A police report written hours after officers beat Tyre Nichols was at odds with what videos have since shown. The report made no mention of the powerful kicks and punches that were thrown at Nichols, instead saying that he was violent.
Nichols, who was 29, died three days after the beating on January 7. The police report said that he was an angry suspect who “started to fight” with Memphis police officers and even reached for one of their guns. The videos, which came out last week, didn’t show anything like that.
Instead, they caught police officers pulling Nichols out of a car, threatening to hurt him, and then catching up with him after he ran away and giving him the fatal beating. From the videos, it looks like Nichols never hit back at any time.
On Monday, the effects of Nichols’ death kept getting worse. In addition to the five officers who have already been fired and charged with murder for the beating, the Police Department said that it had suspended two more officers. Gina Sweat, who was in charge of the city’s fire department, fired two EMTs and a lieutenant who had come to the scene, saying that they had broken a number of rules.
The fire chief said that the EMTs were responding to a report of a person who had been pepper-sprayed and that they had relied on information given to them at the scene, probably by some of the police officers who had just kicked, punched, and used a baton to beat Nichols, a FedEx worker and father who had asked the officers to stop.
Early the next morning, a police officer wrote the official report, which told a very different story in which Nichols was the one who attacked. It was the latest time in the U.S. that video evidence — from a police officer’s body camera or a bystander’s cellphone — showed a very different story of police violence than what the police officers themselves had said.
In May 2020, police in Minneapolis said that George Floyd had died because of a “medical incident.” However, a cell phone video taken by a teenager soon disproved this claim, which led to protests around the world and charges against four officers.
In Nichols’ arrest report, the officer wrote that police stopped Nichols’ car on January 7 after seeing him drive quickly and into oncoming traffic. The officer also wrote that Nichols “refused a lawful detention” and fought with detectives at the scene.
The Memphis police chief, Cerelyn Davis, said that investigators haven’t been able to figure out if Nichols was driving too fast. And the videos show that officers came up to his car with their guns drawn and cursed and threatened him before pulling him out and pushing him to the ground.
“You don’t do that, OK?” says Nichols, who sounds upset. and then tries to follow the officers’ contradictory and quick-fire orders, like telling him to get on the ground when he was already lying down. “Okay, I’m on the ground,” he says, before answering, “Yes, sir,” to another order.
But the police kept being mean. One threatened to shoot Nichols with a Taser, and another said he would “break” his hands. Nichols begged them to stop, and at one point he told them, “You guys are doing a lot right now.”
The police report said that, sometime around this period, Nichols had grabbed for a detective’s gun, something not shown in any of the videos. The officers then deployed pepper spray into Nichols’ face, after which he ran away, toward his mother’s house.
Thaddeus Matthews, who hosts a talk show in Memphis and is known as “The Cussing Pastor,” put a picture of the police report online over the weekend. He said he got it from a source. Steven J. Mulroy, the local district attorney who is in charge of prosecuting the officers, said on Monday that he had a copy of a police report that told the same story.
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On the picture of the report that Matthews shared, both the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office and the Memphis Police Department are listed. However, only the last name of the officer who wrote it is given, so it is not clear which agency wrote it. Neither of them would talk about it.
When officers caught up with Nichols a few minutes after he ran away, they tackled him and beat him badly. One officer hit Nichols’ head with a series of blows while two others held his hands behind his back.
The police report says that Nichols was hit in the arm with a baton and that officers used pepper spray and a Taser on him, but it doesn’t say anything else about the beating that happened less than 100 yards from his mother’s house.
Even though Nichols doesn’t seem to hit back, the police report says he is the suspect in an aggravated assault because he grabbed the belts of two officers and one officer’s vest. The report says that one of the people hurt was a Memphis police officer. Since Nichols’ death, five police officers, including this one, have been charged with second-degree murder.
Two police officers were suspended on Monday, but only one of them has been named. That officer, Preston Hemphill, shot Nichols with his Taser as he ran away and later said, “I hope they stomp his ass,” while his body camera was running. From the second place, where the police beat Nichols, there was no video of him.
All five of the officers who are being charged are Black, just like Nichols. Hemphill is not black. The district attorney’s office said in a statement Monday that prosecutors were still examining whether to bring more charges, including against Hemphill, the Fire Department employees and officials who wrote reports on the episode.
Sweat said Monday that the two EMTs who she fired had “failed to conduct an adequate patient assessment” on Nichols after arriving at the scene. The lieutenant who was fired never got out of the fire engine, the chief said. The New York Times said a day earlier that the EMTs mostly just watched as Nichols writhed in pain and that at one point they didn’t touch him or do anything for almost seven minutes.
Videos from the scene showed that as the medics were getting there, the police officers who had beaten Nichols were laughing and talking about what happened. One of them said that he had hit Nichols with “haymakers.” It’s not clear if the medics heard this or how much the officers told them about the injuries they had caused.
They also insisted that Nichols must be on drugs, even though there is no proof of that. And when another officer got there, they said things that, if they happened, weren’t shown on the video. For example, they said that Nichols “swung” at one officer and “literally had his hand” on that officer’s gun. The videos have called into question more than just the police report when it comes to the official story of the beating.
In its first public statement, which came out a few hours after the arrest, the Police Department only called the two incidents “confrontations” and didn’t say anything about the beating. “After that, the suspect said he was having trouble breathing,” the report said, adding that state investigators had been called.
After Nichols died, people in the area protested, and his family asked the authorities for answers. Since then, Davis has said that what the indicted officers did was “a failure of basic humanity.”
Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith have all been charged with the same seven felonies, which include second-degree murder, kidnapping, official misconduct, and aggravated assault.
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