Five former Memphis police officers were charged Tuesday with federal civil rights violations in the beatingas they continue to fight second-degree murder charges in state courts arising from the killing.
Tadarrius Bean, Desmond Mills, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin and Justin Smith were indicted Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Memphis. The four-count indictment charges each of them with deprivation of rights under the color of law through excessive force and failure to intervene, and through deliberate indifference; conspiracy to witness tampering, and obstruction of justice through witness tampering.
The new charges come nine months after the violent beating of Nichols by police officers during a Jan. 7 traffic stop near his home in Memphis. Nichols died at a hospital three days later, and the five officers have pleaded not guilty to state charges of second-degree murder and other alleged offenses in connection with the case. The five officers charged in the case are Black, like Nichols.
Blake Ballin, an attorney representing Mills on the state criminal charges, said the federal indictment “is not unexpected” and Mills will defend himself against the federal charges as he is in state court.
William Massey, the attorney for Martin, said the federal charges were expected. “They are not a surprise,” he said in a text message.
There was no immediate response from attorneys for other defendants in the case.
Nichols, a 29-year-old who worked at FedEx, was the father of a 4-year-old boy. The youngest of four siblings, he was especiallyand has been as joyful and spiritual. He was an avid skateboarder and photographer.
Caught on police video, the beating of Nichols was one in a string of violent encounters between police and Black people that sparked protests and renewed debate about police brutality and police reform in the U.S.
The Justice Departmentin July into how Memphis Police Department officers use force and conduct arrests, one of several “patterns and practices” investigations it has undertaken in other U.S. cities.
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the department’s civil rights division said the decision was not based on a single incident or event or confined to a specific unit but was the result of interviews with residents and community members that reported multiple incidents involving police officers.
Community members said officers “used force punitively” when faced with behavior “they perceived to be insolent,” Clarke said. There have also been reports that officers use force against people who are already restrained or in custody, Clarke said. The allegations are sufficient to warrant a full investigation into the police department, Clarke said.
In March, the Justice Department said it was conducting a separate review concerning use of force, de-escalation strategies and specialized units in the Memphis Police Department. Federal investigators also are looking specifically into Nichols’ arrest and death. And, Nichols’ mother has sued the city and its police chief over her son’s death.
Cara Tabachnick contributed to this article.