Tire Nichols’s family attorneys question white officer’s discipline after Nichols’s death

Ben Crump and Officer Preston Hemphill.

Attorney Ben Crump; Memphis Police Officer Preston Hemphill. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Gerald Herbert/AP, Memphis Police Department)

Attorneys for the family of Tyre Nichols, the 29-year-old Black man fatally beaten by the Memphis police following a traffic stop, expressed disappointment and frustration with the Memphis Police Department over the news that a sixth officer involved in the stop has been relieved of his duty, but has not been fired or charged.

Officer Preston Hemphill, who is white, was relieved of his duties “when the other officers were relieved,” a Memphis police spokesperson told Memphis ABC affiliate WATN. That was over a week ago.

In that time, the other five officers, who are all Black, have been fired and charged with second-degree murder, among other offenses, which has raised even more questions for the department about its transparency and alludes to the possible racial dynamics in the case.

“The news today from Memphis officials that Officer Preston Hemphill was reportedly relieved of duty weeks ago, but not yet terminated or charged, is extremely disappointing,” civil rights and personal injury attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci said in a joint statement Monday. “Why is his identity and the role he played in Tire’s death just now coming to light? We have asked from the beginning that the Memphis Police Department be transparent with the family and the community — this news seems to indicate that they haven’t risen to the occasion.”

Memphis Police Department officers stand near Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who was pulled over while driving, beaten and died three days later, on January 7, 2023. (Memphis Police Department/Handout via REUTERS)

Memphis Police Department officers stand near Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who was pulled over while driving, beaten and died three days later, on January 7, 2023. (Memphis Police Department/Handout via REUTERS)

Memphis police did not respond to Yahoo News’ request for comment, but late Monday afternoon announced that another officer, in addition to Hemphill, was relieved of their duties following the violent beating of Nichols — bringing the total number of disciplined officers to seven.

News of Hemphill’s discipline angered waves of people already reeling from yet another incident of police brutality, particularly after the department’s swift and public firing of the five Black officers.

“It certainly begs the question why the white officer involved in this brutal attack was shielded and protected from the public eye, and to date, from sufficient discipline and accountability,” Crump’s statement continued. “The Memphis Police Department owes us all answers.”

the Memphis Fire Department announced Monday that had terminated two EMTs and a lieutenant for “violating numerous policies” in caring for Nichols. Prosecutors are examining whether to bring charges against these employees.

A frame grab from video made available by the city of Memphis shows Tire Nichols, left, 29, during a traffic stop

A frame grab from police video shows Nichols, left, during a traffic stop on Jan. 7. (City of Memphis handout/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

On Friday evening, Memphis police released over an hour of video footage from surveillance cameras and numerous officer body cameras that recorded the Jan. 7 encounters. In one of those videos, Hemphill’s own body camera captures the officer helping to pull Nichols from his car before Hemphill deploys his Taser. After Nichols gets out from under several officers beating on him, Hemphill begins to chase Nichols down the road before turning back to return to the car at the initial traffic stop. Later in the video, Hemphill can be heard saying twice, “I hope they stomp his ass.”

The other released video shows different moments of Nichols getting sprayed with pepper spray, being chased and beaten by at least five officers as his once-animated body slowly stops moving. Nichols, an amateur photographer and father of a 4-year-old son, died in the hospital three days later.

Those five other officers — Justin Smith, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III and Desmond Mills Jr. — seen beating Nichols were fired on Jan. 20 and charged on Jan. 26 with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression.

Hemphill, however, who joined the Memphis Police Department in 2018, has not been charged with any crimes.

While online critics have piled on in exasperation over his not being charged, others believe that even though he should be held accountable, he appears to play a smaller role in Nichols’s arrest.

A protester in New York City against police brutality

A protester in New York City against police brutality, Jan. 28. (David Dee Delgado/Reuters)

“I think the white officer in this situation clearly should be investigated … but when we look at the video, that particular officer was not involved in the beating that killed Tyre Nichols,” Rashawn Ray, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Yahoo News, admitting that Hemphill’s punishment should look different. But Ray added that the response toward the Black officers should be uniform nationwide.

“What should happen is that the swiftness by which these five officers were brought forth on charges and also fired from the department is the same thing that should happen across the country,” he said.

Jayla Whitfield contributed reporting to this article.

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Cover thumbnail photos: Yahoo News; photos: Gerald Herbert/AP, Memphis Police Department

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