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5 Memphis Officers Fired Over Traffic Stop That Turned Deadly

NASHVILLE — Five Memphis police officers were fired on Friday after the department found that they had used excessive force and failed to intervene or provide help during a traffic stop this month involving a 29-year-old Black man who died in a hospital three days later, officials said.

The firings, which were the result of an internal investigation by the Memphis Police Department, come as the city braces for the release of police body camera footage that might provide clarity as to how the man, Tyre Nichols, ended up hospitalized in critical condition after the arrest on Jan. 7.

The case has provoked outrage among activists and Mr. Nichols’s family and has prompted state and federal investigations. Yet few details have been disclosed about the circumstances of the stop and the confrontations that preceded Mr. Nichols’s death. His family has shared a photograph showing Mr. Nichols in a hospital bed, apparently unconscious, his face bruised and swollen.

“The Memphis Police Department is committed to protecting and defending the rights of every citizen in our city,” Cerelyn Davis, the police chief, said in a statement announcing the firings on Friday evening. “The egregious nature of this incident is not a reflection of the good work that our officers perform, with integrity, every day.”

Mr. Nichols was stopped by officers on suspicion of reckless driving on the evening of Jan. 7 near the southeastern corner of the city. The police, in an initial statement, said a “confrontation occurred” as the officers approached his vehicle and Mr. Nichols ran away. There was then “another confrontation” as officers arrested him.

Mr. Nichols complained of having shortness of breath, and an ambulance was called to take him to a hospital, officials said. He died on Jan. 10.

Clockwise from top left: Officers Tadarrius Bean, Justin Smith, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr. and Emmitt Martin III.Credit…Memphis Police Department

On Friday, the Police Department said that it had finished a “thorough review of the circumstances surrounding this incident” and had found that officers violated its policies on excessive use of force, duty to intervene and duty to render aid.

Five officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — were terminated. The officers, who are all Black, had all joined the department between 2017 and 2020.

“This is the first step towards achieving justice for Tyre and his family,” Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, lawyers representing Mr. Nichols’s family, said in a statement on Friday. “They must also be held accountable for robbing this man of his life and his son of a father.”

Local prosecutors called in the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to look into the case while Mr. Nichols was still in the hospital. And on Wednesday, federal prosecutors in Memphis said that a civil rights investigation had been opened.

City officials also vowed this week to release the body camera footage after the Police Department’s investigation had been completed and Mr. Nichols’s family had the opportunity to see it, which is expected to happen early next week.

“We take departmental violations very seriously, and while we must complete the investigation process, it is our top priority to ensure that swift justice is served,” Jim Strickland, the mayor of Memphis, said in a statement. “We want citizens to know that we are prepared to take immediate and appropriate actions based on what the findings determine.”

The five officers could not be immediately reached for comment on Friday.

The Memphis Police Association, the union representing the city’s officers, declined to comment on the firings. “The citizens of Memphis, and, more importantly, the family of Mr. Nichols deserve to know the complete account of the events leading up to his death,” and what may have contributed to it, Lt. Essica Cage-Rosario, the union’s president, said in a statement on Friday.

Neelam Bohra contributed reporting.

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