "appalling," "heinous" and "horrific."
"He was a human piñata," said Romanucci earlier in the week. "It was an unadulterated, unabashed, non-stop beating of this young boy for three minutes."
The surveillance footage highlights important details
As shown in the videos, the encounter with police begins at a traffic stop. Nichols is sitting in the driver seat of his car, and police officers shout at him to get out. One officer opens Nichols' door and pulls him out onto the ground. Nichols, meanwhile, is protesting. He says he "didn't do anything" and that he is trying to go home.
The encounter grows increasingly volatile as officers swear and threaten Nichols. This continues until one officer deploys pepper spray towards Nichols, who then breaks free from the officers' grasp and takes off running down the street.
Several minutes later, police catch up with Nichols in a residential neighborhood and take him down to the ground.
While three of the videos come from the officers' body cameras, it's the surveillance footage that crucially captures the wide shot of the beating at this second location.
At times, the body cameras are blurry or make it difficult for the viewer to decipher what precisely is happening between officers and Nichols.
The surveillance camera on the light pole, however, shows the officers punching and kicking Nichols in the head. It also shows one officer taking his baton and striking Nichols multiple times.
The importance of that vantage point has been emphasized by many who have watched the videos. "Without the surveillance video, those cops & the Memphis PD would have found a way to justify the murder of Tyre Nichols," Dyjuan Tatro tweeted. Tatro is a legal reform advocate and senior advisor for strategic outreach with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
This footage also highlights how after the initial beating, several first responders arrive on scene. At one point at least 10 people are standing around as Nichols is handcuffed and sitting on the ground, leaning against a car. Several minutes pass before a stretcher arrives to take Nichols away.
With the officers' body-worn cameras, viewers can hear what is being said between officers on the ground. The arresting officers who chased and beat Nichols can be heard rehashing the encounter and even laughing at times.
Nichols' family lawyers call for an investigation into 'saturation patrols'
Activists are already calling for reform in Memphis and across the nation, with many asking for a completely overhauled approach to policing.
Amber Sherman, a local Black Lives Matter organizer, told NPR's Debbie Elliot, "The only way for us to end the injustice that keeps happening and the murders of black people that keep happening is to stop using police for traffic enforcement."
The Nichols family attorneys have called on the DOJ to investigate "saturation patrols," which they described as big teams of police patrolling neighborhoods in the name of decreasing violent crime but instead foster a "wolf pack" mindset. Lawyers say the five officers who beat Nichols were part of such a unit.
"It doesn't matter if the officer's a Black officer, a Hispanic officer or a white officer. It is the culture that allows them to think they can do this to Tyre," attorney Ben Crump said Friday. "And we have to call out this culture every time we get a chance."
Lawyers for the family said they applauded the severity and swiftness of charges brought against the officers, all of whom are Black.
"No longer can you tell us we gotta wait six months to a year, even though we got a video with evidence of the excessive force and the crime," Crump said. "We now have the blueprint, America, and we won't accept less going forward in the future. We won't have Black officers treated differently than white officers under the law."
Memphis authorities and Nichols' family urge protestors to stay peaceful after the video's release
In a video statement released Thursday, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said the city would initiate an outside review of its specialized units, saying it was clear that the officers violated local policies and training practices.
National leaders like the Rev. Al Sharpton have said the police brutality against Nichols was even more painful because of the officers' race. All five officers, like Nichols, are Black.
"We fought to put Blacks on the police force," he told the BBC. "For them to act in such a brutal way is more egregious than I can tell you. [...] I do not believe these five black police officers would have done this had he been a young white man."
Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis, the first Black woman to hold the city's top police role, pledged "absolute accountability" for those responsible for Nichols' death, but asked for the city to stay calm in the meantime.
"I expect you to feel outrage at the disregard of basic human rights as our police officers have taken an oath to do the opposite of what transpired on the video," she said. "But we need to ensure our community is safe in this process."
Nichols' mother RowVaughn Wells urged the same approach, but for a personal reason.
"I don't want us burning up cities, tearing up our streets, because that's not what my son stood for," she said at a vigil for Nichols Thursday evening.
"We want peace. We do not want any type of uproar. We do not want any type of disturbance. We want peaceful protests," Rodney Wells, Nichols' stepfather, reiterated early Friday afternoon.
Memphis area schools canceled all after-class activities and postponed Saturday school events as an extra precaution, the Associated Press reports. Some local businesses, including the Memphis Power Co. and the University of Memphis, were also planning to close early.
Cities were already bracing for protests following a police killing in Atlanta
Biden joined Nichols' family in their grief earlier on Thursday, saying "outrage is understandable, but violence is never acceptable."
Biden also called Nichols' death a "painful reminder" of the need to reform law enforcement, calling on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would ban certain policing techniques and create a national database of police misconduct.
Cities across the U.S. were already braced for protest this week after demonstrators took to the streets in Atlanta to protest the police killing of 26-year-old Manuel Esteban Paez Teran.
Perez and other social justice activists were protesting a new police training center known as "Cop City" that is planned for what was once a 300-acre Atlanta forest.
Fierce opposition to the development erupted in unrest and vandalism last week. Six people were charged with domestic terrorism related to the riots.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp issued a state of emergency order on Thursday, authorizing 1,000 National Guard troops to be called up until Feb. 9.
CBS reports that police nationwide have been coordinating a response to possible protests since Monday. On a call last night, police departments across the country were told the body camera footage would be released.
The Atlanta Police Department said on Friday that it's now monitoring the events in Memphis, and that it's "prepared to support peaceful protests in the city."
"We understand and share in the outrage surrounding the death of Tyre Nichols," the department said in a statement. "We ask that demonstrations be safe and peaceful."
New York City officials are similarly keeping an eye on the situation in Memphis. The NYPD told NPR that it's "examined, adapted and adjusted our response to protests and is prepared to protect the Constitutional right to peaceful protest."
The Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C. said "it has fully activated all sworn personnel" to prepare for any protests in the nation's capital.
The department said, "We will not tolerate any unlawful behavior during First Amendment demonstrations, and we will take swift law enforcement action should anyone break the law."
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A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the activist killed by police in Atlanta was named Manuel Esteban Perez. In fact, his name was Manuel Esteban Paez Teran.