By Maria Alejandra Cardona
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Reuters) – Five fired Memphis police officers on Friday pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and other charges stemming from the beating of Tyre Nichols, a Black man whose death three days later stirred outrage and fresh calls for reform.
Police video captured images of the officers beating and kicking Nichols, hitting him with a baton, spraying him with pepper spray and firing a stun gun at him on Jan. 7 following a traffic stop. The case has renewed a national conversation about race relations and police brutality.
The five officers, all out on bail, entered their pleas during an arraignment hearing in Shelby County Criminal Court where they are formally charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression.
“I am numb, just numb as I can be right now,” Nichols’ mother RowVaughn Wells said as she walked into the courtroom dress in all black as she held the hand of Ben Crump, the family’s attorney. “They need to see my face.
All five officers – Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmit Martin, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith – are Black. They have been fired from the police force and the special unit they were a member of has been disbanded.
A sixth officer, who is white, was also fired, as have three fire department emergency medical technicians who arrived after Nichols was beaten. Two Shelby County sheriff’s deputies who responded to the scene were suspended five days without pay.
Nichols – a 29-year-old father, avid skateboarder and student of photography – attempted to converse with police as they shouted orders and threatened him with violence during the ordeal.
“You guys are really doing a lot right now. I’m just trying to go home,” Nichols said at one point, sitting on the street as police tried to subdue him.
“Stop. I’m not doing anything,” Nichols said, just before breaking free and running.
When police caught up to him, he was beaten while being restrained, clubbed with a baton and kicked while on the ground.
Less than 100 yards (meters) from home, he called out for his mother several times.
Officers on the video said Nichols had swerved through traffic dangerously, and one said Nichols attempted to grab his gun during the scrum.
Crump has represented the families of victims in some of the most prominent cases in which African Americans have died at the hands of police. Crump helped the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor win multimillion-dollar settlements from the cities of Minneapolis and Louisville, respectively.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Stephen Coates)