Ex-US police officers plead not guilty to killing Tyre Nichols

Five former officers face second-degree murder charges, among others, in death of 29-year-old Black motorist in Memphis.

Five former United States police officers have pleaded not guilty to the killing of Tyre Nichols, whose death following a violent traffic stop in the city of Memphis set off protests and renewed calls for an end to police violence in the country.

Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr, Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith made their first court appearances with their lawyers before a judge in Shelby County Criminal Court on Friday.

The ex-officers pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression in relation to the January 7 arrest of Nichols, which was captured on video.

The footage shows the officers beating the 29-year-old father and FedEx worker for three minutes in an assault that the Nichols family’s legal team likened to the infamous 1991 police beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King.

“I am numb, just numb as I can be right now,” Nichols’s mother, RowVaughn Wells, said on Friday as she walked into the courtroom dressed in all black. “They need to see my face.”

Nichols, who died in hospital three days after the traffic stop, attempted to converse with police as they shouted orders and threatened him with violence during the ordeal.

“You guys are really doing a lot right now. I’m just trying to go home,” he said at one point, sitting on the street as police tried to subdue him. “Stop. I’m not doing anything,” Nichols said, just before breaking free and running.

When police caught up to him, he was beaten while being restrained, clubbed with a baton and kicked while on the ground. He cried out for his mother several times.

The five officers, all of whom are Black, have been fired from the police force and the special unit they were a member of has been disbanded. They are all out on bond and their next hearing has been scheduled for May 1.

“Be patient. Work with your attorneys,” Judge James Jones Jr said to the officers during Friday’s court appearance. “There may be some high emotions in this case.”

Nichols’s case has recalled the 2020 killing of George Floyd, who died after a police officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota – and set off mass protests worldwide demanding an end to racism and police brutality.

Memphis police said Nichols had been suspected of reckless driving, but no verified evidence of a traffic violation has emerged in public documents or in video footage.

The city’s police chief, Cerelyn “CJ” Davis, has said she has seen no evidence justifying the stop or the officers’ response. Davis also previously said the video footage of the fatal incident depicted “acts that defy humanity”.

One other white officer who was involved in the initial traffic stop has been fired, while an additional officer who has not been identified has been suspended.

The Memphis case has stood out for the speed in which the officers were fired and charged. “We have NEVER seen swift justice like this,” civil rights attorney Ben Crump tweeted on January 27.

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