UPDATED: 9:30 a.m. ET, Nov. 2, 2023
One of the five fired Memphis Police Department (MPD) officers accused of murdering Tyre Nichols is expected to change his plea for his federal indictment, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported.
Desmond Mills, Jr. stands charged with excessive force, deliberate indifference, conspiracy to witness tamper and obstruction of justice in a federal indictment that could result in a life sentence with a conviction on all counts. Mills was expected to enter his new plea on Thursday. It is unclear what he plans to change it to.
The change in plea will likely end Mills’ federal case, but he is still expected to stand trial for the state murder charges and a federal civil case filed by Ben Crump that he and his four co-defendants — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin and Justin Smith — are all facing.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump and personal injury lawyer Antonio Romanucci welcomed the latest update in the murder case.
“Desmond Mills’ plea today is entirely consistent with our allegations in the civil lawsuit against the City of Memphis. We stand strong in our belief that these officers, including Mills, acted at the direction of a policy that not only violated civil rights of innocent civilians but which caused needless pain to many,” Crump and Romanucci said in a statement mailed to NewsOne. “The MPD and its SCORPION unit directed, trained, and encouraged officers like Mills to commit baseless and horrific acts of violence against innocent individuals like Tyre Nichols. We vigorously restate our assertion that those policies were behind what ultimately caused Mills and four other Scorpion officers to kill Tyre Nichols.”
Crump and Romanucci, who have scheduled a press conference alongside Nichols’ family for Thursday afternoon, added: “Mills was not an individual actor, and as our civil suit continues to unfold, that will become even more apparent.”
Nichols, 29, died after the five former officers beat the unarmed Black motorist to death during a pretextual traffic stop earlier this year.
Trial date set for accused former officers
In September, U.S. District Judge Mark S. Norris set a May 2024 trial date for Bean, Mills, Haley, Martin and Smith, pushing back the start from its original March 2024 target, according to Commercial Appeal.
The ex-cops were federally indicted Sept. 12, each facing four counts of willfully depriving Nichols of his constitutional rights, violating Nichols’ right to be free from a law enforcement officer’s deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs, conspiring to cover up their use of unlawful force by omitting material information, by providing false and misleading information to their supervisor and others, committing an obstruction offense by intentionally omitting material information, and providing false and misleading information to two MPD officers tasked with writing MPD reports about the arrest of Nichols.
The maximum sentence the five former officers face is life in prison, and there is no parole in the federal system.
Judge denies three ex-cops separate trials in state case
Shelby County Criminal Court Judge James Jones Jr. in October rejected requests to have separate trials for Bean, Mills and Smith, whose lawyers argued their clients could not receive a fair trial if they were tried together.
Meanwhile, a $550 million federal lawsuit against the City of Memphis and some of the former police officers accused in a separate instance of alleged police brutality against a different Black man was paused since September “until all the criminal cases are resolved,” the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported.
But that pause came before the federal indictment of the five officers, prompting a defense attorney to seek an indefinite pause for the federal lawsuit.
The ruling came prior to the federal indictment, and defense attorney John Keith Perry said a complete stay in that case should result in a complete stay in the Nichols civil case.
“They’re not the same case, but we think the implications in our case are heightened if the court would undermine the Harris case ruling,” John Keith Perry, the attorney defending Bean, said at the time. “…If you delve into discovery in this case, the court is taking a position that this case is less problematic than the Harris case.”
Ex-cops charged with federal crimes
The five fired MPD officers accused of murdering Nichols were formally indicted in September on federal crimes in addition to the existing state charges for beating the unarmed Black motorist to death in January.
The Justice Department announced that Bean, Mills, Haley, Martin and Smith are now each facing four federal counts of willfully depriving Nichols of his constitutional rights, violating Nichols’ right to be free from a law enforcement officer’s deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs, conspiring to cover up their use of unlawful force by omitting material information, and by providing false and misleading information to their supervisor and to others, and committing an obstruction offense by intentionally omitting material information, and providing false and misleading information to two MPD officers tasked with writing MPD reports about the arrest of Nichols.
“These federal charges reflect the Justice Department’s unwavering commitment to protecting the constitutional and civil rights of every American and preserving the integrity of the criminal justice system,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “We stand ready to hold law enforcement officers accountable for their misconduct because no one is above the law in our country.”
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represents Nichols’ family, welcomed the federal charges.
“The news today from the United States Justice Department that there will be criminal accountability on the federal level for Tyre’s death gives his family hope as they continue to grieve his loss and inspire change in his honor,” Crump said in a statement ahead of a planned press conference with Nichols’ family. “We applaud AG Garland and Assistant AG Clarke for their tireless efforts to create federal accountability for these officers who were selected to be part of the Memphis Police Department’s SCORPION unit and savagely ended Tyre’s life, setting a critical precedent for accountability and justice.”
Ex-officers seek separate trials
In June, two of the former cops facing murder charges tried to distance themselves from the other defendants in the harrowing brutality case. Bean and Smith had their lawyers file motions seeking separate trials, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported.
“Bean and Smith never punched or kicked [Nichols], and after he was successfully secured Bean and Smith are seen sitting [Nichols] up and checking on his ability to breathe,” Bean’s attorney claimed in the motion for the accused murderer. “…Video evidence shows that not every officer participated in the arrest with the same conduct. Unfortunately, joint trials may end with a result that weighs all conduct the same, and a less culpable defendant may be unfairly and unduly prejudiced by the actions or evidence related to a more heavily involved co-defendant.”
The motion continued: “The indictment lists charges that allegedly took place at both points of interaction with [Nichols], and the charges are levied against all 5 officers. However, Bean and Mills were over 1 mile away when the initial interaction took place.”
The motion also added: “Such complexity can be daunting to a jury and diminishes their ability to assess each defendant individually. When a case is being tried with multiple defendants who have been charged with multiple offenses, the sheer volume of evidence, along with the arguments for and against each piece of evidence could potentially be a source of confusion.”
Smith’s lawyer made similar claims in his motion.
“The defense of Smith will be prejudiced by including Smith in the trial of the other defendants who may be found to be culpable for conduct that arose at a scene where Smith was not present,” Smith’s motion said in part. “The jury could likely determine that the conduct of other defendants was so culpable and inflammatory that Smith could be found guilty, not based on evidence against Smith, but the evidence against other defendants. Therefore, Smith, as a co-defendant, finds himself in an antagonistic posture with one, some or all of the other co-defendants.”
All five of the defendants stand charged with second-degree murder, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, aggravated assault, two counts of official misconduct and one count of official oppression.
Tyre Nichols’ autopsy results
The official autopsy report for Nichols was shared with the family in May, revealing that he “died of brain injuries from blunt force trauma.” The report also revealed that Nichols’ blood alcohol level was .049, well below the legal limit of .08 in the state of Tennessee. The findings about Nichols’ blood alcohol level contradict first responders’ accounts that Nichols was drunk and high at the time of his death. The autopsy is set to be released to the public soon.
Nationally renowned civil rights and personal injury attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci issued a statement following the family of Nichols being briefed on his autopsy results by Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy.
“The legal team representing the family of Nichols acknowledges the release of the medical examiner’s report, the contents of which are highly consistent with our own reporting back in January of this year. We know now what we knew then. Tyre Nichols died from blunt force trauma and the manner of death was homicide. The official autopsy report further propels our commitment to seeking justice for this senseless tragedy.”
On Tuesday, Mulroy decided not to charge Preston Hemphill, one of the former officers who was involved in the incident that ended with Nichols losing his life. Mulroy said he didn’t believe criminal charges were appropriate for Hemphill since he was not at the second scene where officers took turns beating Nichols.
“By no means do we endorse the conduct of Officer Hemphill,” Mulroy said. “Note that the Memphis Police Department did, in fact, take administrative action against Mr. Hemphill…But we do not believe that criminal charges are appropriate. Mr. Hemphill was not present for the initial traffic stop, nor was he present when the other officers removed Mr. Nichols forcibly from his car and put him on the ground…He had to make his decisions based on what he knew, or what he thought was happening, and was following the lead of other officers.”
A federal lawsuit was filed in April by Nichols’ family against the city of Memphis and its police department. According to the $550 million suit, the officers who brutally beat Nichols, causing his death, were “unqualified, untrained, and unsupervised” and the beating was the “direct and foreseeable product of the unconstitutional policies, practices, customs, and deliberate indifference of the City of Memphis and its police officials.” The suit also compared Nichols’ beating to the murder of Emmett Till, calling the officers who beat him “a modern-day lynch mob.”
“Unlike Till, this lynching was carried out by those adorned in department sweatshirts and vests and their actions were sanctioned – expressly and implicitly – by the City of Memphis,” the suit said.
Family attorney Ben Crump said the suit should serve as a message to police around the country.
“This landmark lawsuit is not only to get the justice for Tyre Nichols in the civil courts but it is also a message that is being sent to cities all across America who have these police oppression units that have been given the license by city leaders to go in and terrorize Black and brown communities,” said Crump at a news conference.
Ex-Memphis police officers decertified
The four ex-Memphis police officers charged in the death of Nichols will never work as enforcement in the state of Tennessee again.
Last month, the Peace Officer Standards & Training Commission voted to decertify former officers Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin and Justin Smith. Former officer Desmond Mills surrendered his certification, which was then approved by the panel.
The vote came after the MPD requested the decertification of seven of the former Memphis officers involved.
According to AP, none of the fired officers attended their hearings with the commission prior to Friday’s vote.
Three officers have yet to have their decertification hearing before the commission and one has retired.
Outrage after officer involved in the death of Tyre Nichols retires
A Memphis police officer who was on the scene when Nichols was brutally beaten by police was allowed to retire before he was expected to be fired.
According to Memphis City Council Vice Chairman JB Smiley, senior officer Lt. DeWayne Smith retired just one day before a disciplinary hearing on the case. Nationally renowned civil rights attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci called Lt. Smith’s move to resign before he was held accountable cowardice and urged officials to take action.
“The Nichols family and their legal team are deeply disturbed that Memphis Police allowed and accepted the retirement of Lt. Dewayne Smith, in light of his immediately pending disciplinary hearing for his decisions and behavior related to Tyre Nichols’ death,” the lawyers wrote in a statement. “We believe Lt. Smith was the highest-ranking officer at the scene after the brutal beating, and we’ve seen that Smith observed Tyre’s dire medical condition and did not render or direct immediate medical attention.”
Crump and Romanucci also claim that Smith mishandled the scene and lied to Tyre’s parents after the brutal beating that took his life.
“Further, police reports indicate Smith failed to fully assess the scene, or examine the facts behind the officers’ narrative, which was false,” the lawyers wrote.
“Tyre’s parents believe Smith was one of the first officers who came to their house and told them about Tyre’s beating, said Tyre was involved in a DUI or on drugs, and did not tell them about the severity of the situation or allow them to see their son. In fact, Tyre’s mother asked if she could see her son in the hospital and Lt. Smith told her no. We call for Memphis police and officials to do everything in their power to hold Lt. Smith and all of those involved fully accountable and not allow Lt. Smith to cowardly sidestep the consequences of his actions. His cowardice in resigning and not facing his own disciplinary board to defend himself is not an end-around on accountability or reckoning.”
Judge blocks release of more Tyre Nichols arrest videos
There is outrage after a judge blocked the release of more than 20 hours of additional video evidence from the brutal arrest of Nichols that led to the young Black man’s death in Memphis in January.
The video footage had been scheduled to be released on Wednesday.
The release of the evidence has been delayed indefinitely, according to the court order that said in part: “The release of this information shall be subject to further orders of the court and, in the public interest, will be ordered as soon as practicable.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who delivered the eulogy at Nichols’ funeral, described the delay as being unacceptable.
“Delaying the release of this footage is delaying justice for Tyre Nichols and his family,” Sharpton said in a statement emailed to NewsOne. “The first round of body camera footage was disturbing on its own – and should be enough to convict all officers charged with this murder. What else are these cops worried this new footage is going to show?”
Sharpton added: “To tell the public you will release more evidence and then pull it back at the 11th hour only causes more frustration for a city still reeling from this senseless killing.”
The court order was issued on the same day that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it plans to conduct a review of MPD’s policies as they pertain to the use of force, strategies for de-escalating and specialized units like the one involved in Nichols’ brutal arrest.
“In the wake of Tyre Nichols’s tragic death, the Justice Department has heard from police chiefs across the country who are assessing the use of specialized units and, where used, appropriate management, oversight and accountability for such units,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement on Wednesday.
One day earlier, the city of Memphis passed five public safety ordinances on data transparency, traffic stops and police oversight, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported.
Ex-EMT blames the police
Former Memphis EMT Robert Long, who was fired after the fatal beating of Nichols, testified last week in front of the Tennessee Emergency Medical Services Board.
During his testimony, he told the board when arrived on the scene police were “impeding patient care, refusing to free Nichols from his handcuffs in order for him to receive aid.
Long continued to detail his account of events from the Jan. 7 incident which resulted in the death of Nichols. He testified that after arriving on the scene, he did a visual assessment of Nichols and noticed he was beaten pretty badly. When he asked Nichols what happened, Nichols responded, “I want to stand up and be uncuffed.” When Long asked the police what happened, they responded, “He ran from us.”
He then told the board that MPD refused to take the handcuff off Nichols.
“MPD is leaning over the patient in his face saying loudly that the patient is not going anywhere and that they are not going to uncuff him, impeding patient care,” said Long.
Long also told the board that because Nichols was handcuffed, it made it difficult to check his vitals.
Long, his partner JaMichael Sandridge and another EMT Lt. Michelle Whitaker, were all fired for their inaction in response to the brutal beating of Nichols.
A fourth Memphis Fire Department employee is also under investigation.
Memphis Chief Legal Officer Jennifer Sink confirmed the investigation to reporters last month but says her staff hasn’t decided on the consequences the employee may face.
According to AP, Sink also said the employee arrived on the scene a lot later than others “and provided medical care and transported Mr. Nichols to the hospital.”
The name of the employee hasn’t been released to the public, but Sink reassured reporters she was taking the “situation very seriously.”
“We are doing a very thorough investigation because we want to make sure that everybody understands what their role is and what the expectations are for them in a situation like this,” said Sink.
“Some of them are minor players and some of them are major players. But everybody had a role, and they’re expected to perform that role in accordance with policies or training and our expectations.”
Accused murderers have their day in court
The five former police officers accused of murdering Nichols are scheduled to be in a Memphis courtroom on Friday, making it their first appearances before a judge in the case, the Associated Press reported.
Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith, who were all charged with second-degree murder for Nichols’ death, are expected to be in Shelby County Criminal Court with their lawyers more than three weeks after they were fired for their violent roles stemming from a traffic stop Jan. 7. Nichols died from his injuries Jan. 10.
All five men are Black and have also been charged with aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression.
Their court appearances follow two other Memphis police officers who were suspended without pay after it was revealed they tried to conceal their roles in the traffic stop.
From ABC News:
The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office announced in a press release Wednesday that Johntavious Bowers and Jeremy Watkins, who have been deputies since June 2021, were suspended without pay for five days after an administrative investigation into their conduct. The sheriff’s office said both Bowers and Watkins “appeared on the scene following the physical confrontation” on Jan. 7 between Memphis police officers and Nichols, who died from his injuries in a local hospital three days later.
A “thorough review of the circumstances” determined that the two deputies violated several regulations, the sheriff’s office said. Both Bowers and Watkins violated radio communication procedures, mobile video recording system procedures as well as patrol field job duties and responsibilities. Watkins also violated a fourth regulation: operational responsibility of daily activity log at 201 Poplar, according to the sheriff’s office.
The suspensions indicate the investigation is ongoing and possibly widening as the fallout affects other city agencies.
Firefighters union defends personnel involved in traffic stop
The head of the Memphis Fire Fighters Association recently backed the EMTs who were fired after the tragic death of Nichols at the hands of police.
According to AP, Thomas Malone, the head of the union, said the employees who arrived on the scene the night Nichols was brutally beaten weren’t given enough information as they responded to the call for medical help.
“Our members were not given adequate information upon dispatch or upon arrival of the scene,” Malone wrote in a letter to city councilmembers. “Quite frankly, there was information withheld by those already on the scene which caused our members to handle things differently than they should have.”
Malone also defended the entire fire department, assuring that its employees “serve this city and its citizens with purpose and intent each and every day.”
Three fire department employees were fired and 13 police officers have been disciplined after the death of Nichols. Five former police officers have been charged with murder.
Former officer says he used proper training during Tyre Nichols’ arrest
One of the former officers involved in the traffic stop and deadly beating of Tyre Nichols says he believed he used proper department training and tactics during Nichols’ arrest.
During an MPD hearing, which took place after Nichols’ death, ex-officer Justin Smith said he believed he handled Nichols’ arrest by the book.
“It is my contention that I personally utilized the training and defensive tactics provided to me as a Memphis police officer in attempting to handcuff (Nichols),” Smith wrote in the statement.
Smith’s written statement came as a part of MPD’s internal investigation and was obtained by the Memphis Commercial Appeal through a public records request.
Smith also never mentioned the use of punches, kicks or baton strikes in his description of events. He also “categorically” denied “utilizing any defensive weapons other than OC spray (pepper spray).”
But body camera footage seems to contradict Smith’s statement.
Since Nichols’ death, other community members who had encounters with Memphis Police are coming forward.
According to AP, Monterrious Harris, 22, filed a lawsuit on Tuesday, accusing the same officers who murdered Nichols, of violating his rights during a similarly violent arrest three days before Nichols’ arrest.
According to the lawsuit, Harris’ car was “swarmed by a large group of assailants wearing black ski-masks, dressed in black clothing, brandishing guns, other weapons, hurling expletives and making threats to end his life if he did not exit his car.”
Harris believed he was being robbed and tried to back up his car before hitting something.
The lawsuit also stated that once Harris got out of the vehicle he was “grabbed, punched, kicked, and assaulted” for up to two minutes.”
The suit also accuses officers of fabricating evidence to support charges against Harris, including being a convicted felon in possession of a handgun, criminal trespass and evading arrest.