Authorities released video footage Friday showing Tyre Nichols being beaten by five Memphis police officers who held the Black motorist down and repeatedly struck him with their fists, boots and batons as he screamed for his mother.
The video is filled with violent moments showing the officers, who are also Black, chasing and pummeling Nichols and leaving him on the pavement propped against a squad car as they fist-bump and celebrate their actions.
The footage emerged one day after the officers were charged with murder in Nichols’ death. The chilling images of another Black man dying at the hands of police renewed tough questions about how fatal encounters with law enforcement continue even after repeated calls for change.
Protesters gathered for mostly peaceful demonstrations in multiple cities, including Memphis, where several dozen demonstrators blocked the Interstate 55 bridge that carries traffic over the Mississippi River toward Arkansas. Semitrucks were backed up for a distance. In Washington, dozens of protestors gathered in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House and near Black Lives Matter Plaza.
Other cities nationwide braced for demonstrations, but media outlets reported only scattered and nonviolent protests. Demonstrators at times blocked traffic while they chanted slogans and marched through the streets of New York City, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon.
The recording shows police savagely beating the 29-year-old FedEx worker for three minutes while screaming profanities at him throughout the attack. The Nichols family legal team has likened the assault to the infamous 1991 police beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King.
Editor’s note: The following video is one of four released by Memphis authorities. The footage contains graphic content and language. There is no audio for the first minute. The full hour of footage released can be viewed here.
After the first officer roughly pulls Nichols out of a car, Nichols can be heard saying, “I didn’t do anything,” as a group of officers begins to wrestle him to the ground.
One officer is heard yelling, “Tase him! Tase him!”
Nichols calmly says, “OK, I’m on the ground.”
“You guys are really doing a lot right now,” Nichols says. “I’m just trying to go home.”
“Stop, I’m not doing anything,” he yells moments later.
Nichols can then be seen running as an officer fires a Taser at him. The officers then start chasing Nichols.
Other officers are called, and a search ensues before Nichols is caught at another intersection. The officers beat him with a baton, and kick and punch him.
Security camera footage shows three officers surrounding Nichols as he lies in the street cornered between police cars, with a fourth officer nearby.
Two officers hold Nichols to the ground as he moves about, and then the third appears to kick him in the head. Nichols slumps more fully onto the pavement with all three officers surrounding him. The same officer kicks him again.
The fourth officer then walks over, draws a baton and holds it up at shoulder level as two officers hold Nichols upright, as if he were sitting.
“I’m going to baton the f--- out you,” one officer can be heard saying. His body camera shows him raise his baton while at least one other officer holds Nichols. The officer strikes Nichols on the back with the baton three times in a row.
The other officers then appear to hoist Nichols to his feet, with him flopping like a doll, barely able to stay upright.
An officer then punches him in the face, as the officer with the baton continues to menace him. Nichols stumbles and turns, still held up by two officers. The officer who punched him then walks around to Nichols’ front and punches him four more times. Then Nichols collapses.
Two officers can then be seen atop Nichols on the ground, with a third nearby, for about 40 seconds. Three more officers then run up, and one can be seen kicking Nichols on the ground.
As Nichols is slumped up against a car, not one of the officers renders aid. The body camera footage shows a first-person view of one of them reaching down and tying his shoe.
It takes more than 20 minutes after Nichols is beaten and on the pavement before any sort of medical attention is provided, even though two fire department officers arrived on the scene with medical equipment within 10 minutes.
Throughout the videos, officers make claims about Nichols’ behavior that are not supported by the footage or that the district attorney and other officials have said did not happen. In one of the videos, an officer claims that during the initial traffic stop Nichols reached for his gun before fleeing and almost had his hand on the handle, which is not shown in the video.
After Nichols is in handcuffs and leaning against a police car, several officers say that he must have been high. Later an officer says no drugs were found in his car, and another officer immediately counters that Nichols must have ditched something while he was running away.
Authorities have not released an autopsy report, but they have said there appeared to be no justification for the traffic stop, and nothing of note was found in the car.
The video raised questions about the role and possible culpability of the other officers at the scene, in addition to the five who were charged. The footage shows a number of other officers standing around after the beating.
Memphis Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis has said other officers are under investigation for their part in the arrest. Davis described the five officers’ actions as “heinous, reckless and inhumane.”
During the traffic stop, the video shows the officers were “already ramped up, at about a 10,” she said. The officers were “aggressive, loud, using profane language and probably scared Mr. Nichols from the very beginning.”
“Police are trained to understand that people might flee just because they are scared,” said Geoffrey Alpert, a criminologist at the University of South Carolina who studies use of force.
Nichols’ relatives urged supporters to protest peacefully.
“I don’t want us burning up our city, tearing up the streets, because that’s not what my son stood for,” Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, said Thursday. “If you guys are here for me and Tyre, then you will protest peacefully.”
Christopher Taylor was one of the protesters at the Interstate 55 bridge on Friday. He said he watched the video. The Memphis native said it was horrible that the officers appeared to be laughing as they stood around after the beating.
“I cried,” he said. “And that right there, as not only a father myself but I am also a son, my mother is still living, that could have been me.”
Speaking at the White House, President Joe Biden said Friday that he was “very concerned” about the prospect of violence and called for protests to remain peaceful.
Biden said he spoke with Nichols’ mother earlier in the day and told her that he was going to be “making a case” to Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act “to get this under control.” The legislation, which has been stalled, is meant to tackle police misconduct and excessive force and boost federal and state accountability efforts.
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Court records showed that all five former officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith — were taken into custody.
The officers each face charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression. Four of the five officers had posted bond and been released from custody by Friday morning, according to court and jail records.
Second-degree murder is punishable by 15 to 60 years in prison under Tennessee law.
Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner said in a statement late Friday that two deputies who appeared on the scene after the beating were relieved of duty pending the outcome of an internal investigation.
Patrick Yoes, the national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, condemned the alleged actions of the Memphis officers.
“The event as described to us does not constitute legitimate police work or a traffic stop gone wrong. This is a criminal assault under the pretext of law,” Yoes said in a statement.
As state and federal investigations continue, Davis promised the police department’s “full and complete cooperation.”