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What was Tyre Nichols pulled over for?

Reasons for the traffic stop that led to the violent arrest and death of the 29-year-old Black man have been inconsistent

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
,Graeme Massie
Tuesday 07 February 2023 21:19 GMT
Tyre Nichols' mother says Memphis police beat her son 'to a pulp'

On 27 January, Memphis officials released video footage of the violent arrest of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who died three days after being severely beaten during a traffic stop.

The young man’s death has caused deep pain for the Nichols family, and has sparked a city-wide scandal.

Five Memphis Police Department officers – Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr, and Justin Smith – were fired from the department and now face second-degree murder charges. A sixth officer in the case was also fired, while seven others are facing discipline.

Vice President Kamala Harris and members of Congress attended his funeral on 1 February, where the Rev Al Sharpton delivered a eulogy. Members of Nichols’ family are slated to attend President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address as guests of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Body-worn camera footage shows officers dragging Nichols from his car and firing a taser weapon at him before he fled the scene on foot.

After they catch up with him, footage shows them beating, kicking and punching Nichols before leaving him slumped against a police car.

Here’s what we know about the traffic stop where things began:

Why was Nichols stopped?

The Memphis Police Department initially said that Nichols was pulled over around 8.30pm local time for “recklessdriving.”

“As officers approached the driver of the vehicle, a confrontation occurred, and the suspect fled the scene on foot,” police said at the time. “Officers pursued the suspect and again attempted to take the suspect into custody. While attempting to take the suspect into custody, another confrontation occurred; however, the suspect was ultimately apprehended.”

But footage of the attack contradicts early reports, and police have walked back those claims.

“I’m going to be honest with you about the stop itself. What was said was there was witnessing of what was considered reckless driving,” police chief Cerelyn Davis told CNN. “We’ve looked at cameras. We’ve looked at body worn cameras. Even if something occurred prior to this stop, we’ve been unable to substantiate it.”

She added: “We’ve taken a pretty extensive look to determine what that probable cause was and we have not been able to substantiate that ... It doesn’t mean that something didn’t happen, but there’s no proof.”

The Nichols family is also skeptical of the police version of events.

Tyre Nichols died three days after he was beaten by the officers

“We don’t know anything other than we got to see in the video,” Ben Crump, attorney for the Nichols family, said on during a press conference following the release of the footage.

“They say he was driving recklessly,” he added. “We have to see it. We certainly can’t take their word for it.”

What we do know is that after the stop began, police and Nichols engaged in some kind of physical altercation, and at one point Nichols fled police.

Police dispatch audio obtained by Fox 13 captures officers saying, “We have one black male running,” while other tape obtained by CBS News records another police official say, “He’s fighting at this time.”

All told, according to the MPD, two different altercations occurred between Nichols and officers over the course of the stop, the latter taking place just blocks from Nichols’s home.

After the stop, Nichols was hospitalised and photographed with severe bruising and cuts. He eventually died on 10 January.

An outside autopsy showed his body underwent “extensive bleeding.”

Family attorney Antonio Romanucci said that Nichols was treated like “a human piñata” by the officers.

“(It) is appalling. It is deplorable. It is heinous,” Mr Crump added.

What the footage shows

Footage – taken from police bodycam as well as police sky camera video – was released by Memphis officials on 27 January.

It shows the Black man being punched, kicked, beaten with batons and tasered by the group of officers.

In the aftermath – as Nichols lay slumped against a police car – the officers were heard joking about their use of force.

The first part of the hour-long video showed the officers pulling over the young man, forcing him out of the vehicle and onto the floor.

One of them is heard to say: “B**** put your hands behind your back before I break them.”

“I’m going to knock your ass the f*** out,” an officer can be heard saying.

Nichols responds: “You guys are really doing a lot right now. I’m just trying to go home.”

The video shows the officers trying to use their Tasers on Nichols, who then runs from the scene.

When the first group of officers hears over their radios that the young man has been caught, another can be heard saying: “I hope they stomp his ass.”

Pole camera footage shows the officers beating Tyre Nichols

Officers who caught up with Nichols then wrestled him to the ground and pepper spray was seemingly deployed in Nichols’s face.

“I am going to baton the f**k*out of you,” one officer can be heard shouting. Another says, “Watch out, I’ll spray your a** again.”

Nichols on the ground can be heard crying out loudly for his mother.

The officers then can be heard on bodycam video repeatedly shouting at Nichols, “Give me your f****** hands.”

Another officer can be heard saying, “That motherf***** made me spray myself” with pepper spray.

The video then showed Nichols slumped against a car while the officers stood around laughing, recounting the arrest and what they had done to capture him.

“I jumped in, started rocking him,” one officer can be heard bragging as another claimed that Nichols put his hand on their gun.

“He literally had his hand on my gun. That motherf***** was on there,” the officer stated.

In addition to the bodycam video from the officers, the city of Memphis also released video from a police camera attached to a light pole directly opposite the scene of the incident.

That camera, which featured no sound, showed Nichols was hit nine times in four minutes.

Protests unfold across America

Following the release of the videos, protests unfolded in Memphis and across the wider US, demanding justice for Nichols.

In downtown Memphis, a large crowd took to I-55 in the hours after the videos were published.

Demonstrators protest on Friday in Washington

Meanwhile, groups of protesters also gathered in New York’s Times Square, Washington DC and Atlanta, Georgia.

President Biden called the video “horrific” and said it was a “painful reminder” of the fear Black and Brown Americans face regularly, while calling for peaceful demonstrations.

“Like so many, I was outraged and deeply pained to see the horrific video of the beating that resulted in Tyre Nichols’ death,” the president said in a statement. “It is yet another painful reminder of the profound fear and trauma, the pain, and the exhaustion that Black and Brown Americans experience every single day.”

And the president added: “We must do everything in our power to ensure our criminal justice system lives up to the promise of fair and impartial justice, equal treatment, and dignity for all.

“Real and lasting change will only come if we take action to prevent tragedies like this from ever happening again,” he said.

Nichols’ family were invited to attend Mr Biden’s State of the Union address on 7 January.

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