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Memphis police officer took photos of brutally beaten Tyre Nichols and shared one with others, documents show

<i>Shelby County Criminal Justice System</i><br/>From top left
Shelby County Criminal Justice System
From top left

By Elizabeth Wolfe and Eric Levenson, CNN

After five Memphis police officers brutally beat Tyre Nichols last month, one officer took two cell phone photos of the visibly injured 29-year-old Black man and texted one image to at least five people, newly revealed internal police department documents show.

Demetrius Haley — one of five officers fired and charged with murder in Nichols’ death — admitted that he texted a photo to five people, including two other Memphis officers, a “female acquaintance” and a civilian employee, according to the documents, published online by CNN affiliate WMC and obtained by CNN. A sixth person was also identified as a recipient of the same photo, the documents state.

Indeed, surveillance video of the beating released to the public shows one of the officers twice held up his cell phone and shined a flashlight on Nichols.

The sharing of the photo was just one allegation among many laid out in the internal documents, which accuse the officers of a slew of misconduct and policy violations before, during and after the interaction with Nichols on January 7.

Taken together, the police documents accuse the officers of pulling over Nichols without telling him the reason for the stop, using excessive force, turning off or otherwise obscuring their body-worn cameras, “laughing and bragging” about the beating and then misleading investigators.

Also included in the documents is a sworn affidavit from one of the officers defending his actions — the first time any of the officers involved in the beating have offered their perspective on what happened.

The offenses are laid out in five decertification request letters — one for each officer — sent by the police department last month to a state commission that enforces policing standards. If their decertification is granted, they would be unable to work for other state law enforcement agencies.

Nichols is described in the letters as a nonviolent, unarmed subject who posed no significant threat to the officers. He died three days after the beating.

All five officers — Haley, Tadarrius Bean, Emmitt Martin III, Justin Smith, and Desmond Mills Jr. — were internally charged with violating the department’s policies on personal conduct, neglect of duty, excessive or unnecessary force and use of body-worn cameras, the letters show. Some also were charged with additional violations. The charges are not criminal in nature.

The documents say that all five officers declined to make any statements during the administrative hearings. In each case, the president of the police union, Lt. Essica Cage-Rosario, submitted a letter stating investigators had not provided the body-camera footage or other officer statements beforehand.

“These are only a few examples of the GROSS violations of this officer’s right to due process,” Cage-Rosario said, according to the documents.

A sixth police officer also has been fired but not charged. The officers were all members of the specialized SCORPION unit, which has since been disbanded. Further, the Fire Department fired two EMTs and a lieutenant for their inadequate response to the incident.

Seven more officers are expected to face administrative discipline related to the case, the Memphis city attorney announced Tuesday.

The Memphis City Council also approved several public safety reforms in a meeting Tuesday night, the first hearing since the video of Nichols’ beating was released. The council votes happened as Nichols’ family entered the House of Representatives chamber at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, as invited guests of first lady Jill Biden to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address. Biden addressed the need for police accountability in his speech.

Nichols’ parents spoke to CNN on Wednesday morning, thanking Biden for acknowledging him and urging Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to address police reform.

“My son didn’t die for nothing,” RowVaughn Wells told CNN’s Don Lemon on CNN This Morning. “There has to be some greater good … some good will come of this.”

Officers held Nichols as others hit, pepper sprayed him

The documents added further details to the entirety of the police interaction with Nichols, only some of which is captured on surveillance and body camera footage.

The interaction began with a traffic stop for alleged “reckless driving,” police initially said.

However, the internal police documents say Haley exited his unmarked vehicle and “forced (Nichols) out of his vehicle while using loud profanity and wearing a black sweatshirt hoodie over (his) head.” Haley “never told the driver the purpose of the vehicle stop or that he was under arrest,” the documents state.

In the following moments, Haley pepper-sprayed Nichols directly in the eyes and kicked him on the ground, the documents say.

After Nichols fled the scene, the officers caught up to him at a second location near his family home and punched and beat him as he lay restrained on the ground, the video shows.

At one point, Haley was “on an active cell phone call where the person overheard the police encounter,” the documents state.

The documents lay out numerous uses of excessive force against Nichols committed by each officer and say several of the men failed to intervene or report the violent actions of their fellow officers.

At one point, Smith and Bean held Nichols by the arms while other officers pepper-sprayed and “excessively struck” him with a baton, the department says. Smith and Bean also admitted to punching Nichols several times as they tried to handcuff him, the letters say.

Officers were “laughing and bragging,” docs say

After the beating, the officers can be heard on body-worn camera “making multiple unprofessional comments, laughing and bragging about (their) involvement,” the documents say.

The officers also failed to immediately provide aid in the critical moments after the beating and did not immediately help when medical personnel requested to remove Nichols’ handcuffs, the documents say. The documents also note Smith is a certified EMT.

Their conversation and inaction after the beating was witnessed by a civilian who took photos and cell phone video, the documents state.

Mills knew Nichols had been “pepper sprayed, tased, struck with an ASP baton, punched, and kicked” but didn’t provide him aid, according to the documents. Instead, he admitted in his report he walked away to decontaminate himself from the chemical irritant spray, his letter says.

About 23 minutes passed between the time Nichols appeared to be subdued and a stretcher arriving on scene, video shows.

An autopsy commissioned by Nichols’ family preliminarily found he suffered “extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating.” The full report from the family’s autopsy has yet to be released. Officials have also not released Nichols’ autopsy.

Officers’ statements were inaccurate or inconsistent

After Nichols’ arrest, the officers’ statements and reports contradicted one another and omitted or distorted key details about their violence toward Nichols, according to the letters.

Their accounts were “not consistent with each other and are not consistent with the publicly known injuries and death of Mr. Nichols,” the documents say.

When speaking to Nichols’ mother after the arrest, Mills and his supervisor “refused to provide an accurate account of her son’s encounter with police or his condition,” his letter says.

Martin made “deceitful” statements in his incident summary, in which he claimed Nichols tried to grab his holstered gun as officers forced him to the ground, his letter says. Video evidence, however, “does not corroborate” his statements, it says, adding Martin never disclosed that he punched and kicked Nichols several times. Instead, it says, he said he administered “body blows.”

Haley also said in a statement and in body camera footage that he heard an officer tell Nichols, “Let my gun go!” But the claim was “deemed untruthful” after a review of video evidence, the documents say.

Both Haley and Martin were internally charged with violating the department policy against providing “knowingly incorrect, false, or deceitful” information, the documents show.

Officers removed or didn’t turn on body cameras

All five of the officers either never turned on their body-worn cameras or only recorded snippets of their encounter with Nichols, which is a violation of the department’s policies, the letters say.

Both Bean and Mills were initially recording their encounter with Nichols but removed their cameras while the scene was still active, their letters state.

Bean took the camera off his vest and left it on the trunk of a car before walking away to “have a conversation with other officers about the incident,” the letter says. Mills took his vest off entirely, leaving it on another car with the camera still attached, his letter says.

Martin and Haley, the first officers on the scene who dragged Nichols out of his car, didn’t turn their cameras on before the confrontation, according to their statements of charges. Smith also hadn’t activated his camera when he first arrived at the scene, his letter says.

The documents do not clarify whether Haley, Martin or Smith turned on their cameras the second time they encountered Nichols, who was confronted by officers again after he fled on foot. Martin’s letter says he “at some point” took his camera off and put it in his car.

One officer defends actions in sworn affidavit

In a sworn affidavit submitted during his disciplinary hearing, Smith explained that he called for medical help, followed his training and even tried to assist Nichols at one point.

He said that he called for medical help even before he arrived on the scene of the second encounter.

“Even though no one else requested medical assistance, because of the reported taser and chemical spray, I immediately made a radio call and indicated that medical should be sent to the area where the suspect was last seen to possibly render medical aid if the suspect was taken into custody,” he said.

CNN could not independently confirm that Smith made that call.

After arriving at the scene, according to the affidavit, Smith said he tried to help another officer take Nichols into custody but that Nichols “was violent and would not comply.”

“It is my contention that I personally utilized the training and defensive tactics” he learned as a Memphis police officer, he said. However, according to the investigative hearing summary filed by the city, Smith admitted to investigators that he hit Nichols, “with a closed first two to three times in the face.”

Bodycam and surveillance videos from the incidents show that Nichols did not appear to be violent, and instead captured multiple officers threatening Nichols with violence while he appeared to comply with their commands or was already on the ground. Smith’s bodycam footage was not among those released by the city of Memphis.

Smith suggested that at one point he attempted to help Nichols.

“I informed my fellow officers to assist me in sitting the suspect against my squad car in order for the suspect to breath [sic] better,” the affidavit reads.

In the document, Smith did not deny failing to turn on his camera soon enough and said, “I did not intentionally fail to activate my body worn camera, but the safety of the other officers and myself was paramount,” he said.

Despite his defense, Memphis police fired Smith after finding he violated policies on personal conduct, neglect of duty, duty to intervene and excessive/unnecessary force, the documents state.

The-CNN-Wire
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CNN’s Nick Valencia, Paul P. Murphy, Melissa Alonso, Andy Rose, Pamela Kirkland, Christina Maxouris and Mark Morales contributed to this report.

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