MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The five former Memphis Police Department (MPD) officers charged with second degree murder in the death of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols all plead not guilty, appearing in court for the first time Friday, Feb. 17. Judge James Jones Jr. moved to reset the court hearing for May 1.
"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 for you all to understand that the state of Tennessee, as well as each one of these defendants, have an absolute right to a fair trial."
Nichols was left unconscious, brutally beaten and unrecognizable after what was supposed to be a regular traffic stop, where he encountered several MPD officers serving on a specialized tactics unit called SCORPION Unit.
The officers accused, Demetrius Haley, Tadarrius Bean, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills, Jr. and Justin Smith were all charged with second degree murder, aggravated assault – acting in concert, aggravated kidnapping causing bodily injury, aggravated kidnapping while possessing a weapon, and other charges.
They all await their next scheduled court hearing.
D.A.'s office remarks following hearing
A prosecutor from the D.A.'s office said the case is tough, but that the main goal is to see the case through, giving due process.
D.A. Mulroy said there is a concern about the overall culture of policing that needs to be revisited.
"I think Chief Davis herself would acknowledge that there was lack of supervision on that night," Mulroy said when asked if supervision was a key matter in the the incident that led to Nichols' death.
Attorney Blake Ballin's remarks
Attorney Blake Ballin, who represents Desmond Mills Jr., said that this case "demands change in the way we police."
"It's also vital that we extend these demands to the way that we treat minorities and people of lower incomes in our criminal justice system," Ballin said. "Let's not forget that my client is a Black man in a courtroom in America."
Ballin went on to explain ways that Black individuals are heavily policed, wrongfully accused of crimes, and more.
Ballin said that he plans to make sure that the ways that the justice system has failed Tyre will not be the same ways the system fails his client, Mills.
"Justice for Mr. Nichols will not be at the expense of justice for Mr. Mills," Ballin said.
Attorney John Keith Perry's remarks
Attorney John Keith Perry is representing former officer Tadarrius Bean. Perry also spoke with media after the hearing.
Perry said that his client was "just doing his job" and that "if a person gets called on a scene you have a duty as a police officer to respond." He later doubled down.
"Tadarrius Bean never touched (Tyre) in any way striking him period."
Skycam and bodycam video from Nichols' encounter with the five police officers on January 7, which resulted in Nichol's death on January 10, contradicts Perry's claims that Bean never touched Nichols in a striking way.
When asked if his client has any regrets from that night, Perry said, "I think at this point he regrets being a Memphis police officer on that night."
Perry shared how he plans to approach defending his client in this case.
"Starting out with the notion that he's innocent until proven guilty which is a rubric for our society," Perry said.
Perry said that he has never seen a case where officers are charged with murder before a cause of death is released. According to Perry, there is currently "no definitive information indicating cause of death."
Bean's lawyer made further remarks saying that due process has not been taken in the case so far, and that the incident is an isolated event, and it does not speak for his client as a person.
"I stand by the notion that right now due process in this matter has not taken place properly," Perry said. "I stand by the fact that I am going to demand justice for Mr. Tadarrius Bean.
Perry said there has been no information presented at this time that indicates that his client committed murder.
Perry faced protestors head on while giving his remarks after the hearing. Several protestors interrupted him as he answered questions from the press. Protester Casio Montez talked over Perry at one point, saying "You represent a murderer, bro."
Attorney Ben Crump's remarks
Attorney Ben Crump and his team are representing Nichols' family in court.
Crump spoke of patterns he and his legal team have observed about the SCORPION Unit.
"The SCORPION Unit had a pattern and practice in doing this to Black people in Memphis," Crump said. "They do this stuff in marginalized communities of color. They don't do that in White communities to white citizens."
Crump also made a point to deny all rumors circulating about the case. Crump said that his legal team has access to the text messages that were sent from former officer Haley's phone, and based on evidence, the messages do not support the rumors that are being spread.
Crump said he and his legal team "are champions of due justice." He also said that Tyre Nichols' character was clearly shown in the video released to the public, stating that he was a calm spirit.
"Who Tyre was was (seen in that video). While everybody else was escalating using excessive force, Tyre was deescalating it," Crump said.
Crump also denied all claims that imply that Tyre was on drugs, stating that he was not using any drugs at all.
"We think that from the beginning it was a conspiracy to cover up this murder," Crump said.
Tyre Nichols' mother, RowVaughn Wells', remarks
Nichols' mother, RowVaughn Wells, detailed how she feels, now surpassing one month since her son's alleged murder.
"I feel very numb right now," Wells said. "And I'm waiting for this nightmare basically that I'm going through right now, I'm waiting for somebody to wake me up. I know that's not going to happen."
Wells said the officers have yet to acknowledge her in court.
"They didn't even have the courage to look at me in my face for what they did to my son."
As far as the not guilty plea, Wells said she wasn't surprised. She called the not guilty pleas "protocol". Wells said she will be present at every court date seeking justice for her son.
Wells said she has received an overwhelming amount of support from people she does not even know, and she said "God is holding (her) up", as well as knowing her son was a sacrifice for the greater good.
"Me being a mother, I have to stay as strong as I can for my other children," Wells said.
Van Turner's remarks
Van Turner, President of Memphis NAACP chapter, said he wants to see the immediate passing of the Tyre Nichols Reform Act
"We want the thoughts, we want the prayers, but we we want action," Turner said.
Turner also said he wants the bill that is moving through the Tennessee legislation, which seeks to remove community police oversight and civilian review boards in Memphis and Nashville, to be stopped.
According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) the bill would prevent the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) in Memphis from investigating use-of-force cases prior to July 2023 – which would include the beating and death of Tyre Nichols.
The NAACP also said the bill would prevent oversight and worsen community and police relationships by giving mayors too much power in choosing who sits on such a committee. The group also said the bill would threaten ongoing investigations in Memphis and Nashville, and allow officers “with known records of bad behavior” to remain working without penalty.
Most recently, the bill received a sponsor after being assigned to the criminal justice subcommittee in the Tennessee Senate.
Independent autopsy ordered by Nichols' family
Despite Perry stating that no cause of death has been released declaring how Nichols' died, Nichols' family ordered an independent autopsy that detailed that he died from extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating.
Nichols' mother previously mentioned his slender build, stating that he suffered from Chrohn's disease, which is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes digestive tract tissue swelling and inflammation, often resulting in abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition.
Crump said he and his team are waiting to get the completed, official autopsy report.
MPD and SCORPION Unit now under review
Nichols's encounter with the MPD officers serving on the SCORPION specialized tactics unit has law enforcement, Nichols' family, and protestors calling for full police reform.
The incident has been described as brutal, to say the least, and MPD has been under constant ridicule since the incident. So much so that the SCORPION Unit has since been disbanded.
District Attorney Steve Mulroy says his office is now reviewing cases involving MPD's SCORPION Unit after several people continue to come forward, claiming they too were victimized by the officers charged with Nichols' death.
A local law firm is now representing one of those victims alleging that he was violated by the fiver former officers charged just three days before Nichols' deadly encounter.
State Representatives G. A. Hardaway and Joe Towns, as well as other local leaders said they would make an announcement regarding an investigation into MPD's conduct. That press conference was held Friday, Feb. 17 at the NAACP office located at 588 Vance Ave. at 2 p.m.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has called for an outside review of the Memphis Police Department amid the investigation into Nichols’ death.
Ben Crump also held another news conference Friday at 1 p.m. requesting the the Department of Justice investigate the death of Gershun Freeman, who died last October by what was classified as a homicide while being held in Shelby County Jail after an altercation with jail officers.
Freeman's autopsy said he was found with multiple bruises, a stab wound to the back and deep cuts.
Charges and disciplinary actions taken for five former officers charged and one additional former officer
Along with second degree murder, each of the five officers charged, who served for the MPD for at least five years or less, was charged with aggravated assault – acting in concert, aggravated kidnapping causing bodily injury, aggravated kidnapping while possessing a weapon, official misconduct thru unauthorized exercising of official power, official misconduct thru failure to perform a duty imposed by law, and official oppression.
The five officers, as well as another former MPD officer Preston Hemphill, all await a decision from the State of Tennessee’s Peace Officers Standards and Training (“POST”) Commission on whether they will be decertified, which will prevent them from ever working as police officers again in the state of Tennessee.
Although only five officers currently face criminal charges for Nichols' alleged murder, Hemphill, the sixth former officer who served on the SCORPION Unit who was involved in Nichols' death, was also fired.
Hemphill, who was at the scene of Nichols' first encounter with MPD, currently does not face any criminal charges, but D.A. Mulroy said the DA's investigation, as well as the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's investigation, is still ongoing, and more criminal charges may be filed.
Hemphill and the five officers charged all made false reports in their Response to Resistance forms, which require officers to give true accounts in entirety of incidents where persons arrested resist arrest.
To read the decertification documents that include the disciplinary report that details the five former officer's false reports of the encounter as well as their violations of protocol, click here.
For Hemphill's decertification documents, click here.
Other law enforcement fired or facing disciplinary action
According to Chief C. J. Davis, there were between 15 to 20 law enforcement personnel from multiple departments on the scene at some point during Nichols' encounter with police.
So far, three Memphis Fire Department employees were also fired for violating MFD policies and protocols, but have not been charged. Two of those employees - both EMTS - had their licenses suspended February 3.
Two Shelby County Sheriff’s deputies were also relieved of duty with pay pending investigation, but not charged. On Thursday, Feb. 16, Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner said those two sheriffs have been suspended for five days without pay, which started February 15, but he has not received any indication from D.A. Mulroy that those sheriffs will be charged.
The city released video from the Jan. 7 arrest on Friday, Jan. 27. Nichols died three days after the beating.