The five former officers who beat Tyre Nichols to death now face civil rights charges on top of their murder indictment
Five ex-police officers from Memphis who fatally beat a fleeing suspect to death earlier this year have been charged with federal civil rights offenses. The death of Tyre Nichols set off a wave of protests and led to the disbandment of the street crime unit the officers worked for.
Tyre Nichols, 29, was beaten by five officers after he attempted to flee from a traffic stop in Memphis in January. Body camera footage showed the officers punching and kicking Nichols, as well as pepper-spraying and striking him with batons. After his motionless body was handcuffed and propped against a squad car, the officers are seen congratulating each other and exchanging fist-bumps.
Nichols died of his injuries three days after the incident, and the officers involved were fired and charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct, and official oppression. All five officers and Nichols are black.
While these charges were brought by the state of Tennessee, a federal grand jury issued a new indictment against the officers on Tuesday. Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith were each charged with violating Nichols’ right to freedom from unreasonable force, violating his right to be free from indifference to his injuries, attempting to cover up the use of unlawful force, and obstruction of justice.
The civil rights counts each carry a maximum penalty of life in prison.
“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,’” Attorney General Merrick Garland said 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.”
The officers were members of a street crime unit named ‘Scorpion’, which stands for ‘Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods’. Formed in 2021, the unit made more than 550 arrests in its first two months of operation, 390 of them for felonies. However, allegations of brutality dogged the unit from its formation, with a lawyer for the Nichlols family telling reporters in January that he had compiled testimony from multiple people who claimed they had been injured by Scorpion officers.
The Memphis Police Department disbanded the unit within weeks of Nichols’ death, amid large-scale street protests.