Memphis city attorney says 7 more police officers facing discipline for Tyre Nichols beating
Seven additional Memphis police officers are facing discipline in the wake of Tyre Nichols’ death, City Attorney Jennifer Sink told CNN on Tuesday.
The officers will receive an internal “statement of charges,” a document notifying them of policy violations, which is then followed by a hearing and a written decision, Sink said. She said the final round of the statement of charges is coming this week so that the agency can hold administrative hearings next week.
The action is internal and not criminal in nature. Shelby County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Erica Williams said there were no new updates on criminal charges.
Already, six officers have been fired for their roles in the incident, including five who have been charged criminally with second-degree murder following the death of Nichols, who was seen on video being severely beaten.
The news came during a Memphis city council meeting Tuesday in which members questioned the city’s police and fire chiefs and passed several public safety proposals and reforms. It was the council’s first public hearing since the city released the video of police beating Nichols.
Also Tuesday, Memphis police documents became public that say Demetrius Haley, one of the police officers charged in Nichols’ death, admitted to investigators that he took cell phone photos of a beaten Nichols and sent a photo to several people.
“On your personal cell phone, you took two photographs while standing in front of the obviously injured subject after he was handcuffed,” stated the document, a decertification letter that Memphis Police sent to the Tennessee Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, published online by CNN affiliate WMC.
“(Y)ou admitted you shared the photo in a text message with five (5) people; one civilian employee, two MPD officers, and one female acquaintance,” the letter said. “During the administrative investigation, a sixth person was identified as a recipient of the same photograph.”
The New York Times first reported the details of the letter.
CNN reached out to that agency to request the document, as well as the Memphis Police Department for comment.
Haley’s attorney, Michael Stengel, told CNN he could not comment. “I have not seen the decertification letter,” Stengel said.
“The month of January has deeply affected all of us and continues to do so, serving as a clarion call for action,” councilwoman Rhonda Logan said. “Today our focus will be on peeling back the layers of public safety in our city and collaborating on legislation that moves us forward in an impactful and intelligent way.”
The reform measures passed unanimously by the city council included making the misuse of body-worn cameras a disqualifying factor for promotions in the police department for two years. Substantiated claims of the use of excessive force would also be a disqualifying factor and could lead to termination.
Other reforms included resolutions in support of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and an ordinance for the Memphis Police Department to conduct an annual independent review of the police training academy and all training techniques.
The council made time for public comments, during which some impassioned local residents called for an end to pretextual traffic stops, the end of plainclothes officers and unmarked cars being used in traffic stops, and an ordinance for data transparency on traffic stops.
“You don’t live this life,” said Memphis resident Kathy Temple. “This council and this MPD will not kill my son over a traffic stop.” Temple, a Black woman, alleged her son has been pulled over at least a dozen times by Memphis police while driving.
Memphis City Councilman Chase Carlisle told CNN before the votes began that any reform passed by the council would take “at least six weeks” to implement. He added that the resolutions would have to be given final approval by the mayor.
Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis and Fire Chief Gina Sweat spoke at the hearing and presented their plans for changing their departments going forward. The officials also answered questions from council members frustrated with the responses.
A month ago, Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was beaten by Memphis police officers with the specialized SCORPION unit following a traffic stop not far from his family’s home. He was taken to the hospital afterward and died three days later.
The city released body-camera and surveillance footage in late January that showed officers repeatedly punching, kicking and using a baton on Nichols while his hands were restrained. They then left him without medical care for more than 20 minutes, the video shows.
The video contradicted what officers said happened in the initial police report and renewed national debate on justice in policing and reform.
Five officers involved in the beating, all of whom are Black, were fired and indicted on charges of second-degree murder. In addition, a sixth officer was fired, and a seventh was put on leave, police said. Further, the Fire Department fired two EMTs and a lieutenant for failing to render emergency care.
The specialized SCORPION unit also was disbanded, less than two years after it was put into place.
Fire chief says problem lies in ‘training issues’
Sweat, the fire chief, told the council that training issues and the failure of EMTs to take personal accountability on a call were to blame for her department’s handling of Nichols.
The dispatch call involving Nichols came in as a report of pepper spray, Sweat said. She described that as a “fairly routine call” — there have been over 140 pepper spray calls in the last six months — and the EMTs and lieutenant on scene treated it as such.
“They did not have the video to watch to know what happened before they got there, so they were reacting to what they saw and what they were told at the scene,” Sweat said. “Obviously, they did not perform at the level that we expect or that the citizens of Memphis deserve.”
According to Sweat, she saw the video of Nichols’ beating when it was released to the public, but an EMS chief had reviewed it days prior. Before the video was released on Friday, managers had already scheduled an administrative hearing with the employees involved for Monday, said the chief.
“They did not perform within the guidelines and the policies that are already set. And that’s why they’re no longer with us,” the fire chief said.
Councilman Frank Colvett Jr. said the Fire Department’s timeline of when it saw the video was an issue.
“As the director of fire, there is a problem. I think it’s very clear to you now that solutions are required. And I understand procedures were not followed, and I understand we are looking at it. But it’s got to be more than that. OK, director, it’s got to be this is what we see and this is how we’ll fix it,” Colvett said.
Police chief blames ‘egos,’ not training
In contrast, Davis, the police chief, told the council that training was not an issue for officers in this case. Instead, she blamed “egos” and a “wolf pack mentality” for the fatal incident.
“Culture is not something that changes overnight. You know, there is a saying in law enforcement that ‘culture eats policy for lunch.’ We don’t want to just have good policies, because policies can be navigated around,” she said.
“We want to ensure that we have the right people in place to ensure our culture is evolving, it is changing to the philosophy that we’re talking about: the reforming and the reimagining of what policing looks like in our community,” she said. “So having the right people in the right place at the right time is critically important.”
Davis also told the council that there were “around 10” officers on the scene of the beating, although several did not appear in the video. She said that there were at least 30 members of the now-disbanded SCORPION unit that have since been reassigned to other units.
Memphis City Council chairman Martavius Jones grilled Davis for not holding a news conference or being in the public eye in the days leading up to the video release.
“One of the criticisms that I have for you and the mayor was, you all were ‘Where’s Waldo,'” Jones said to Davis during the hearing. “The public didn’t hear from you. The public didn’t see you.”
Davis said she was “open and willing and available” to have those forums but said she was limited in what she can say because of the ongoing investigation.
“The only way that I could get information out was to have a clear line of saying what I could say without jeopardizing the investigation,” Davis said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the first name of City Attorney Jennifer Sink.
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