Memphis police accused of ‘shielding’ white officer involved in Tyre Nichols beating
The only known white officer involved in the brutal beating and subsequent death of Tyre Nichols was “shielded and protected” by Memphis Police Department, attorneys for the family said.
Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, lawyers who are defending the Nichols family, denounced the Memphis police for allegedly giving special treatment to a white official by placing him on leave despite his involvement.
“The news today from Memphis officials that officer Preston Hemphill was reportedly relieved of duty weeks ago, but not yet terminated or charged is extremely disappointing,” they said in a joint statement.
The Memphis Police Department announced that a seventh officer – Preston Hemphill – was being put on administrative leave “pending the outcome of the investigation”.
The police department confirmed action on two more officers. They previously announced five officers – all of whom are Black – who were fired and indicted on second-degree murder charges.
Mr Hemphill has been on administrative leave since the beginning of the case while he faced an internal investigation.
Nichols’ family lawyers have questioned why his identity was only coming to light now and accused the department of not being “honest in their actions”.
“Why is his identity and the role he played in Tyre’s death just now coming to light? We have asked from the beginning that the Memphis Police Department be transparent with the family and the community – this news seems to indicate that they haven’t risen to the occasion,” they said in a joint statement.
“It certainly begs the question why the white officer involved in this brutal attack was shielded and protected from the public eye, and to date, from sufficient discipline and accountability,” the statement said.
Lee Gerald, an attorney for Mr Hemphill, confirmed that his client was the third officer at Nichols’ first traffic stop but he was never present at the second scene that escalated to the beating.
“As per departmental regulations officer Hemphill activated his bodycam,” Mr Gerald said in a statement. “He was never present at the second scene. He is cooperating with officials in this investigation.”
Body-camera footage of the ordeal was released by the city at 7pm ET on Friday. The video showed the initial traffic stop when officers dragged Nichols from his car and fired a taser weapon at him before he fled the scene on foot and the beating at the second site.
One of the body-cam footage shows Mr Hemphill at the initial stop “violently pulling Nichols from his car while hitting him on the ground with a taser, later saying, ‘I hope they stomp his ass’ after Nichols ran away”, the lawyers said.
Another officer who was put on leave has not been publicly identified.
Mr Romanucci said on CNN: “This is such a gross collapse of the system that we’re supposed to trust, that it really is unspeakable. (Nichols’ family is) trying to absorb all of this.”
Shelby County district attorney Steve Mulroy said officials who released the video of Nichols’ beating without filing charges against involved officers knew it could be “incendiary”.
“The best solution was to expedite the investigation and to expedite the consideration of charges so that the charges could come first and then the release of the video,” he said.