Memphis police say 7 officers have been relieved of duty after Tyre Nichols' death
Two more Memphis police officers were placed on administrative leave in the aftermath of the violent arrest that led to Tyre Nichols' death, the department said Monday. That makes a total of seven removed from duty, including the five fired officers who are facing murder charges. The department said all seven were removed on Jan. 8 as the investigation got underway.
In a statement Monday, the department said officer Preston Hemphill "has been under investigation as he participated in the initial traffic stop and the use of a TASER." The other officer's identity was not released, but the department said both of their "actions and inactions have been and continue to be the subject of this investigation since its inception on Jan. 8, 2023" — the day after Nichols was beaten at a traffic stop.
Lee Gerald, an attorney representing Hemphill, told CBS News that his client "was the third officer at the initial [traffic] stop of Mr. Nichols" and "was never present at the second scene," where video footage showed police beating Nichols at a nearby intersection. The first of four tapes documenting the arrest was taken from Hemphill's body camera footage, according to Gerald.
Hemphill "is cooperating with officials in this investigation," his attorney said.
Hemphill joined the Memphis police force in 2018, according to the department spokesperson.
News of the sixth and seventh officers' leave came after the city of Memphis released disturbing video footage Friday of Nichols' arrest.
The five officers the department says were "directly involved" — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills, Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith — were fired earlier this month and face charges including second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression.
The Shelby County District Attorney's Office said Monday that its investigation is continuing and that additional charges could be added as more information is presented.
"We are looking at all individuals involved in the events leading up to, during, and after the beating of Tyre Nichols. This includes the officer present at the initial encounter who has not — so far — been charged," the D.A.'s office said in a statement, adding that it had also not ruled out charges against Memphis Fire Department personnel and "persons who participated in preparing documentation of the incident afterward."
Attorneys for Nichols' family issued a statement Monday calling into question the way the department was handling the investigation into Hemphill's role — and noting that he is the only one of the first six officers identified who is White:
"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. Why is his identity and the role he played in Tyre'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. 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. The Memphis Police Department owes us all answers."
Nichols, a 29-year-old father who worked for FedEx, died on Jan. 10, three days after he was hospitalized with serious injuries sustained in the arrest, stemming from a traffic stop on the night of Jan. 7. Although an official cause of death has not yet been released, attorneys representing Nichols' family said last week that an independent autopsy they commissioned found that Nichols suffered "extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating."
In the videos, which include both body camera and surveillance footage totaling more than 60 minutes, at least one officer is seen pushing Nichols to the ground and hitting him with a taser, while another officer is heard saying at a different time, "I hope they stomp his ass."
The five officers charged in Nichols' death belonged to the SCORPION unit at the Memphis Police Department, which was "permanently deactivated" as of Saturday, police said in a statement.
In addition, the Shelby County Sheriff's Office confirmed Friday night that two sheriff's deputies were relieved of duties pending the outcome of an internal investigation.
"Having watched the videotape for the first time tonight, I have concerns about two deputies who appeared on the scene following the physical confrontation between police and Tyre Nichols," said Sheriff Floyd Bonner in statement. "I have launched an internal investigation into the conduct of these deputies to determine what occurred and if any policies were violated."
The incident has prompted demonstrations in cities around the country, with protesters demanding police accountability. Some members of Congress are also renewing calls for reform.
"We are calling on our colleagues in the House and Senate to jumpstart negotiations now and work with us to address the public health epidemic of police violence that disproportionately affects many of our communities," Congressional Black Caucus Chair Steven Horsford said in a statement, requesting a meeting with President Biden "to push for negotiations on much needed national reforms to our justice system — specifically, the actions and conduct of our law enforcement."
Mr. Biden was one of numerous leaders who condemned the actions of the officers involved in the brutal arrest. The president spoke with Nichols' mother and stepfather Friday, and said in a statement, "Like so many, I was outraged and deeply pained to see the horrific video of the beating that resulted in Tyre Nichols' death."
In an interview after the footage was released, Memphis Police Chief C.J. Davis called the officers' conduct "heinous, reckless and inhumane."
CBS News' Nikole Killion contributed reporting.
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