Memphis officials: 7 police officers suspended in connection with Tyre Nichols beating
In the latest fallout from the police beating death of Tyre Nichols, Memphis officials on Monday announced that three members of the city’s fire department have been fired and confirmed that two police officers have been suspended since shortly after the deadly incident, including one who used his Taser on Nichols.
In all, seven police officers have been stripped of their badges, either permanently or temporarily, for their involvement in the Jan. 7 encounter with Nichols — five officers who were fired from the police force and charged with murder for Nichols’ death, and the two suspended officers.
The firings and suspensions were announced as local prosecutors said they had not ruled out criminal charges against the officer who deployed his Taser, Preston Hemphill, or others involved in the violent encounter . Officials have not identified the seventh officer or explained the reason for the suspension.
“We are looking at all individuals involved in the events leading up to, during, and after the beating of Tyre Nichols,” the Shelby County District Attorney’s office said in a statement. “While we are committed to transparency, we cannot comment on the details of an ongoing investigation or give previews of what charges we may or may not bring.”
Erica Williams, a spokeswoman for the office said that there was no timeline for when decisions would be made about filing further charges.
“We are working with TBI, who’s investigating this, so we have to get information from them,” Williams said, referring to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
Hemphill, who joined the force in 2018, was placed on administrative leave shortly after the Police Department began its investigation into the arrest of Nichols, 29, in a neighborhood on the southeast side of Memphis. Memphis police officials have not said what role Hemphill played in the incident but attorney Lee Gerald, who said in a statement that he represents Hemphill, claimed he was the third officer to arrive “at the initial stop of Mr. Nichols.”
Gerald said one of the four videos city officials released of the incident was recorded by the camera worn by Hemphill. In it, Hemphill and others are seen angrily ordering Nichols from his car at a traffic light and screaming at him to get on the ground while Nichols asks what he has done wrong. In the video, officers forcibly try to restrain Nichols and Hemphill fires his Taser as Nichols gets to his feet and flees. The beating, which was captured on other videos, occurred when other officers caught up to Nichols several minutes later.
Nichols died in a hospital a few days later from injuries he suffered when officers kicked and punched him while he was being restrained.
“As per departmental regulations Officer Hemphill activated his bodycam,” Gerald said in the statement. “He was never present at the second scene. He is cooperating with officials in this investigation.”
Officials also have not detailed what led police to stop Nichols in the first place.
The police department said in a statement that internal affairs investigators interviewed more than 30 people in their probe, adding that “there are numerous charges still developing that are impending.”
The statement said that officials expect the “next phase of personnel actions in the coming days.”
The “actions and inactions” of Hemphill and the unnamed seventh officer remain under investigation, officials said.
Fire officials announced the terminations of emergency medical technicians Robert Long and JaMichael Sandridge, and Lt. Michelle Whitaker in a statement posted on the department’s Twitter account.
The statement said that the trio were dispatched to the call about 8:32 p.m. and after responding to the original site of the traffic stop, they were directed to a nearby street where they found Nichols handcuffed and leaning against a police vehicle. An internal investigation concluded that Long and Sandridge were told they were responding to a call involving a person who had been pepper-sprayed, but when they arrived, they “failed to conduct an adequate patient assessment of Mr. Nichols.”
In a video released by the city that was recorded by a pole-mounted camera, medical personnel can be seen arriving after the beating, and for several minutes, not tending to Nichols, who was visibly injured. An ambulance was eventually summoned to the scene.
The department probe found that the EMTs and lieutenant “violated numerous (department) policies and procedures,” the statement said. “Their actions or inactions on the scene that night do not meet the expectations of the Memphis Fire Department and are not reflective of the outstanding service the men and women of the Memphis Fire Department provide daily in our community,”
Nichols died at an area hospital three days after a traffic stop that spiraled into the gruesome assault in which officers kicked, punched and pepper- sprayed the 29-year-old Nichols while he was being restrained by other officers. The killing has reignited debate over tactics used by specialized crime suppression units. The officers who pulled Nichols over for an unspecified traffic violation were members of one such team — nicknamed the Scorpion unit — which has since been disbanded.
Cerelyn “CJ” Davis, the police chief, initially told reporters that she wanted to keep the unit intact and would not scuttle it because a few officers had committed “some egregious act.”
But she reversed her decision Saturday, after meeting with members of the unit and “listening intently to the family of Tyre Nichols, community leaders, and officers who have done quality work in their assignments,” according to a department news release.
A source familiar with the case said that Hemphill was also a member of the Scorpion unit, since last October.
After a review of video footage of the beating, five of the involved officers were fired and charged with murder for Nichols’ death. In the weeks since the incident, local activists have pushed for police Davis to terminate any other officers who were present as well.
A spokesperson for the Police Department said Hemphill’s suspension was not announced sooner because the officer had not been fired and the department typically releases information about officers who are relieved of duty after an investigation ends.
The move was the latest fallout from the case. Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. said in a tweet that he had suspended two deputies pending the outcome of an internal investigation into their actions “following the physical confrontation between police and Tyre Nichols.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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