By Amy Berberyan
MEMPHIS, TN – The Tyre Nichols family and attorneys held a press conference Friday in anticipation of the shocking police video footage of Nichols’ beating at the hands of police released later Friday.
Nichols was pulled over on Jan. 7 for what the police alleged to be reckless driving. This traffic stop escalated into a confrontation in which Nichols was pepper sprayed, kicked, punched, tased, and severely beaten. Nichols was hospitalized after shortness of breath and died from his injuries Jan. 10.
An independent autopsy performed on his body revealed he suffered “extreme bleeding” from his injuries, said the family, adding body cam footage released on Jan. 27 showed no evidence of the reckless driving Nichols was allegedly stopped for.
Instead, video shows the five police officers charged with his murder—all members of the Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods (SCORPION) unit and some undercover—beating a non-resisting Nichols as he calls for his mother.
These five officers—Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin, III, Desmond Mills, Jr., and Justin Smith—have been all fired and charged with multiple counts, including murder and kidnapping since the incident.
Attorney Ben Crump, representing Nichols’ family, thanked community activists for spurring the investigation into the incident that allowed swift charges to be brought to Nichols’ murderers.
According to Attorney Crump, charges include “second degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression.”
“We stand on the principle of equal justice so let me be exceedingly clear on this point,” said Attorney Crump.
The attorney added, “When we look at how fast these five Black officers, who were caught on camera committing a crime, and when we look at how fast the police chief terminated them…no longer can you tell us we have to wait six months to a year even though we have a video with evidence of excessive force and the crime.”
He stated it was important that justice moved swiftly, but noted how swiftly the investigation moved because the officers happened to be Black instead of white in this incident.
Crump added, “Think about Pamela Turner, killed on video. Took years for them to bring charges in her case even though they had the video day one.
“We want equal justice under the law,” Crump said. “Tyre deserved it, Tamir Rice deserved it, Ronald Greene deserved it, Alton Sterling deserved it, Eric Garner deserved it, Pamela Turner deserved it, all our children. Byron Williams deserved it.”
Attorney Crump stated that the speed of Nicholson’s investigation must act as a precedent in all future instances of excessive police force, including officers who happen to be white.
RowVaughn Wells, Nichols’ mother, stated God “used her son as an assignment” for reform to perform future unjust killings of Black and brown people by police officers. She was told her son had been tased and pepper sprayed, and was in the hospital. She said he died before she knew the extent of what had happened to him.
Attorney Crump advocated for a Tyre Law “that will emphasize the importance of police officers to have a duty to intervene when they see a crime being committed even if the crimes being committed are being committed by their fellow officers.”
Two sheriff’s deputies at the scene who did not intervene have been suspended, as have two paramedics there who did not render aid.
Attorney Crump also noted how the same SCORPION unit involved in Nichols’ death had used excessive force against other members of the Black community days prior. “They put a gun to his head,” Attorney Crump said, referencing one of these victims.
This same victim made two calls to the police department, which did not answer him. “If they had responded to him,” said Attorney Crump, “we might not be here today.
“Policy means nothing if you have a culture that’s rotten,” he added in reference to a statement made by Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn J. Davis. “It is the culture that allows them to think they can do this to Tyre.”
Attorney Antonio Romanucci brought attention to the “unmarked squad cars” and the fact that some officers were not in uniform to clarify that the SCORPION unit was really a “suppression unit” meant to oppress vulnerable Black men and women. Nichols was caught in one such “sting.”
Attorney Romanucci stated these units were given “whispered impunity in order to carry out their design.” This design involves confronting innocents in order to track down stolen things like cars. He called on Chief Davis to disband the SCORPION unit since its reputation and intent was corrupted.
He added Tyre was “terrorized” by five officers who “acted together as a pack of wolves to inflict harm, terrorism, oppression of liberty, oppression of constitutional rights which led to murder.” Attorney Romanucci condemned the attack as “intentional.”
Returning to the kidnapping charge, Attorney Crump said the video showed Nichols saying, “I just wanna go home” and calling out for his mother three times—his last words.
Memphis NAACP President Attorney Van Turner said that “we want to make sure that Tyre Nichols didn’t die in vain.” He added the irony of installing cameras in the area the altercation took place to assist the police, but this time cameras catching the police committing the crimes.
NAACP Executive Director Vickie Terry expressed solidarity with Nichols’ mother and assured her that a Tyre Law would be passed. She also thanked Wells for “birthing Tyre because he is the individual who is going to turn [Memphis] around.”
Rodney Wells, Nichols’ stepfather, stated the family was satisfied with the charges and called for peaceful protests.
“At the end of the day,” said RowVaughn Wells, “this shouldn’t have happened. And we want justice for my son.” She apologized for not being able to articulate what she wanted to say, as she was still grieving her son’s passing.
“My heart just breaks, sir,” she said in response to a question. “For a mother to know that their child was calling them in their need, and I wasn’t there for him? Do you know how I feel right now?”
Attorney Romanucci said one immediate step forward would be abolishing the SCORPION unit. He said change would only come with federal reform alongside state reform.
Attorney Crump agreed with this sentiment and urged the crowd to see whether or not they thought the actions in the video seemed intentional. This included kicks to the head. An independent medical examiner said, “the injuries were consistent with a severe beating.”
Attorney Romanucci said the charges are consistent with and at the maximum strength available with this description, as murder charges would require more evidence.
“We’re not anti-police,” said Attorney Crump. “We’re anti-bad police who killed Tyre. Who killed George Floyd. Who killed all these people. We’re against those officers who stir the rules to justify these unjustifiable killings.”
He ended the press conference with an urge to reform police culture, specifically the “unbiased belief” they held “that you can get away with doing certain things to Black citizens and brown citizens in America that you cannot get away with with white citizens.”