‘He was a human piñata’: Memphis police beat Tyre Nichols for three minutes, attorneys say

‘He was a human piñata’: Memphis police beat Tyre Nichols for three minutes, attorneys say

By Adrian Sainz | Associated Press

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Tyre Nichols’ mother says her son was 80 yards from home when Memphis police officers “murdered him” during a violent confrontation that happened during a traffic stop.

RowVaughn Wells said during a news conference Monday that her son didn’t do drugs, carry a gun or like confrontation, and that police had no reason to pull him over on the night of Jan. 7.

Police have said that the 29-year-old father and avid skateboarder ran from the officers after a “confrontation” during the traffic stop, and that “another confrontation” occurred after they caught up to him.

Nichols’ stepfather, Rodney Wells, told reporters that his stepson had good reason to run from the officers.

“Our son ran because he was scared for his life,” Rodney Wells said. “And when you see the video you’ll see why he was scared for his life.”

The city has been on edge about the eventual release of the police footage of the arrest, worried about the possibility of unrest. Rodney Wells said the family would like any protests to remain peaceful.

An attorney for the family, Ben Crump, said authorities said they’ll make the video public in a week or two.

Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy issued a statement Monday saying investigators don’t want the release of the video to the public yet because they don’t want to risk compromising the investigation.

Attorney Ben Crump said during a news conference that the footage of Nichols’ Jan. 7 arrest “is appalling. It is deplorable. It is heinous.”

Crump, who viewed the footage hours earlier along with Nichols’ family and their other lawyers, said it reminded them of the infamous video of the Los Angeles police beating of Rodney King.

“Regrettably, it reminded us of Rodney King video. … And unlike Rodney King, Tyre didn’t survive,” he said.

Another of the family’s attorneys, Antonio Romanucci, said the beating of Nichols lasted three minutes. “He was a human piñata for those police officers,” Romanucci said.

Crump said the authorities won’t release the video to the public for a week or two, but that it will be released.

Memphis Police Department Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis announced Friday that five officers involved in the arrest were fired after the police probe determined that they used excessive force or failed to intervene and render aid.

Nichols’ family, protesters and activists have called for the video’s release and for the officers to be charged with murder.

This combo of images provided by the Memphis Police Department shows from top left, officers Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, and bottom from left, officers Desmond Mills, Jr. and Justin Smith. Memphis was on edge Monday, jan. 23, 2023 ahead of the possible release of video footage of a Black man's violent arrest that has led to three separate law enforcement investigations and the firings of these five police officers after he died in a hospital. (Memphis Police Department via AP)
Memphis Police officers Tadarrius Bean, clockwise from top left, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Justin Smith and Desmond Mills Jr., were fired after a police probe into Tyre Nichols’ death determined that they used excessive force or failed to intervene and render aid.

The officers have been identified as Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith. All five are Black.

Relatives have accused police of beating Nichols and causing him to have a heart attack. Authorities have only said that Nichols experienced a medical emergency. The U.S. Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into the arrest, and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is looking into whether excessive force was used.

City and community leaders have expressed concern about the possibility of civil unrest following the video’s release.

Nichols’ stepfather, Rodney Wells, said Monday that the family hopes that any protests remain peaceful.

State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, a Memphis Democrat, said Sunday that the predominantly Black city has been on edge since the arrest, which he called “horrific and senseless.”

“The release of the tape may certainly aggravate the feelings of hurt, sorrow and embarrassment that we are all feeling,” Parkinson said. “However, the need for transparency is vitally important in all cases of police involved deaths.”

Van Turner, president of the Memphis chapter of the NAACP, also acknowledged that Memphis appears tense as it waits for the video. But he praised the city and the police department for taking “quick action” in firing the officers.

“We will continue to monitor and support a fair and just resolution to this matter,” Turner said. “We join the call for peaceful protests as we all work towards making sure that proper measures are put in place to prevent this type of incident from occurring in the future.”

Turner also said that the potential for unrest could be higher if the officers who were involved were white.

“If the video is significantly more egregious than what we have seen, then the unrest could still be there,” Turner said.

Nichols was arrested after officers stopped him for reckless driving, police said. In a news release the day after his arrest, the police department said that as officers approached the vehicle, “a confrontation occurred’ and he ran. It said officers caught up to him and that ”another confrontation occurred” while they were taking him into custody. Police said he complained of shortness of breath and was hospitalized.

Officials said a cause of death has not been determined.

Relatives have said the officers who pulled over Nichols were in an unmarked vehicle and that he experienced cardiac arrest and kidney failure from the officers beating him.

Crump and Romanucci issued a statement Friday saying they support the department’s decision to fire the officers.

“This is the first step towards achieving justice for Tyre and his family. They must also be held accountable for robbing this man of his life and his son of a father,” they said.

The attorneys said they “will continue to demand transparency and accountability” and plan to review video footage to seek additional clarity about the circumstances that led to Nichols’ death.

The Nichols case is the latest high-profile death case to rattle the city. Since November 2021, Memphis has seen the fatal shooting of rapper Young Dolph in a daytime ambush at a bakery; a crime rampage in which a man has been charged with fatally shooting three people and wounding three others; the killing of a United Methodist Church pastor during a carjacking in her driveway; and the early-morning kidnapping of a jogger whose body was later found near a house.