Memphis police announce suspension of another officer in Tire Nichols Reuters case

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: An image is projected onto the facade of the Oakland Police Department during a protest against the fatal beating of a black driver, Tyre Nichols, by Memphis police officers, during a rally in Oakland, California, U.S. January 29, 2023. REUTERS/

Author: Alyssa Pointer

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Reuters) – The Memphis Police Department said on Monday it had suspended a sixth officer when an investigation into the beating death of Tyre Nichols opened several weeks ago, which came days after five other officers were charged in the killing of a black man.

The suspended officer — identified as Preston Hemphill — has been relieved of duty with pay pending a hearing, the Memphis Police Department said. No criminal charges have been filed against Hemphill, who has worked for the department since 2018. A spokesman declined to comment on why his suspension was not announced earlier.

Five fired officers – all black – have been charged with second-degree murder, assault, kidnapping, disorderly conduct and oppression in the death of Nichols, 29, three days after he was beaten following a traffic stop. Hemphill is white.

On Friday, the department released footage from body-worn and pole-mounted cameras showing officers kicking, punching and batting Nichols in his mother’s neighborhood after a traffic stop.

Theresa Carlson, a spokeswoman for the department, declined to comment on Hemphill’s specific involvement in the events leading up to the fatal beating.

One of the four videos included footage from Hemphill’s body camera, the New York Times reported, citing a statement from his lawyer, Lee Gerald. Reuters could not immediately reach Gerald for comment.

Gerald told the Times that Hemphill was present during the traffic stop, but not during the beating, which took place at a different location after Nichols fled.

“He was never present at another scene,” Gerald said, adding that Hemphill was cooperating with the investigation.

One of the videos shows an officer using a Taser on Nichols while other officers hold him down and give conflicting orders. Hemphill has been identified as the officer who used the Taser on Nichols, according to at least two local TV stations.

Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney representing the Nichols family, criticized the department for not firing Hemphill or disclosing his involvement. He also criticized prosecutors for not charging Hemphill.

“Today’s news from Memphis officials that Officer Preston Hemphill was reportedly relieved of duty several weeks ago but has not yet been fired or charged is extremely disappointing,” Crump said Monday in a statement. “Why is his identity and the role he played in Tyre’s death only now coming to light?”

Over the weekend, protesters rallied to call for police reform in Memphis and other cities, from New York to Sacramento, California, where Nichols once lived.

The peaceful demonstrations contrasted with the sometimes violent scenes that unfolded after a bystander’s video of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020 shocked the nation.

The Memphis chapter of the NAACP on Sunday called on all police and emergency responders involved in Nichols’ death to be held accountable.

Some of the officers involved in the beating were part of SCORPION, a specialized police unit that was disbanded by the department on Saturday.

Last week, the Memphis Fire Department said two employees who responded to the incident had been “relieved.”

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