Memphis man’s death after traffic stop sparks protests and investigations of police
Protests broke out near a police station in Memphis, Tennessee, over the weekend, as community members called for the release of body camera footage recorded during a traffic stop earlier this month that directly preceded the death of Tyre D. Nichols. Family, friends and supporters of Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man from Memphis, released balloons to honor his life on Saturday, while protests took place near the site of the traffic stop.
On Jan. 7, Nichols was arrested after officers stopped him for reckless driving, according to authorities, who said later that a confrontation occurred as officers approached him, and Nichols subsequently ran from the scene. They have also referenced another “confrontation” between Nichols and the responding officers before he was ultimately caught and arrested.
“Afterward, the suspect complained of having a shortness of breath, at which time an ambulance was called,” and Nichols was taken to a hospital in critical condition, police said. On Tuesday, he “succumbed to his injuries,” the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reported last week without describing the nature of those injuries.
The state agency is conducting an independent investigation into the use of force by Memphis police officers involved in Nichols’ arrest. The probe came at the request of Shelby County District Attorney General Steve Mulroy, bureau officials announced, noting that police contacted Mulroy’s office due to the severity of Nichols’ condition.
While the state investigation is underway, authorities at the Memphis Police Department said they are taking “swift and deliberate action to maintain transparency, accountability, public trust, and legitimacy amongst our community.” The department is conducting its own internal administrative investigation into potential policy violations by the officers who arrested Nichols, and expects that the process will be completed by the end of this week, the Memphis Police Department said in a news release issued on Sunday.
“After reviewing various sources of information involving this incident, I have found that it is necessary to take immediate and appropriate action,” Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis said in a statement included in the release. “Today, the department is serving notice to the officers involved of the impending administrative actions.”
“Make no doubt, we take departmental violations very seriously and, while we must complete the investigation process, it is our top priority to ensure that swift justice is served,” said Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland in another statement about the investigations. “We want citizens to know that we are prepared to take immediate and appropriate actions based on what the findings determine.”
Rodney Wells, Nichols’ stepfather, told CBS affiliate station WREG-TV on Saturday that his stepson ended up suffering a cardiac arrest and kidney failure because of a beating by officers.
“When we got to the hospital, it was devastating,” Wells said. “All of that still should not occur because of a traffic stop. You shouldn’t be on a dialysis machine looking like this because of a traffic stop. That’s inhumane.”
Protesters said authorities should release body camera footage of the arrest.
“The least they can do is be transparent with the mother, father and the family and show that video to them about what happened to their son,” community activist Kareem Ali told WMC-TV.
Nichols’ older sister, Keyana Dixon, said during the balloon release that the officers who pulled Nichols over were in an unmarked vehicle, according to The Commercial Appeal.
“If he did run, it was because he was scared,” Dixon said. “A traffic stop is supposed to be a traffic stop for anybody, and they were in an unmarked vehicle, so I already knew what he thought.”
The newspaper said it couldn’t independently confirm the details described by family. The Memphis Police Department referred questions to the state bureau, which said it was still investigating.