The city of Memphis released hours of additional video and audio on Tuesday in the case of five fired police officers charged with the violent beating and death of Tyre Nichols last January.
The files were made public based on a judge’s order from Nov. 2, the same day former officer Desmond Mills Jr. pleaded guilty to federal charges in the case that sparked outrage around the world and intensified calls for police reform. City officials also plan to release additional written documents.
Mills also intends to plead guilty in state court and could testify against his four ex-colleagues — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin and Justin Smith — who remain charged with civil rights violations in federal court and second-degree murder and other offenses in state court. They have pleaded not guilty.
Nichols died in a hospital on Jan. 10, 2023 three days after he was kicked, punched and hit with a police baton after a traffic stop. Police video released weeks after the killing showed the five officers beating Nichols as he yelled for his mother just steps from his house. That video also showed the officers milling about and talking with each other as Nichols sat on the ground, struggling with his injuries.
Nichols was Black. The five officers also are Black. The four who remain charged face federal trial in May and state court trial in August.
Following the January 2023 release of police body camera and pole camera footage, the city had planned to release about 20 more hours of video, audio and documents including the officers’ personnel files, but the judge granted the defense’s motion for a delay “until such time as the state and the defendants have reviewed this information.”
A coalition of media organizations, including The Associated Press, pressed to have them made public, arguing that blocking their release went against “the First Amendment’s protections for newsgathering and publication, particularly in the context of criminal proceedings.”
Lawyers for the former officers argued that their rights to a fair trial must be recognized and protected pending trial.
Shelby County Judge James Jones Jr. had considered objections from defense attorneys to the public release of certain documents related to the officers’ personnel records and other information tied to the case. Prosecutors outlined the information they thought should and should not be released to the public, and then gave the list to defense attorneys.
Defense attorneys objected to the release of any information that is part of the ongoing investigation. That includes audio from body cameras that may contain statements made by officers that could be used against them.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed that most police personnel records that pre-dated Nichols’ beating could be released. But they both also agreed that the media must not get so-called Garrity statements, which stem from investigative interviews given by the officers to department administrators after Nichols’ beating.
Garrity statements are not allowed to be used at trial against defendants.
The U.S. Department of Justice opened a “patterns and practices” investigation into how Memphis Police Department officers use force and conduct arrests, and whether the department in the majority-Black city engages in racially discriminatory policing.
In March, the Justice Department announced a separate review concerning use of force, de-escalation strategies and specialized units in the Memphis Police Department. Also, Nichols’ mother has sued the city and its police chief over her son’s death.