Memphis authorities released video footage Friday showing Tyre Nichols being beaten by police officers who held the Black motorist down and repeatedly struck him with their fists, boots and batons as he screamed for his mother and pleaded, “I just want to go home.”
The video is filled with violent moments showing the officers, who are also Black, chasing and pummeling Nichols and leaving him on the pavement propped against a squad car as they fist-bumped and celebrated their actions.
The footage emerged one day after the officers were charged with murder in Nichols’ death. The chilling images of another Black man dying at the hands of police provoked tough questions about the nation’s policing culture and raised the specter of renewed protests less than three years after a wave of demonstrations wracked the country.
The recordings shows police savagely beating the 29-year-old FedEx worker for three minutes while screaming profanities at him throughout the attack. The Nichols family legal team has likened the assault to the infamous 1991 police beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King.
After the first officer roughly pulls Nichols out of a car, Nichols can be heard saying, “I didn’t do anything,” as a group of officers begins to wrestle him to the ground.
“Get on the ground!,” one officer yells, as another is heard yelling “Tase him! Tase him!”
Nichols calmly replied soon after being wrestled to the pavement, “OK, I’m on the ground.” Moments later, as the officers continue to yell, Nichols says, “Man, I am on the ground.”
An officer yells, “Put your hands behind your back before I break your (expletive).” Moments later, an officer yells, “(Expletive), put your hands behind your back before I break them.”
“You guys are really doing a lot right now,” Nichols says loudly to the officers. “I’m just trying to go home.”
“Stop, I’m not doing anything,” he yells moment later.
The camera is briefly obscured, and then Nichols can be seen running as an officer fires a Taser at him. The officers then start chasing Nichols.
Other officers are called and a search ensues before Nichols is caught at another intersection. The officers beat him again, this time using a baton, kicking and punching him.
Security camera footage shows three officers surrounding Nichols as he lies in the street cornered between police cars, with a fourth officer nearby.
Two officers hold Nichols to the ground as he moves about, and then the third appears to kick him in the head. Nichols slumps more fully onto the pavement with all three officers surrounding him. The same officer kicks him again.
The fourth officer then walks over, unfurls a baton and holds it up at shoulder level as two officers hold Nichols upright, as if he were sitting.
“I’m going to baton the f--- out you,” one officer can be heard saying. His body camera shows him raise his baton while at least one other officer holds Nichols. The officer strikes Nichols on the back with the baton. He strikes strikes him again, and then a third time.
The other officers then appear to hoist Nichols to his feet, with him flopping like a doll, barely able to stay upright despite the bracing arms.
An officer then punches him in the face, as the officer with the baton continues to menace him. Nichols stumbles and turns, still held up by two officers. The officer who punched him then walks around to Nichols’ front and punches him three more times. Then Nichols collapses.
Two officers can then be seen atop Nichols on the ground, with a third nearby, for about 40 seconds. Three more officers then run up and one can be seen kicking Nichols on the ground.
At one point, as Nichols is slumped up against a car and none of the officers are rendering aid, the body camera footage shows a first-person view of one of them reaching down and tying his shoe.
It takes more than 20 minutes after Nichols is beaten and on the pavement before any sort of medical attention is provided to him, even though two fire department officers arrived on the scene with medical equipment within 10 minutes.
Cities across the country braced for large demonstrations. Nichols’ relatives urged supporters to protest peacefully.
Memphis Police Director Cerelyn Davis described the officers’ actions as “heinous, reckless and inhumane,” and said that her department has been unable to substantiate the reckless driving allegation that prompted the stop.
She told The Associated Press in an interview that there is no video of the traffic stop that shows Nichols recklessly driving.
During the initial stop, the video shows the officers were “already ramped up, at about a 10,” she said. The officers were “aggressive, loud, using profane language and probably scared Mr. Nichols from the very beginning.”
Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, warned supporters of the “horrific” nature of the video but pleaded for peace.
“I don’t want us burning up our city, tearing up the streets, because that’s not what my son stood for,” she said Thursday. “If you guys are here for me and Tyre, then you will protest peacefully.”
Speaking at the White House, President Joe Biden said Friday that he was “very concerned” about the prospect of violence and called for protests to remain peaceful.
Biden said he spoke with Nichols’ mother earlier in the day and told her that he was going to be “making a case” to Congress to pass the George Floyd Act “to get this under control.” The legislation, which has been stalled, is meant to tackle police misconduct and excessive force and boost federal and state accountability efforts.
Court records showed that all five former officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith — were taken into custody.
The officers each face charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression. Four of the five officers had posted bond and been released from custody by Friday morning, according to court and jail records.
Second-degree murder is punishable by 15 to 60 years in prison under Tennessee law.
Patrick Yoes, the national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, condemned the alleged actions of the Memphis officers.
“The event as described to us does not constitute legitimate police work or a traffic stop gone wrong. This is a criminal assault under the pretext of law,” Yoes said in a statement.
Rallies and demonstrations were planned Friday night in Memphis, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New York City, Portland, Oregon and Washington.
New York Mayor Eric Adams, a former police officer, said he and other mayors across the country had been briefed by the White House in advance of the video’s release, which he said would “trigger pain and sadness in many of us. It will make us angry.”
Romanucci and civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who also represents Nichols’ family, called on the police chief to disband the department’s so-called scorpion unit focused on street crime.
Davis said other officers are still being investigated for violating department policy. In addition, she said “a complete and independent review” will be conducted of the department’s specialized units, without providing further details.
As state and federal investigations continue, Davis promised the police department’s “full and complete cooperation.”