1st ‘Domino’ to Fall – Former Memphis Officer Takes Plea Deal in Tyre Nichols Killing, Faces 15 Years in Prison; Other Officers Set for Trial in May

By The Vanguard Staff

MEMPHIS, TN – One of five former Memphis police officers charged in connection with the brutal beating and death of Tyre Nichols has agreed to a plea deal in exchange for pleading guilty in federal court here to two felony charges of obstruction of justice and excessive force.

Desmond Mills, Jr., according to a story in the New York Times, was indicted on federal charges by a grand jury in September and must fully cooperate with a separate state case against the officers that includes charges of second-degree murder. He’s expected to testify against the other four officers charged, but who have pleaded not guilty, in exchange for a 15-year prison sentence.  

Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who was driving home from work on Jan. 7 when he was stopped by the police, died days after the violent encounter, the NY Times story recounted, noting, “Five Black officers from the department’s elite Scorpion unit, including Mr. Mills, were soon fired for their roles in the beating.”

Street and body camera footage of the encounter led to the firings of all officers, disciplined for other police and emergency personnel and the disbandment of the specialized police force accused of using intimidation and use of force, said other news reports.

Mills was indicted by a grand jury of two counts of deprivation of rights under color of law, which carry a maximum sentence of life in prison after unlawfully assaulting Nichols and neglecting to ensure he received medical aid. “The remaining two counts — both related to obstruction and witness tampering — are punishable by up to 20 years in prison,” said the Times.

“Mr. Mills is someone who understands he’s done something wrong and is taking responsibility for it,” said Blake Ballin, a lawyer for Mills.  

“Steve Mulroy, the Shelby County district attorney, said at a news conference that as part of the deal, he expected Mr. Mills to cooperate with all of the open investigations, suggesting that he could help outline systemic issues within the Memphis Police Department,” wrote the NY Times.

Mills is barred from ever working in Tennessee law enforcement, and faces a multimillion-dollar lawsuit brought by the family of Nichols against him, the Memphis police chief and city of Memphis.

“This is the first domino to fall. We think we’re going to see other dominoes fall,” said Ben Crump, who represents the Nichols family, in a story in the NY Times.

“This was really the first time I actually heard somebody tell and say what they actually did to my son,” RowVaughn Wells, Nichols’s mother, said after the hearing in which the prosecutor recounted how Mills sprayed her son with pepper spray and repeatedly struck him with a baton, wrote the Times.

“I’m hoping his conscience is telling him the right things to do, instead of his attorneys,” she said of Mr. Mills. “With that being said, we still have more to do.”

“Street and body camera footage, some of it captured on a camera worn by Mr. Mills and analyzed by The New York Times, showed how the encounter with Mr. Nichols quickly grew violent, though it remains unclear why he was initially stopped. Mr. Nichols, who did not resist the initial group of officers and was given a conflicting stream of threats and orders, eventually broke away and ran toward his family home,” the NY Times story said.

Mills, not considered the worst of the officers charged, said prosecutors, “also sprayed himself with pepper spray while aiming at Mr. Nichols, (and) did not intervene when the other officers continued to punch and beat Mr. Nichols. He also did not administer medical aid and joined the other officers in claiming that Mr. Nichols was high and resisted arrest,” the Times wrote.

Mills lied, said the prosecution, by telling supervisors everything done to Nichols was “by the book,” didn’t tell medical staff Nichols had been hit by a baton in the head and agreed with Scorpion Team One officers and conversations with the other four officers “that no one was going to admit that unlawful force had been used.”

A federal criminal trial is set for May for the other officers.

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