Memphis, TN – Memphis police officials announced on Monday that the officer who Tased 29-year-old Tyre Nichols during his arrest had been relieved of duty pending an investigation into the incident.
The Memphis Police Department (MPD) identified the officer as MPD Officer Preston Hemphill and said he “was relieved when the other officers were relieved,” ABC News reported.
Officer Hemphill has not been terminated, nor has he been criminally charged thus far in connection with the arrest or death of Nichols.
MPD said the investigation was ongoing.
Lee Gerald, attorney for Officer Hemphill, told reporters that his client was the third officer to arrive at the initial traffic stop, ABC News reported.
However, the videos released by the police department on Friday start with Officer Hemphill’s arrival and do not show what occurred prior to that.
“As per departmental regulations Officer Hemphill activated his bodycam,” Gerald said earlier in a statement. “He was never present at the second scene. He is cooperating with officials in this investigation.”
Nichols’ family has called for criminal charges against all of the officers who were involved in the incident, ABC News reported.
Attorneys for the family have demanded that Officer Hemphill be fired and charged.
“Why is his identity and the role he played in Tyre’s death just now coming to light?” attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci asked in a statement.
“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,” the statement continued. “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.”
The incident began just before 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 7 after MPD officers observed Nichols weaving in and out of traffic and stopped his car at an intersection, according to one of four videos released by the police department on Jan. 27.
In Video No. 1, bodycam showed officers pulled up to the right of, in front of, and directly behind the suspect vehicle and boxed him in.
Some of the officers had their weapons drawn as other officers pulled Nichols from the driver’s seat of his vehicle.
The video showed the suspect immediately began resisting arrest and despite his comments of “alright, alright, alright” to the officers, he refused to follow commands to lay on his stomach after they took the struggling man to the ground.
Initially, Nichols appeared to be resisting without aggression and the officers used only their hands to try to take him into custody.
The officers appeared to use light hands on the suspect and none of them knelt on his back or attempted to put any weight on him at all, the video showed.
Nichols resisted, sat back up, and refused to lay on the ground as an officer – since identified as Officer Hemphill – yelled at him repeatedly to follow commands or he would Tase him.
The bodycam showed that even as Officer Hemphill held a Taser up against Nichols, the suspect continued to roll around and resist being taken into custody.
“You guys are really doing a lot right now,” Nichols complained in the video. “I’m just trying to go home.”
Two seconds later, Nichols was able to get to his feet and break free of the officers’ hold on him, bodycam showed.
He fled on foot and Officer Hemphill deployed his Taser, but the video showed Nichols pulled off his sweatshirt where the prongs had been embedded and kept running as if the less-lethal device had no effect on him.
Several officers chased after Nichols on foot and others followed in patrol vehicles, the video showed.
Two of the officers who had been pepper-sprayed during the altercation – including Officer Hemphill – quickly returned to the scene of the traffic stop and remained with the suspect vehicle until backup arrived after the fleeing suspect had been taken into custody blocks away.
Bodycam and pole camera footage showed officers at the second scene delivered a brutal beatdown to Nichols after the suspect tried at least once to reach for an officer’s holstered weapon.
Nichols was ultimately transported to the hospital in critical condition and died three days later from injuries sustained during his confrontation with police, the Commercial Appeal reported.
Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis fired five of the officers involved in the incident on Jan. 20, NBC News reported.
Chief Davis was quick to condemn the incident and said there was no video evidence to support the officers’ claims of Nichols’ reckless driving.
However, the police chief failed to explain that Memphis police cars are not equipped with dashcams and that bodycam video supported the officers’ version of how the traffic stop initially unfolded.
Now-former Memphis Police Officers Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith were indicted by a grand jury on Jan. 26, NBC News reported.
Each of the officers, all of whom are black, was charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault-acting in concert, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of official misconduct, and one count of official oppression, the Commercial Appeal reported.
Each of the five officers posted a $250,000 bond and all of them were released from the Shelby County Jail within 24 hours of being arrested, Daily Memphian reported.