MEMPHIS: Tyre Nichols repeatedly cried, “Mom! Mom!” as the five Memphis police officers now charged with the Black motorist's murder pummeled him with kicks, punches, and baton blows after a January 7 traffic stop, video released by the city on Friday showed.
The video from police body-worn cameras and a camera mounted on a utility pole were posted online a day after the officers were charged with second-degree murder, assault, kidnapping, official misconduct and oppression in Nichols' death.
The officers, all Black, were dismissed from the police department last week. Nichols, 29, was hospitalised and died of his injuries three days after the confrontation in the city where he lived with his mother and stepfather and worked at FedEx.
The four video clips chronicle an aggressive escalation of violence directed at a motorist who police had initially said they pulled over for reckless driving. The police chief has since said the cause for the stop has not been substantiated.
The beatings appeared to continue far beyond a point where Nichols could pose any threat to police. At one stage, two officers hold him upright as another punches him repeatedly in the face, while other officers on the scene stand by without intervening.
The ordeal captured in the video has transformed Nichols, the father of a 4-year-old, into the latest face of a US racial justice movement galvanized by the 2020 killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
Nichols has been described by friends and family as an affable, accomplished skateboarder who recently enrolled in a photography class. Raised in Sacramento, California, he moved to the Memphis area before the coronavirus pandemic.
Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner said after seeing the video he had “concerns about two deputies who appeared on the scene” following Nichols' arrest. Those deputies have been relieved of duty pending the outcome of an internal investigation, he said on Twitter.
After the video's release Friday evening, several dozen demonstrators in Memphis marched along Interstate 55, shutting down traffic near a bridge that crosses the Mississippi River into Arkansas.
Three people were arrested for damaging a police vehicle during protests in Times Square, a spokesperson for the New York City Police Department said. Demonstrations appeared largely peaceful in other cities, including Atlanta, Washington and Sacramento.
The first video released on Friday shows officers dragging Nichols from the driver's seat of his car stopped at an intersection as he yells, “I didn't do anything … I am just trying to go home.” Officers force him to the ground as they order him to lie on his stomach and squirt him in the face with pepper spray.
Nichols breaks free and sprints away down a road with officers chasing him on foot. At least one fires a stun gun at him.
Other footage shows a subsequent struggle after officers catch up with Nichols again in a nearby neighbourhood. Two officers are seen holding him down as a third kicks him and a fourth delivers blows with what appears to be a baton before another punches Nichols.
Nichols is heard repeatedly screaming, “Mom! Mom!” as he struggles with officers. His mother has said her son was only about 80 yards (meters) from home when he was beaten.
A stretcher is seen arriving 19 minutes after the first emergency medical personnel get to the scene.
Memphis police chief Cerelyn Davis said before the video's release that it showed behaviours on the part of police officers “that defy humanity.”
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, representing Nichols' family, called for the police department to disband its SCORPIONS unit, a squad that is supposed to focus on violent street crime and to which at least some of the officers involved were assigned.
“No mother should go through what I am going through right now, no mother, to lose their child to the violent way that I lost my child,” said Nichols' mother, RowVaughn Wells.
President Joe Biden said he was “outraged” and “deeply pained” after watching the video.
Nichols' family and Biden appealed for calm in Memphis, a city of 628,000 where nearly 65% of residents are Black. Biden spoke with RowVaughn Wells and Rodney Wells, Nichols' stepfather, on Friday to express condolences, the White House said.
Nichols' death marked the latest high-profile instance of police officers accused of using excessive force in the deaths of Black people and other minorities in recent years.
Protests under the banner of the “Black Lives Matter” movement against racial injustice erupted globally following the May 2020 murder of Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes.
Antonio Romanucci, another lawyer for Nichols' family, told National Public Radio on Friday that Nichols was a strong supporter of Black Lives Matter and “basically died for his own cause.”
US Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday announced a federal civil rights investigation into Nichols' death.
Records show former officers Justin Smith, Desmond Mills Jr, Emmitt Martin III, Demetrius Haley and Tadarrius Bean were released on bond after they were booked into the Shelby County Jail on Thursday morning.
Defence attorney Blake Ballin, who represents Mills, said he and his client would review the videos “together at the appropriate time.” He has said Mills will plead not guilty, as has a lawyer for Martin. Attorneys for Smith, Bean and Haley could not be reached.