Memphis police officer took photos of beaten Tyre Nichols and shared one with others, documents show

ByElizabeth Wolfe, CNNWire
Wednesday, February 8, 2023
Police took, shared photos of bloodied Tyre Nichols
Documents show that one of the five officers involved in the fatal police beating of Tyre Nichols took and shared pictures of the bloodied victim.

After five Memphis police officers brutally beat Tyre Nichols last month, one officer took two cell phone photos of the visibly injured 29-year-old Black man and texted one image to at least five people, newly revealed internal police department documents show.

Demetrius Haley -- one of five officers fired and charged with murder in Nichols' death -- admitted that he texted a photo to two other Memphis officers and a "female acquaintance," among others, according to the documents, published online by CNN affiliate WMC.

The sharing of the photo was just one allegation among many laid out in the internal documents, which accuse the officers of a slew of misconduct and policy violations before, during and after the interaction with Nichols on January 7.

Taken together, the police documents accuse the officers of pulling over Nichols without telling him the reason for the stop, using excessive force, turning off or otherwise obscuring their body-worn cameras, "laughing and bragging" about the beating and then misleading investigators.

MORE: 7 more police officers facing discipline for Tyre Nichols beating, Memphis city attorney says

Up to 20 hours of additional footage relating to the deadly Memphis police beating of a 29-year-old Black man has yet to be released, prosecutor says

The offenses are laid out in five decertification request letters -- one for each officer -- sent by the police department last month to a state commission that enforces policing standards. If their decertification is granted, they would be unable to work for other state law enforcement agencies.

Nichols is described in the letters as a nonviolent, unarmed subject who posed no significant threat to the officers. He died three days after the beating.

CNN reached out to the Tennessee Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission to request the documents, as well as the Memphis Police Department for comment.

All five officers were internally charged with violating the department's policies on personal conduct, neglect of duty, excessive or unnecessary force and use of body-worn cameras, the letters show. Some also were charged with additional violations. The charges are not criminal in nature.

The documents say that all five officers declined to give statements to the administrative hearing officer who ultimately approved their termination.

A sixth officer also has been fired. The officers were all members of the specialized SCORPION unit, which has since been disbanded. Further, the Fire Department fired two EMTs and a lieutenant for their inadequate response to the incident.

The revelations come as the Memphis city attorney announced Tuesday that seven more officers are expected to face administrative discipline related to the case -- which is one of the most recent examples of the nationwide scrutiny of police use of force against people of color, particularly Black Americans.

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The Memphis City Council also approved several public safety reforms in a meeting Tuesday night, the first hearing since the video of Nichols' beating was released. The council votes happened as Nichols' family entered the House of Representatives chamber at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, as invited guests of first lady Jill Biden to President Joe Biden's State of the Union address. Biden addressed the need for police accountability in his speech.

Officers removed or didn't turn on body cameras

All five of the officers criminally charged -- Tadarrius Bean, Emmitt Martin III, Justin Smith, Desmond Mills Jr. and Haley -- either never turned on their body-worn cameras or only recorded snippets of their encounter with Nichols, which is a violation of the department's policies, the letters say.

Memphis police policy requires officers to activate their body-worn cameras before entering the scene of any dispatch call and keep recording until the encounter is over, according to the documents. If their camera was not started before arriving at the scene, they should activate it "as soon as reasonably possible," the documents say.

Both Bean and Mills were initially recording their encounter with Nichols but removed their cameras while the scene was still active, their letters state. Bean took the camera off his vest and left it on the trunk of a car before walking away to "have a conversation with other officers about the incident," the letter says. Mills took his vest off entirely, leaving it on another car with the camera still attached, his letter says.

Martin and Haley, the first officers on the scene who dragged Nichols out of his car, didn't turn their cameras on before the confrontation, according to their statements of charges. Smith also hadn't activated his camera when he first arrived at the scene, his letter says.

The documents do not clarify whether Haley, Martin or Smith turned on their cameras the second time they encountered Nichols, who was confronted by officers again after he fled on foot. Martin's letter says he "at some point" took his camera off and put it in his car.

Officers held Nichols as others hit, pepper sprayed him

The documents added further details to the entirety of the police interaction with Nichols, only some of which is captured on surveillance and body camera footage.

The interaction began with a traffic stop for alleged "reckless driving," police initially said.

However, the internal police documents say Haley "forced (Nichols) out of his vehicle while using loud profanity and wearing a black sweatshirt hoodie over (his) head" and "never told the driver the purpose of the vehicle stop or that he was under arrest."

In the following moments, Haley pepper-sprayed Nichols directly in the eyes and kicked him on the ground, the documents say.

After Nichols fled the scene, the officers caught up to him at a second location near his family home and punched and beat him as he lay restrained on the ground, the video shows.

The police department documents lay out numerous uses of excessive force against Nichols committed by each officer and say several of the men failed to intervene or report the violent actions of their fellow officers.

At one point, Smith and Bean held Nichols by the arms while other officers pepper-sprayed and "excessively struck" him with a baton, the department says. Smith and Bean also admitted to punching Nichols several times as they tried to handcuff him, the letters say.

After the beating, the documents say, the officers can be heard on body-worn camera "making multiple unprofessional comments, laughing and bragging about (their) involvement."

The officers also failed to immediately provide aid in the critical moments after the beating or when medical personnel asked that his handcuffs be removed, despite Smith later admitting he has EMT training, the documents say.

Mills knew Nichols had been "pepper sprayed, tased, struck with an ASP baton, punched, and kicked" but didn't provide him aid, according to the documents. Instead, he admitted in his report he walked away to decontaminate himself from the chemical irritant spray, his letter says.

About 23 minutes passed between the time Nichols appeared to be subdued and a stretcher arriving on scene, video shows.

An autopsy commissioned by Nichols' family preliminarily found he suffered "extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating." The full report from the family's autopsy has yet to be released. Officials have also not released Nichols' autopsy.

MORE: In-depth conversation about Tyre Nichols' death, policing in US and how we move forward

Officer accounts were inaccurate or inconsistent

After Nichols' arrest, the officers' statements and reports contradicted one another and omitted or distorted key details about their violence toward Nichols, according to the letters.

Their accounts were "not consistent with each other and are not consistent with the publicly known injuries and death of Mr. Nichols," the documents say.

When speaking to Nichols' mother after the arrest, Mills and his supervisor "refused to provide an accurate account of her son's encounter with police or his condition," his letter says.

Martin made "deceitful" statements in his incident summary, in which he claimed Nichols tried to grab his holstered gun as officers forced him to the ground, his letter says. Video evidence, however, "does not corroborate" his statements, it says, adding Martin never disclosed that he punched and kicked Nichols several times. Instead, it says, he said he administered "body blows."

Haley also said in a statement and in body camera footage that he heard an officer tell Nichols, "Let my gun go!" But the claim was "deemed untruthful" after a review of video evidence, the documents say.

Both Haley and Martin were internally charged with violating the department policy against providing "knowingly incorrect, false, or deceitful" information, the documents show.

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