By JAMIEL LYNCH, NICK VALENCIA and ERIC LEVENSON
Tyre Nichols, a Black man who died two weeks ago after a confrontation with Memphis Police, suffered “extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating,” according to preliminary results of an autopsy commissioned by attorneys for his family.
“We can state that preliminary findings indicate Tyre suffered extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating, and that his observed injuries are consistent with what the family and attorneys witnessed on the video of his fatal encounter with police on Jan. 7, 2023,” Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump said in a statement.
CNN has asked Crump for a copy of the autopsy commissioned by the family, but he said the full report is not yet ready. Officials have also not released Nichols’ autopsy.
Nichols, 29, was pulled over by Memphis officers on Jan. 7 for alleged reckless driving, according to a police statement.
As officers approached the vehicle, a “confrontation” occurred and Nichols fled on foot, police said. The officers pursued him and they had another “confrontation” before he was taken into custody, police said. Nichols then complained of shortness of breath, was taken to a local hospital in critical condition and died three days later, police said.
Authorities have not publicly released video of the arrest. However, family attorneys who watched it on Monday described it as a heinous police beating that lasted three long minutes. Crump said Nichols was tased, pepper-sprayed and restrained and compared it to the Los Angeles Police beating of Rodney King in 1991.
The Memphis Police Department has fired five officers, all of whom are Black, for violating policies on excessive use of force, duty to intervene and duty to render aid, the department said.
“The egregious nature of this incident is not a reflection of the good work that our officers perform, with integrity, every day,” Chief Cerelyn Davis said at the time.
In addition, two members of the city’s fire department were fired. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced an investigation into Nichols’ death and the U.S. Department of Justice and FBI have opened a civil rights investigation.
The U.S. Attorney overseeing the federal civil rights investigation said Wednesday he had met with Nichols’ family earlier this week and pledged his investigation into the case will be “thorough” and “methodical.”
“Our federal investigation may take some time, as these things often do, but we will be diligent and make decisions based on the facts and the law,” said Kevin Ritz, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.
Nichols had worked with his father at FedEx for about nine months, his family said. He was fond of Starbucks, skateboarding in Shelby Farms Park and photographing sunsets, and he had his mother’s name tattooed on his arm. He also had Crohn’s disease, a digestive issue, and so was a slim 140 to 145 pounds despite his 6-foot-3-inch height, his mother said.
The Jan. 10 death of Nichols follows a number of recent, high-profile cases involving police using excessive force toward members of the public, particularly young Black men. Crump has previously represented the families of George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Breonna Taylor.
Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil rights figure and president of the National Action Network, said in a statement he will deliver the eulogy for Nichols at his funeral in Memphis next week.
Video to be released soon, DA says
The family and attorneys viewed footage of the incident on Monday and said they were disturbed by what it showed.
“He was defenseless the entire time. He was a human piñata for those police officers. It was an unadulterated, unabashed, nonstop beating of this young boy for three minutes. That is what we saw in that video,” attorney Antonio Romanucci said. “Not only was it violent, it was savage.”
“What I saw on the video today was horrific,” Rodney Wells, Nichols’ stepfather, said Monday. “No father, mother should have to witness what I saw today.”
Crump described the video as “appalling,” “deplorable” and “heinous.” He said Ravaughn Wells, Nichols’ mother, was unable to get through viewing the first minute of the footage after hearing Nichols ask, “What did I do?” At the end of the footage, Nichols can be heard calling for his mother three times, the attorney said.
Nichols fled from the police, his stepfather said, because he was afraid.
“Our son ran because he was scared for his life,” Wells said Monday. “He did not run because he was trying to get rid of no drugs, no guns, no any of that. He ran because he was scared for his life. And when you see the video, you will see why he was scared for his life.”
Video of the incident could be released this week or next week, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy told CNN’s Laura Coates on Tuesday night, but he wants to make sure his office has interviewed everyone involved before releasing the video so it doesn’t have an impact on their statements.
“A lot of the people’s questions about what exactly happened will, of course, be answered once people see the video,” Mulroy said, noting he believes the city will release enough footage to show the “entirety of the incident, from the very beginning to the very end.”
Prosecutors are trying to expedite the investigation and may be able to make a determination on possible charges “around the same time frame in which we contemplate release of the video,” Mulroy said.
Police identify five terminated officers
The MPD identified the officers terminated as Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith.
The fire department employees who were fired were part of Nichols’ “initial patient care,” and were relieved of duty “while an internal investigation is being conducted,” department Public Information Officer Qwanesha Ward told CNN’s Nadia Romero.
Asked Tuesday what those Fire Department employees did or didn’t do, Romanucci told CNN there were “limitations” on how much he could say.
“During a period of time before the EMS services arrived on scene, Fire is on scene. And they are there with Tyre and the police officers prior to EMS arriving,” he said.
The Memphis Police Association, the union representing the officers, declined to comment on the terminations beyond saying that the city of Memphis and Nichols’ family “deserve to know the complete account of the events leading up to his death and what may have contributed to it.”
One of the five officers terminated after Nichols’ death was a defendant in a civil federal lawsuit in 2016 in which a Shelby County Correctional Center inmate claimed to have been beaten and had his civil rights violated. The lawsuit was later dismissed.
Demetrius Haley, who was a correctional officer at the time, was one of three Shelby County correctional officers accused by the plaintiff of bringing them to a restroom to be searched. The lawsuit, which was filed when the plaintiff was an inmate, alleges the officers accused the inmate of trying to flush contraband.
According to the complaint, “Haley and McClain hit [the plaintiff] in the face with punches.” It goes on to say the plaintiff was picked up and slammed face first into a sink by a third correctional officer, then thrown to the floor, after which they allege they “blacked out” and woke up in a medical unit.
CNN has reached out to the attorneys who represented Haley in the lawsuit. CNN has also reached out to the Shelby County Correctional Center for comment on Haley’s previous position.
According to court documents, Haley filed an answer to the complaint requesting that it be dismissed. The document does say Haley and another correctional officer did search the inmate after they “observed smoke” and assert the inmate did try to flush contraband down a toilet, but Haley denied the other claims.
Haley and another defendant later filed a motion asking the judge to dismiss the case because the plaintiff had not exhausted his administrative remedies. That motion was granted and the case was dismissed in 2018.
Haley was hired by the MPD in August 2020, police said.
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