MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — An indictment was filed in federal court Tuesday charging five former Memphis police officers with depriving Tyre Nichols of his rights during a January 7 arrest that led to his death.
The indictment lists four separate counts including excessive force and failure to intervene, deliberate indifference, conspiracy to witness tamper, and witness tampering for former officers, and Emmitt Martin, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith.
It also lists overt acts committed by the officers during the incident. One of the acts includes Haley and Mills taking off their body-worn cameras and setting them aside before gathering with the other officers to discuss the force used on Nichols and making statements such as “I thought when he wasn’t going to fall, we about to kill this man,” while emergency medical personnel were at the scene.
“The country watched in horror as Tyre Nichols was kicked, punched, tased, and pepper sprayed, and we all heard Mr. Nichols cry out for his mother and say ‘I’m just trying to go home,’” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in a statement. “Officers who violate the civil rights of those they are sworn to protect undermine public safety, which depends on the community’s trust in law enforcement. They dishonor their fellow officers who do their work with integrity every day. The Justice Department will continue to hold accountable officers who betray their oath.”
The excessive force and failure to intervene counts carry a maximum penalty of life in prison while the conspiracy to witness tamper and witness tampering counts each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
All five men, who were part of now disbanded MPD’s SCORPION Unit, also face criminal court charges in Shelby County for second-degree murder, aggravated assault, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of official misconduct, and official oppression.
“It is tragic to see a life cut short at 29, with so many milestones unmet, so many words unsaid, so much potential unfulfilled,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division during a press conference in Memphis on Tuesday. “Tyre Nichols should be alive today. No one in this country should have to bury a loved one because of police violence.”
Following the announcement of federal charges, attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, who are representing Nichols’ family, praised Clark and United States Attorney Kevin G. Ritz for their efforts, saying:
“The news today from the United States Justice Department that there will be criminal accountability on the federal level for Tyre’s death gives his family hope as they continue to grieve his loss and inspire change in his honor. We applaud AG Garland and Assistant AG Clarke for their tireless efforts to create federal accountability for these officers who were selected to be part of the Memphis Police Department’s SCORPION unit and savagely ended Tyre’s life, setting a critical precedent for accountability and justice.”
During a press conference, Nichols’ mother RowVaughn Wells, and stepfather Rodney Wells personally thanked the Department of Justice for their efforts and called the indictments an important step toward justice.
“We’re very, very proud. This is a very, very good day for the Wells family, for justice,” said Rodney Wells. “This is a long time coming and we’re so glad we have reached this point. Now the next milestone is the actual convictions.”
Tennessee Senate minority leader Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) said the indictments served as a reminder of the work that still needs to be done to ensure justice for all.
“The indictments issued today against the police officers involved in the tragic death of Tyre Nichols are a step forward for our community. Accountability is essential for maintaining trust in our law enforcement agencies,” she said.
In July, the Department of Justice launched an investigation into the Memphis Police Department and the City of Memphis to determine whether there is a pattern of constitutional or civil rights violations against citizens.
As part of their investigation, the department’s civil rights division has been holding public meetings and encouraging citizens to share their experiences with MPD officers.
The DOJ says the charges are separate from the civil rights investigation and will be conducted separately and independently from the criminal case. We’re told the former officers should have their first federal court hearing sometime this week.