What we know about the killing of Tyre Nichols
A portrait of Tyre Nichols is displayed at a memorial service for him on Jan. 17 in Memphis, Tenn. Nichols died three days after Memphis police officers beat him during a traffic stop on Jan. 7. Adrian Sainz/AP hide caption
Mostly peaceful protests over police brutality were carried out around the country after the public release of body camera footage brought the Memphis police killing of Tyre Nichols into clearer picture.
Nichols, a 29-year-old Black motorist, was pulled over Jan. 7 for what police said was reckless driving. After attempting to flee on foot, Nichols was aggressively beaten by police, newly released police video shows. Three days later, he died in the hospital.
Here’s what else we know.
Nichols, a father of a 4-year-old son, was known to his family as an avid skateboarder and nature photographer from Sacramento, Calif., according to The Associated Press. He arrived in Memphis just before the pandemic, and later started a job with FedEx, a major employer there. Nichols had been with the company for about nine months before his death, The New York Times reported.
“He was one of those people who made everyone around them happy,” Nichols’ step-grandmother Lucille Washington said at a memorial service.
Police said on Jan. 8 that Nichols was taken into custody after a traffic stop that involved two confrontations with officers. During the initial confrontation, Nichols fled the scene of the traffic stop, police said.
Following the arrest, Nichols then complained of shortness of breath, according to authorities, and was taken to the hospital in critical condition, where he died on Jan. 10.
His family has said the police beat him so severely that he was unrecognizable.
The Shelby County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement earlier this week that it understood the “reasonable request from the public” to view the video of Nichols’ death.
The city of Memphis released the four-part footage on Vimeo on Friday evening.
In the videos, officers are seen dragging Nichols from his car and shouting profanities throughout the confrontation. An officer tries to deploy a Taser at Nichols and then begins to chase him on foot. “I’m just trying to go home,” Nichols is heard saying. Later, officers are seen repeatedly kicking, punching and using a baton to strike Nichols as he lies on the ground. At one point he’s heard yelling “Mom.” Lawyers for the Nichols family says this encounter happened within 100 yards of the family’s home.
Ben Crump, the family’s attorney, compared the footage to the video of the 1991 Los Angeles police beating of Rodney King, another Black motorist.
Mostly peaceful protests broke out in cities across the U.S. following the release of the videos, with demonstrators leading marches and chants against police brutality and shutting down highways and intersections in some cities.
In Memphis, a group of demonstrators gathered at a downtown park and then took to the streets, shutting down the I-55 bridge over the Mississippi River between Memphis and West Memphis. They chanted “no justice, no peace” and “justice for Tyre,” closing the bridge for nearly three hours before peacefully disbanding.
In other parts of Memphis, people gathered in churches or small groups to reflect on the wrenching and somber moment for the city.
A protest in downtown Los Angeles became tense when a small group protesters demonstrated outside of Los Angeles Police Department headquarters, which was blocked by police in riot gear, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Other small, but mostly peaceful protests, were also held in Times Square in New York City, near the White House in Washington, D.C., in Seattle, Detroit and Atlanta, as well as in other cities from the East Coast to the West Coast.
Organizers are planning vigils, marches and demonstrations across the U.S. over the weekend.
Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith each face several charges, including second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression.
Like Nichols, all of the former officers — who were fired before Thursday’s indictments — are Black.
On Wednesday, Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis released a video statement discussing “the horrific circumstances” of Nichols’ death. She called it a professional failing and said “the incident was heinous, reckless and inhumane.”
During a news conference announcing the indictments of the five officers, prosecutors gave new details about what happened during the traffic stop.
Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said that while each of the five officers played a different role, “the actions of all of them resulted in the death of Tyre Nichols, and they are all responsible.”
A grand jury returned indictments and delivered all five officers the same exact charges.
Less than three hours after officials released the body cam footage, Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner said two deputies who appeared at the scene of the arrest had been relieved of their duties pending the outcome of an internal investigation.
Crump, one of the family’s attorneys, said during a news conference earlier this week that police used a stun gun and pepper spray on Nichols in addition to restraining him during the arrest.
“Yet again, we’re seeing evidence of what happens to Black and brown people from simple traffic stops,” Crump said. “You should not be killed because of a simple traffic stop.”
In a statement following Thursday’s news conference, Crump said although the five officers have been indicted, policing in the U.S. needs a great deal of reform.
“This tragedy meets the absolute definition of a needless and unnecessary death. Tyre’s loved ones’ lives were forever changed when he was beaten to death, and we will keep saying his name until justice is served,” he said.
The police chief said earlier this week that the five officers violated multiple department policies, “including excessive use of force, duty to intervene, and duty to render aid.”
Two Memphis Fire Department employees were also “relieved of duty” as an internal investigation is being conducted.
Memphis Fire Department spokesperson Qwanesha Ward told NPR that the employees — who were not identified — were “involved in the initial patient care” of Nichols. She did not go into further details.
The Justice Department and the FBI have also launched a civil rights investigation into Nichols’ death and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation launched a separate investigation.
NPR’s Joe Hernandez contributed to this report.