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5 former Memphis police officers plead not guilty to murder in Tyre Nichols’ death

A large video screens shows an image of Tyre Nichols with his name and the years 1993-2023
The screen at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans honors Tyre Nichols before an NBA game between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Washington Wizards on Jan. 28.
(Matthew Hinton / Associated Press)
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Five former Memphis police officers pleaded not guilty Friday to second-degree murder and other charges in the violent arrest and death of Tyre Nichols.

Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith made their first court appearances with their lawyers before a judge in Shelby County Criminal Court. They were fired after an internal police investigation into the Jan. 7 arrest of Nichols, who died in a hospital three days later.

The five entered not-guilty pleas to charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression. They are all out on bond. Their next hearing has been scheduled for May 1.

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Addressing the courtroom, Judge James Jones Jr. asked for everyone’s “continued patience” and “continued civility,” saying the case may “take some time.”

“We understand that there may be some high emotions in this case, but we ask that you continue to be patient with us,” Jones said. “Everyone involved wants this case to be concluded as quickly as possible. But it’s important ... to understand that the state of Tennessee, as well as each one of these defendants, have an absolute right to a fair trial.”

Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, and stepfather, Rodney Wells, were in court with their lawyer, Benjamin Crump.

The police killing of Nichols is the latest to prompt nationwide protests and renew intense public discussion about police brutality. Nichols, 29, was Black, as are all five officers charged in his death.

Nichols was stopped by police for an alleged traffic violation and was pulled out of his car by officers who used profanity, with at least one brandishing a gun. An officer fired a stun gun at Nichols, but video released by the city shows Nichols then ran toward his nearby home.

Officers from a crime-suppression team known as Scorpion caught Nichols and punched, kicked and hit him with a baton as he yelled for his mother.

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Officers then stood by and talked as an injured Nichols struggled on the ground, video showed. One officer took photos of him propped up against an unmarked police car, video and records showed.

Nichols was taken to a hospital in an ambulance that left the site of the beating 27 minutes after emergency medical technicians arrived, authorities said.

Police said Nichols had been suspected of reckless driving, but no verified evidence of a traffic violation has emerged in public documents or in video.

Memphis Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis has said she has seen no evidence justifying the stop or the officers’ response. She disbanded the Scorpion unit, which she created in November 2021, after Nichols’ death.

A white officer involved in the initial traffic stop has also been fired, and an unidentified officer has been suspended.

Three Memphis Fire Department employees who were present at the site of the arrest have been fired as well. Two Shelby County sheriff’s deputies who were there have been suspended without pay.

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Nichols’ family, its lawyers, community leaders and activists have called for changes in the Memphis Police Department on issues related to traffic stops, use of force, transparency and other policies.

Some of the relatives and lawyers have praised Davis and the department for the swiftness of their response and said it should be the standard for other investigations into police brutality.

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