Memphis Police Department disciplines 7th officer, responders are fired
The killing of Black Nichols has sparked days of public debate about how police forces can use excessive force to treat black citizens, regardless of the race of both the officers and those being monitored.
In body cam footage from the first stop, Hemphill can be heard saying he stunned Nichols, declaring, “I hope they stomp his ass.”
Nichols’ death was the latest example in a long line of early police reports of the use of force that were later shown to have minimized or ignored violent and sometimes fatal encounters.
Memphis Police Department officers used a stun gun, a baton, and their fists when beating Nichols during the arrest. Video shows Nichols running from officers to his home after being pulled over on suspicion of reckless driving. Nichols, a 29-year-old father, was heard over video calling for his mother and seen struggling with his injuries as he sat helplessly on the sidewalk.
The five officers talked and walked around for several minutes while Nichols remained on the ground, but other authorities were at the scene. Two Shelby County sheriff’s deputies have been fired from duty without pay while their conduct is investigated.
In the Nichols case, the police department had jurisdiction over internal disciplinary actions, such as firings, while the Shelby County District Attorney processed the criminal complaints.
Hemphill was the third officer at a traffic stop that preceded the violent arrest but was not at the spot where Nichols was hit, his attorney Lee Gerald said. Hemphill turned on his body camera in accordance with department guidelines, he added.
Attorneys for the Nichols family questioned Monday why the department didn’t disclose Hemphill’s discipline earlier and why he wasn’t fired or charged.
“We have asked from the beginning that the Memphis Police Department be transparent with the family and the community – this news appears to indicate that they are not up to the task,” attorneys Ben Crump and Anthony Romanucci said in a statement. “Certainly the question arises as to why the white officer involved in this brutal attack was shielded and protected from the public and to this day from sufficient discipline and accountability.”
Memphis Police Department spokeswoman Karen Rudolph said information about Hemphill’s disciplinary action was not immediately released because Hemphill was not fired. The department generally does not release information about an officer’s punishment until a department investigation into misconduct has been completed, Rudolph said.
Memphis Police Commissioner Cerelyn “CJ” Davis told The Associated Press in an interview that “lack of supervision is a big problem with this incident.”
“When officers are working, they should have at least one supervisor for each group or squad of people,” Davis said. “Not just someone who’s in the office doing the paperwork, but someone who’s actually embedded in that unit.”
The call for more firings or indictments of officers has been loud and adamant from the Nichols family, their attorneys and community activists, who have been peacefully protesting in Memphis since the video was released. The video commemorated the 2020 arrest of George Floyd and officers’ failure to intervene.
On Saturday, Nichols’ stepfather, Rodney Wells, told The Associated Press that the family “will continue to seek justice and have more officers arrested.”
“There were questions asked before the video was released, I asked those questions,” Wells said. “I just felt like there were more than five officers out there. Now five have been charged with murder because they were the main people involved, but there were five or six other officers out there who were doing nothing to provide assistance. So you are just as culpable as the officers who dealt the punches.”
Memphis City Council member Martavius Jones said police guidelines on assistance and de-escalation appeared to have been violated.
“Once everyone has seen the video, we see that there are several officers just standing around when Mr. Nichols is in distress, that just paints a completely different picture,” Jones said
Jones said he believes more officers should be disciplined.
“At this point, it will be helpful for this community to see how quickly the police chief deals with these other officers, now that everyone has seen the video and knows that there weren’t just five officers at the scene the whole time,” he said Jones.
The five fired officers and Hemphill were part of the so-called Scorpion unit, which targeted violent criminals in high-crime areas. Davis, the police chief, said Saturday that the unit was disbanded.
Nichols’ funeral service is scheduled for Wednesday at a church in Memphis.
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