Memphis’ Five Charged Ex-Officers Appear in Court

February 17, 2023


Five former Memphis police officers were scheduled Friday to make their first court appearance on charges in the deadly beating of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols.

Roughly two weeks after Nichols sustained a beating by police in what had started out as a traffic stop, officers Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith, Emmit Martin III and Desmond Mills Jr. were fired. About a week later were charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression.

All five pleaded not guilty” to the charges Friday during their court appearance, which lasted only a few minutes in Shelby County Criminal Court.

Both the prosecution and defense filed motions for additional discovery. Judge James Jones Jr. continued the case until May 1 so that discovery could be competed. 

Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, and stepfather, Rodney Wells, were in court along with their lawyer, civil rights attorney Ben Crump.

Police body camera video from January 7 shows that Nichols fled the initial encounter at his car in the middle of a city street. It had started when officers approached Nichols with force that was disproportionate for the alleged offense of “reckless driving,” according to a statement from the disciplinary hearing for another officer who has since been fired: Preston Hemphill, who drew his gun while approaching Nichols at his car.

When officers caught up with Nichols several blocks away, both police body cam video and pole-camera video of the street scene shows that he was beaten unconscious and then propped up against a parked police car. Three EMTs have been fired for not responding to Nichols as he fell over onto his side several times before an ambulance finally arrived. Nichols died three days later at a hospital.

Ex-officer Haley has also been accused of using his cellphone to take “two photographs while standing in front of the obviously injured” Nichols after he was handcuffed and propped against the car.

The five former officers charged with murder, along with ex-officer Hemphill who reportedly did not go to the second location, were part of the elite Scorpion Unit that had been formed by Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis in 2021 in response to quickly-rising homicide numbers. However, residents soon complained that the 40-officer strike team was using heavy-handed tactics, including employing punitive policing in response to relatively minor offenses. 

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