Five former Memphis officers plead not guilty in death of Tyre Nichols

The case renews a national conversation about race relations and police brutality

By Reuters

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The screen at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans honors Tyre Nichols before an NBA basketball game between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Washington Wizards, Jan. 28, 2023. — AP
The screen at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans honors Tyre Nichols before an NBA basketball game between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Washington Wizards, Jan. 28, 2023. — AP

Published: Fri 17 Feb 2023, 7:49 PM

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.


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