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Putting the firing of 5 MPD officers into perspective: Longtime Memphis journalist weighs in on death of Tyre Nichols

Five men are no longer MPD officers due to their involvement in a traffic stop that lead to 29-year-old Tyre Nichols' death.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Five officers fired — all at once — over the use of excessive force. 

Many in the city of Memphis haven't seen headlines like those to emerge after the Memphis Police Department (MPD) took disciplinary action for what happened at a Jan. 7 traffic stop. 

That stop resulted in the death of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols; drawing the attention of the NAACP, a TBI investigation, an FBI investigation and an internal MPD investigation now culminating as protesters continue to put pressure on the department to release body camera footage from Jan. 7.

Otis Sanford, a longtime reporter and professor in Memphis, weighed in on the firing of five Memphis police officers following the announcement by MPD Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis on Friday.

Sanford himself said has not seen anything like this in Memphis in more than 50 years.

“Well, I don’t think many people in Memphis have seen anything like this involving the MPD since 1971, frankly,” Sanford said. “When several officers and Shelby County Sheriffs Deputies were charged with the beating death of a teenager by the name Elton Hayes.”

Protestors have been calling for action from MPD since Tyre Nichols died on Jan. 10, following the traffic stop involving those fired MPD officers who have since been named.

  • Officer Tadarrius Bean, with MPD since 2020.
  • Officer Demetrius Haley, with MPD since 2020.
  • Officer Emmitt Martin III, with MPD since 2018.
  • Officer Desmond Mills Jr., with MPD since 2017.
  • Officer Justin Smith, with MPD since 2018.

Activists have signaled that they are shocked that all five of the fired officers were Black, this being yet another unprecedented encounter in the Mid-South.

“It is striking that all five officers are African American,” Sanford said. “It’s equally striking that they have only been on the force five years — some of them as recently as 2020.”

He also said the statement by Chief Davis shows a strong standing for the police department as they described the acts as "egregious" and an "excessive" use of force.

The firing of the officers comes as advocates continue to wait for body camera footage to be released to the public — Sanford said he believes it’s the public’s right to review the footage.

“The video, if it’s police body cam video, that’s public property,” he said. “The public has a right to see that and we should … still let the investigations play out, but the public deserves to see this and to see what our police officers are doing. That’s why we have body cam video so that the public can see how the police do their jobs.”

Meanwhile, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland plans to meet with the Nichols family and said that the City of Memphis spoke with their attorney Ben Crump. Late Friday afternoon, Crump announced a news conference set for Monday, Jan. 23. He said this conference will come after the family views the footage of the confrontation. 

District Attorney Steve Mulroy has asked the public for patience.

"I want to make sure we don't [release information] prematurely in a way that would compromise the ongoing investigation,” Mulroy said. I'm committed to transparency and we are going to try to release what information we can, as soon as we can."

Community members continue to wait for any available footage that is expected to be released Monday.

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