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'They will be held accountable,' attorney says of officers accused of killing Tyre Nichols

'They will be held accountable,' attorney says of officers accused of killing Tyre Nichols (CNN Newsource)
'They will be held accountable,' attorney says of officers accused of killing Tyre Nichols (CNN Newsource)
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Five Tennessee cops have been charged with the murder of a Black man who died days after a confrontation with officers during a traffic stop.

The five former Memphis police officers, who are all also Black, have been charged with second-degree murder and additional crimes in Tyre Nichols' Jan. 7 arrest after a use-of-force investigation by Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agents.

Nichols' family, including his mother, RowVaughn Wells, and his stepfather, Rodney Wells, addressed the public during a news conference on Friday alongside civil rights attorney Ben Crump.

RowVaughn said she felt a sharp pain in her stomach the night her son was killed.

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That was my son's pain that I was feeling," she said.

RowVaughn said he loved photography and skateboarding. She described his as being an individual and his own person.

"My son was a beautiful soul," she said. "No one's perfect but he was damn near it."

RowVaughn also addressed the officers.

You disgraced your own families when you did this but I'm going to pray for you and your families," she said.

Crump said he applauds the district attorney for bringing charges against the officers. He vowed there will be swift justice.

They will be held accountable," he said, also noting that it doesn't make a difference that the officers are Black. "It is the culture that made them think they could do this," Crump said. "and we have to call out this culture every time we get a chance."

Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills, Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith are all in custody and charged with the following:

  • Second-degree murder
  • Aggravated assault
  • Aggravated kidnapping with bodily injury
  • Aggravated kidnapping in possession of a deadly weapon
  • Official misconduct
  • Official misconduct-refrain
  • Official oppression

Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said Thursday that although the officers each played different roles in the killing, “they are all responsible.”

Antonio Romanucci, another attorney, also spoke at the news conference. He said his goal is to make sure the Memphis Police Department's SCORPION UNIT be disbanded immediately, as the officers were members of the unit.

The video of the arrest will be released on Friday, according to the district attorney's office in Shelby County. Memphis Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said she expects people to react after its release.

Crump warned that the footage is emotional.

When you see this video, you'll see Tyre Nichols calling out for his mom," Crump said. "His last word on earth was 'mom.' He said, 'I want to go home.'"

RowVaughn said she hasn't watched the video but was told it is "horrific." She said parents should make sure their children don't watch it, either.

Please don't let them see it," she said.

Rodney asked the public to protest but to do so without making a disturbance.

Please, please protest but protest peacefully," he said.

Authorities in Washington, D.C. said they are preparing for possible protests following the release.

The Metropolitan Police Department has been briefed from law enforcement partners regarding five officers who have been fired and charged in Memphis Tennessee," MPD said in a statement to WJLA. "We understand that a video will be released and contains disturbing content that does not represent the values that any law enforcement officers are sworn to uphold."

The Memphis police chief has described Nichols' arrest as “heinous, reckless and inhumane," and asks residents to protest peacefully when the video is made available to the public.

Nichols was a 29-year-old father and FedEx worker who enjoyed skateboarding. He was stopped by the officers for reckless driving and when "a confrontation occurred," he ran. At this point, the officers caught up with Nichols, and took him into custody. Police said he complained of shortness of breath and was hospitalized.

Nichols died at the hospital on Jan. 10, three days after his arrest, from a heart attack and kidney failure, according to his family. Officials have only said he experienced a medical emergency.

Crump said Nichols' funeral will be held Wednesday at 10:30. Rev. Al Sharpton will deliver the eulogy.

Gov. Bill Lee said on Twitter that the abuse of power is "unacceptable." Metro Nashville Police Department Chief John Drake also provided a statement on Nichols' death:

"I am repulsed by the horrendous beating of Tyre Nichols by the now charged former members of the Memphis Police Department. This should not happen anywhere, ever, and I condemn their actions in the strongest possible way. It is unconscionable to me that the individuals who kicked, punched, and beat Mr. Nichols could have such a disregard for another human being. They must be held accountable. I credit Chief Davis in Memphis for taking swift action to fire them. I also credit Director Rausch and his team at the TBI for the expedited and independent investigation that led to the indictment of the five.

This week I asked the men and women of the MNPD to remember who WE are in this police department. Now, more than ever, the principles of respect, compassion, organizational excellence, community engagement and precision policing must guide us in all that we do every day."

TBI Director David Rausch released a statement that said, in part, "Let me be clear: What happened here does not, at all, reflect proper policing. This was wrong. This was a crime."

President Joe Biden also shared a lengthy statement:

"Jill and I extend our heartfelt condolences to the family of Tyre Nichols and the entire Memphis community. Tyre’s family deserves a swift, full, and transparent investigation into his death. As Americans grieve, the Department of Justice conducts its investigation, and state authorities continue their work, I join Tyre’s family in calling for peaceful protest. Outrage is understandable, but violence is never acceptable. Violence is destructive and against the law. It has no place in peaceful protests seeking justice. Public trust is the foundation of public safety and there are still too many places in America today where the bonds of trust are frayed or broken.

Tyre’s death is a painful reminder that we must do more to ensure that our criminal justice system lives up to the promise of fair and impartial justice, equal treatment, and dignity for all. We also cannot ignore the fact that fatal encounters with law enforcement have disparately impacted Black and Brown people. To deliver real change, we must have accountability when law enforcement officers violate their oaths, and we need to build lasting trust between law enforcement, the vast majority of whom wear the badge honorably, and the communities they are sworn to serve and protect.

That is why I called on Congress to send the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to my desk. When they didn’t, I signed an executive order that included stricter use of force standards and accountability provisions for federal law enforcement, as well as measures to strengthen accountability at the state and local level. Today, we all must re-commit ourselves to the critical work that must be done to advance meaningful reforms."


EDITOR'S NOTE: WZTV's Sydney Keller contributed to this report.

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