The Death of Tyre Nichols – still don’t know
It’s been almost three weeks since a traffic stop in Memphis led to a violent arrest and, three days later, the death of the 29-year-old Black driver.
Tyre Nichols was hospitalized after he was pulled over on January 7, police have said. Five Memphis Police Department officers, who also are Black, were fired after an internal investigation and are facing criminal charges, including second-degree murder charges.
Key questions remain unanswered as the nation – already vigilant of how police treat people of color, especially following the mass protests of 2020 – waits for police to release footage of the incident.
Here’s what we know:
The police ‘confrontation’
On January 7, around 8:30 p.m., Memphis officers pulled over a vehicle for suspected reckless driving, according to a statement from Memphis police.
“A confrontation occurred” between officers and the vehicle’s driver – later identified as Nichols – who then fled on foot, according to Memphis police. Officers apprehended him and “another confrontation occurred,” resulting in Nichols’ arrest, police said.
It’s not clear what about his driving might have appeared reckless, how far Nichols fled on foot, who was involved in the initial police encounter, how officers apprehended him, how long these “confrontations” lasted, why officers felt compelled to confront Nichols twice and where exactly this happened.
At a Thursday press conference, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said there was an “elapsed period of time” in getting medical help for Nichols when he was injured during a traffic stop by Memphis police officers.
Mulroy said that there was a traffic stop and initial altercation involving several officers and Nichols. Pepper spray was deployed and Nichols ran, he said.
“There was another altercation at a nearby location at which the serious injuries were experienced by Mr. Nichols,” Mulroy continued. “After some period of time of waiting around afterward, he was taken away by an ambulance.”
On January 10, three days after the stop, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced Nichols had died due to injuries sustained in the “use-of-force incident with officers,” according to a statement.
Nichols 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 January 7, 2023,” 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.
All five officers are facing charges in Nichols’ death
After its internal investigation, Memphis police identified and fired five officers involved in the traffic stop due to their violation of multiple department policies.
Officers Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills, Jr. and Justin Smith were terminated for failing in their “excessive use of force, duty to intervene, and duty to render aid,” the department said in a statement.
Martin III, Smith, Bean, Haley and Mills, Jr. have each been charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, two charges of aggravated kidnapping, two charges of official misconduct and one charge of official oppression, according to both Shelby County criminal court and Shelby County jail records.
Although all five former officers have been charged, it’s unclear what role each officer played in the incident.
A statement from 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.”
In addition to the firing of the officers, two Memphis Fire Department employees who were part of Nichols’ “initial patient care” were also fired, department Public Information Officer Qwanesha Ward told CNN’s Nadia Romero.
It’s unclear to what extent those employees were taking care of Nichols and what type of aid was rendered, if any at all.
When asked on Tuesday what those fire department employees did or didn’t do, family attorney Antonio 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.
Who was Tyre Nichols?
Nichols was the baby of his family, the youngest of four children and he loved being a father to his son, his family said.
He was a “good boy” who spent his Sundays doing laundry and getting ready for the week, his mother, Ravaughn Wells, said.
“Does that sound like somebody that the police said did all these bad things?” Wells said. “Nobody’s perfect OK, but he was damn near.”
Nichols moved to Memphis before the Covid-19 pandemic and got stuck there when things shut down, his mother said.
When he wasn’t working the second shift at FedEx, Nichols enjoyed photography and skateboarding, something he had been doing since he was 6.
Nichols had Crohn’s disease, a digestive issue, and was a slim 140 to 145 pounds despite his six-foot-three-inch height, his mother said.
What police have said since the incident
On January 18, the Department of Justice said a civil rights investigation was opened into Nichols’ death.
Acknowledging the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s ongoing efforts, the US Attorney’s office “in coordination with the FBI Memphis Field Office and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, has opened a civil rights investigation,” US Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, Kevin G. Ritz said, declining to provide further details.
The Memphis police chief condemned the actions of officers involved.
“This is not just a professional failing. This is a failing of basic humanity toward another individual,” Chief Cerelyn Davis said in a YouTube video Wednesday, her first on-camera comments about the arrest that preceded Nichols’ death. “This incident was heinous, reckless, and inhumane, and in the vein of transparency, when the video is released in the coming days, you will see this for yourselves.”
Family and attorneys have seen footage of the incident
CNN has obtained portions of the police scanner audio leading up to Nichols’ arrest. Portions of the audio are inaudible, but you can hear a brief part of the conversation between an officer and the dispatcher.
An officer can be heard saying, “We got one Black male running” and giving instructions to “run that car registration tag and see what’s the address” followed by what sounds like Nichols in distress.
It’s not clear where this audio fits in the sequence of the incident or which officer is speaking.
Family attorneys did watch the video on Monday and described it as “heinous.” Nichols was tased, pepper-sprayed and restrained, Crump said, and compared it to the Los Angeles Police beating of Rodney King in 1991.
Crump described the video as “appalling,” “deplorable” and “heinous.” He said 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, according to Rodney Wells, his stepfather, because he was afraid.
“Our son ran because he was scared for his life,” Rodney 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.”
Nichols’ family wants the officers charged with murder, family attorney Romanucci told CNN’s Erin Burnett Wednesday evening.
Video footage of the incident will be released sometime after 6 p.m. CT on Friday, Mulroy said Thursday during a press conference.
“A lot of the people’s questions about what exactly happened will, of course, be answered once people see the video,” Mulroy told CNN’s Laura Coates on Tuesday night, noting he believes the city will release enough footage to show the “entirety of the incident, from the very beginning to the very end.”
By Alisha Ebrahimji, CNN
CNN’s Eric Levenson, Nick Valencia, Christina Zdanowicz, Jamiel Lynch, Jaide Timm-Garcia, Travis Caldwell, Jason Hanna and Chris Boyette contributed to this report.