Tyre Nichols' death: What is known and still unknown

Tyre Nichols

It has been almost three weeks since a traffic stop in Memphis resulted in a violent arrest and ultimately, the death of 29-year-old Black driver Tyre Nichols. According to police, Nichols was hospitalized after being pulled over on January 7th. 

Following an internal investigation, five Memphis Police Department officers, who are also Black, were terminated and are now facing criminal charges including second-degree murder. 

As the nation, already aware of police treatment towards people of color, especially after the 2020 protests, waits for the release of footage of the incident, many key questions remain unanswered.

The police ‘confrontation’

Memphis police department. Pictured are top, from left, former officers Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin III and Desmond Mills, Jr. and, bottom, from left, Demetrius Haley and Tadarrius Bean.

On January 7, at around 8:30 p.m., Memphis police officers pulled over a vehicle for alleged reckless driving, as stated in a statement from the Memphis police department. 

According to the statement, there was a "confrontation" between the officers and the driver of the vehicle, later identified as Tyre Nichols, who then ran away on foot. The officers apprehended him and another "confrontation" occurred, resulting in Nichols' arrest, as stated by the police department.

It is not known what specifically about Nichols' driving might have been deemed reckless, the distance he fled on foot, who was involved in the initial encounter with police, how officers apprehended him, how long the "confrontations" lasted, why officers felt compelled to confront Nichols twice, or the exact location of the incident.

A timeline of the investigations into Tyre Nichols' death after a traffic stop and arrest by Memphis police: At a press conference on Thursday, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy stated there was an "elapsed period of time" in providing medical assistance to Nichols when he was injured during the traffic stop by Memphis police officers. He said that there was a traffic stop and initial altercation involving multiple officers and Nichols, and pepper spray was deployed and Nichols ran.

"There was another altercation at a nearby location where Mr. Nichols sustained serious injuries," Mulroy continued. "After some time had passed, he was eventually taken away by an ambulance." 

On January 10, three days after the stop, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced that Nichols had died as a result of injuries sustained during the "use-of-force incident" with officers, according to a statement. 

The preliminary results of an autopsy, commissioned by attorneys for his family, indicate that Nichols suffered "extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating."

"Preliminary findings indicate that Tyre suffered extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating, and his observed injuries are consistent with what the family and attorneys observed on the video of his fatal encounter with police on January 7, 2023," attorney Benjamin Crump stated in a statement. 

CNN has requested a copy of the autopsy commissioned by the family from Crump, but he said that the full report is not yet available. Officials have also not yet released Nichols' autopsy.

All five officers are facing charges in Nichols’ death

The Memphis police department conducted an internal investigation and found that five officers were in violation of multiple department policies during a traffic stop. 

As a result, they have been identified and fired. The officers, named Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith, were dismissed for their excessive use of force, failure to intervene, and failure to provide aid, according to a statement from the department.

According to records from both Shelby County criminal court and Shelby County jail, Martin III, Smith, Bean, Haley, and Mills Jr. have all been charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, two charges of aggravated kidnapping, two charges of official misconduct, and one charge of official oppression. It is currently unknown what specific role each of the five former officers played in the incident.

The Memphis Police Association, which represents the officers, issued a statement declining to comment on the terminations of the officers. The statement said that the city of Memphis and the family of Nichols deserve to know the full account of the events leading up to his death and any factors that may have contributed to it. 

In addition to the officers being fired, two employees of the Memphis Fire Department who were involved in the initial care of Nichols were also terminated, according to Qwanesha Ward, a Public Information Officer for the department.

It is currently unknown what type of care the fire department employees provided to Nichols, or if they provided any care at all. When asked on Tuesday about the actions of the fire department employees, family attorney Antonio Romanucci stated that there were limitations on how much he could say. He did mention that fire department were present with Nichols and the police officers before the arrival of Emergency Medical Services.

Who was Tyre Nichols?

According to his family, Nichols was the youngest of four children and loved being a father to his son. His mother, Ravaughn Wells, described him as a "good boy" who would spend his Sundays doing laundry and preparing for the week. Wells said that this does not sound like someone who the police have accused of committing bad actions, and added that "nobody's perfect, but he was damn near."

According to his mother, Nichols moved to Memphis before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and was unable to leave when the situation worsened. When he wasn't working the second shift at FedEx, he enjoyed photography and skateboarding, which he had been practicing since he was 6 years old. He had Crohn's disease, a digestive disorder and weighed between 140 to 145 pounds despite being six foot three inches tall.

What police have said since the incident

On January 18th, the Department of Justice announced that they have opened a civil rights investigation into the death of Nichols. 

The U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, Kevin G. Ritz, acknowledged the ongoing efforts of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and stated that the U.S. 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. 

However, he did not provide any further details. The Memphis Police Chief, Cerelyn Davis, condemned the actions of the officers involved, calling it a "failing of basic humanity" and "heinous, reckless, and inhumane". She also announced that a video of the incident will be released in the coming days.

Family and attorneys have seen footage of the incident

CNN has obtained a portion of the police scanner audio from before Nichols' arrest. Some parts of the audio are unclear, but it is possible to hear a brief conversation between an officer and the dispatcher. 

An officer can be heard saying "We got one Black male running" and giving instructions to check the car registration and address, followed by sounds of Nichols in distress. The exact context and timing of the audio within the incident, as well as which officer is speaking, is not clear.

The family's attorneys viewed the video of Nichols' arrest on Monday and said it was "heinous." They stated that Nichols was tased, pepper-sprayed and restrained during the arrest, and that it was similar to the 1991 Los Angeles Police beating of Rodney King.

The attorneys described the video as "appalling," "deplorable" and "heinous." They also said that Nichols' mother was unable to watch more than the first minute of the footage, after hearing Nichols ask, "What did I do?" In the end of the footage, Nichols can be heard calling for his mother three times, according to the attorneys. Nichols' stepfather said that Nichols ran from the police because he was afraid.

"Our son ran because he was scared for his life," Rodney Wells said on Monday. He clarified that Nichols did not run because he was trying to get rid of drugs, guns, or anything else illegal. Instead, he ran because he was scared for his life. 

The family believes that when the video of the incident is released, it will be clear to see why he was scared. The family is calling for the officers involved to be charged with murder, according to family attorney Antonio Romanucci in an interview with CNN's Erin Burnett on Wednesday night. 

"The video footage of the incident will be made available to the public after 6 p.m. CT on Friday," Mulroy announced during a press conference on Thursday. He added that, "many of the questions people have about what occurred will be answered once they see the video." 

Mulroy also mentioned that he believes the city will release enough footage to show the complete event, "from start to finish."

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