Five Memphis police officers have been charged with federal civil rights violations in the beating death of Tyre Nichols, as they continue to fight second-degree murder charges in state courts for his murder.
U.S. Attorney Kevin Ritz defended the federal charges in a Tuesday news briefing, saying that the state and federal cases are on separate tracks. He declined to predict how quickly they would proceed.
Tadarrius Bean, Desmond Mills, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin, and Justin Smith each face four counts including deprivation of rights under the color of law through excessive force and failure to intervene, and through deliberate indifference; conspiracy to witness tampering; and obstruction of justice through witness tampering.
The charges come nine months after the violent beating during a Jan. 7 traffic stop near Nichols’ Memphis home, in which they punched, kicked, and slugged the 29-year-old with a baton as he yelled for his mother. Nichols died at a hospital three days later.
Kristen Clarke, who leads the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division, said in her appearance that the officers had used excessive force, had failed to advise medical personnel about Nichols’ injuries, and had conspired to cover up their misconduct.
“In our country, no one is above the law,” she said.
Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, said her son was a “free spirit.”
“He should be here today,” she said in a news conference at a Memphis church. “Because of those five officers, he’s not.”
Attorneys for the former officers said that the indictment was no surprise and that their clients would defend themselves against the charges. The indictment mentions multiple instances where the officers allegedly used their body cameras to limit what evidence could be captured at the scene and accused the officers of gathering after the beating and discussing how “we almost killed this man.”
The Justice Department had already announced in July an investigation into how Memphis Police Department officers use force and conduct arrests, one of several “patterns and practices” investigations it has undertaken in other U.S. cities.
A federal civil rights case was filed last year against four Louisville, Kentucky, police officers over a drug raid that led to the death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman whose fatal shooting helped fuel racial justice protests that swept the nation in 2020.
In Minneapolis, meanwhile, former police officers were convicted of violating the civil rights of George Floyd, whose death sparked those protests. Former officer Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 21 years after pinning Floyd to the pavement for more than nine minutes as the Black man pleaded, “I can’t breathe.”
The attorneys for the five former Memphis officers have a scheduled appearance in state court Friday afternoon, and a hearing has been set for Friday morning in a federal lawsuit filed by Nichols’ mother against the five ex-officers, the city of Memphis, and its police department.