Five former Memphis police officers were charged Tuesday with federal civil rights violations in the beating death of Ty Nichols, as they continue to fight second-degree murder charges in state courts stemming from the killing .
Tadarius Bean, Desmond Mills, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin and Justin Smith were convicted Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Memphis. The four-count indictment charges each of them with deprivation of rights under law through excessive force and failure to intervene, and deliberate indifference; Conspiracy to tamper with witnesses, and obstruction of justice through witness tampering.
The new charges come nine months after Nichols was violently beaten by police officers during a Jan. 7 traffic stop near his home in Memphis. Nichols died at a hospital three days later, and the five officers have pleaded not guilty to state charges of second-degree murder and other alleged crimes in connection with the case. The five officers charged in the case are black, like Nichols.
Blake Bailin, the attorney representing Mills on state criminal charges, said the federal indictment is “not unexpected” and that Mills will defend himself against the federal charges as he faces them in state court.
Martin’s attorney, William Massey, said federal charges were expected. “They are no surprise,” he said in a text message.
There was no immediate reaction from lawyers for the other defendants in the case.
Captured on police video, the beating of 29-year-old Nicholas was one of a series of violent encounters between police and black people that sparked protests and renewed debate about police brutality and police reform in the US.
The Justice Department in July announced an investigation into how Memphis Police Department officers use force and make arrests, one of several “patterns and practices” investigated in other American cities.
In March, the Justice Department said it was conducting a separate review regarding use of force, de-escalation strategies and specialized units in the Memphis Police Department.
Nichols’ mother has sued the city and its police chief over her son’s death.
The officers were part of a crime-suppression team called Scorpion. Officers and video show they punched, kicked and attacked Nichols with batons as he screamed for his mother. Authorities disbanded the Scorpion unit following Nichols’ death, although members of the unit have since been transferred to other teams.
The Memphis City Council later passed an ordinance that outlawed so-called sham traffic stops, including those for minor violations such as a broken tail light. But some activists have complained that the ordinance has not been enforced consistently.
Elsewhere, a federal civil rights case was filed last year against four Louisville, Kentucky police officers over a drug raid that led to the death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman whose fatal shooting sparked racial reckoning across the country in 2020. Had helped promote justice protests. In Minneapolis, former police officers were convicted of violating the civil rights of George Floyd, whose death sparked protests. Former officer Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 21 years in prison after leaving Floyd pinned to the sidewalk for more than nine minutes as the Black man pleaded, “I can’t breathe.”