Memphis officers who beat Tyre Nichols indicted for second-degree murder

On Jan. 7 at a traffic stop near his mother’s home, Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was brutally beaten by five Memphis police officers. He died three days later due to severe injuries sustained during the beating.

Police knocked at the door of RowVaughn Wells, Nichols’ mother, at around 8 or 9 p.m. to tell her about Nichols’ arrest. They reported that her son was arrested for a DUI, pepper sprayed, and tased. They told her that Nichols would be going to the hospital and later the police station. Wells reports the officers asking if he was “on any type of drugs” because it was “so difficult to put the handcuffs on him.” According to Wells, she believes they were trying to cover up the beating when they first came to her.

Following the release of footage from the fatal beating on Jan. 28, hundreds of peaceful demonstrators in Memphis demanded justice, accountability and police reform. In the footage, about an hour long, the officers are seen holding Nichols down. They took turns beating him and taunting him as he screamed for his mother, only two minutes away from where he was held. At one point, Nichols managed to get free and ran. He was tased by one officer and the beating continued until he lost conscious. The officers propped his limp body over a police car and exchanged fist-bumps.

After the footage was released, protests erupted around the country. On Saturday, a rally was held in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood, with protestors speaking out against Nichols’ killing and the widespread issue of police brutality.

Cerelyn “CJ” Davis, Memphis chief of police and an advocate for police reform, quickly addressed the growing outrage. The five officers belonged to a unit known as the SCORPION unit, which stands for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods. Formerly responsible for patrolling “high crime hotspots,” the unit has been “permanently” disbanded according to the Memphis Police Department. The five police officers identified in the conflict were fired.

On Jan. 26, they were indicted on charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault–acting in concert, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of official misconduct, and one count of official oppression.

The response of the city and police department has been noted as unique for the fast investigation, dismissal, and indictment of the police officers. State investigators were called in hours after the beating and the indictment came three weeks after Nichols’ death. This has been compared to incidents of police brutality in former years — in 2014, it took Chicago police 13 months and a court order to release video footage of police firing on Laquan McDonald. The footage of Nichols’ death was released three weeks after the beating.

Some believe this reflects a national shift in attitudes towards the police and police brutality. Across the country, many cities have begun reconsidering the use of force demonstrated by their police officers and the standard of accountability upheld by the department. The national conversation around police brutality has also begun to recognize that Black and Latino populations are disproportionately targets of police force. In the case of Tyre Nichols, all five police officers being Black have created new questions about the nature of police brutality.