Five former Memphis police officers were charged Tuesday with federal civil rights violations in the beating death of Tyre Nichols as they continue to fight second-degree murder charges in state courts arising from the killing.
Tadarrius Bean, Desmond Mills, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin and Justin Smith were indicted in U.S. District Court in Memphis. The four-count indictment charges them with deprivation of rights under the color of law through excessive force and failure to intervene, and through deliberate indifference; conspiracy to witness tampering; and obstruction of justice through witness tampering.
The charges come nine months after the violent beating during a Jan. 7 traffic stop near Nichols’ Memphis home, in which they punched, kicked and slugged the 29-year-old with a baton as he yelled for his mother. Nichols died at a hospital three days later. The five former officers, all Black like Nichols, have pleaded not guilty to state charges of second-degree murder and other alleged offenses in the case.
“We all heard Mr. Nichols cry out for his mother and say ‘I’m just trying to go home,’” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a video statement after the indictment. “Tyre Nichols should be alive today.”
U.S. Attorney Kevin Ritz in West Tennessee said at an afternoon news briefing that the state and federal cases are on separate tracks. Ritz declined to predict how quickly they would proceed.
Kristen Clarke, who leads the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division, said at the appearance that the five former officers used excessive force, failed to advise medical personnel about Nichols’ injuries and conspired to cover up their misconduct.
“In our country, no one is above the law,” she said, adding she met earlier Tuesday with Nichols’ mother and stepfather. Caught on police video, the Nichols beating was one in a string of violent encounters between police and Black people that sparked protests and renewed debate about police brutality and police reform in the U.S.
Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, said she was surprised that the federal charges “happened so quickly.” The investigation that led to the indictment was announced in the weeks after the Jan. 7 beating death.