The city of Memphis is bracing for public anger and possible violence when it releases later on Friday body-camera video of a violent confrontation between a Black motorist and five police officers charged with the murder of Tyre Nichols earlier this month.
The five officers, all Black, were each charged with second-degree murder, assault, kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression on Thursday in the death of Nichols, who was also Black.
Nichols succumbed to injuries he sustained from his encounter with police and died while hospitalized on Jan. 10, three days after he was pulled over while driving.
Nichols’ death marked the latest in a spate of high-profile cases of police officers accused of using excessive force in the deaths of Black people and other minorities in recent years, sparking public outcries against systemic racism in the U.S. criminal justice system.
Police have been highly opaque about the circumstances of the arrest. Even Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy, who sought the indictment, described the incident in vague terms when announcing the charges.
After Nichols was pulled over, “an altercation” ensued in which officers doused him with pepper spray, and Nichols tried to flee on foot, Mulroy said. “There was another altercation at a nearby location at which the serious injuries were experienced by Mr. Nichols.”
The video to be released on Friday evening is expected to include footage captured by body-worn cameras, cameras mounted on dashboards of police vehicles and security cameras on utility poles in the vicinity.
The few individuals who viewed the video before its release and spoke to the media on Thursday did not characterize it in detail but said they found it disturbing.
“You are going to see acts that define humanity. You’re going to see a disregard for life, duty of care that we are all sworn to,” Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis told CNN on Friday.
Civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, representing Nichols’ family, compared it the 1991 videotaped beating of Black motorist Rodney King by four police officers whose acquittal of criminal charges the following year sparked several days of riots in Los Angeles.
“This young man lost his life in a particularly disgusting manner that points to the desperate need for change and reform to ensure this violence stops occurring during low-threat procedures, like in this case, a traffic stop,” Crump and colleague Antonio Romanucci said in a statement.
The last words heard on the video were Nichols calling out for his mother three times, Crump said.
An official autopsy in the case has yet to be completed.
All five officers – Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills, Jr., and Justin Smith – were fired from the police force on Jan. 21 after an internal investigation found they breached multiple departmental policies, including use of excessive force.
Four of the officers have posted bail and have been released from jail, a local CBS affiliate reported early on Friday. Haley remained in jail on a $350,000 bond.