By Alyssa Pointer and Steve Gorman
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Reuters) - The police department in the city of Memphis was set on Friday to release body-camera video of a violent confrontation between a Black motorist and five police officers charged with murder in his death earlier this month.
In a Tennessee grand jury indictment returned on Thursday, the five officers, all Black, were each charged with second-degree murder, assault, kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression in the death of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old father.
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.
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."
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 systematic racism in the U.S. criminal justice system.
Protests against racial injustice erupted globally following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than 9 minutes, after he was arrested on suspicion of trying to pass a counterfeit bill.
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.
David Rausch, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, told reporters he was sickened by what he saw.
"What happened here does not at all reflect proper policing," he said. "This was wrong. This was criminal."
NICHOLS CALLED FOR HIS MOTHER
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.
But Romanucci said in a CNN interview on Thursday that a medical examination commissioned by the family found Nichols was severely beaten.
"The results indicate that what we saw in the video are consistent with a severe beating, and our independent medical examiner has authorized us to quote that the injuries are consistent with a severe beating, meaning that the hemorrhage that was found was so deep that it could only be caused by blunt force trauma," Romanucci said.
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.
Two members of the Memphis Fire Department involved in the response have been relieved of their duties pending a separate inquiry.
PUBLIC OUTRAGE EXPECTED
Additional Memphis police officers remain under investigation for policy infractions, Police Chief Cerelyn Davis said on Thursday in a message posted to YouTube.
Davis said she anticipated those seeing the footage "to feel outrage" but appealed for calm.
"I expect our citizens to exercise their First Amendment right to protest, to demand action and results, but we need to ensure our community is safe in this process," she said.
None of the former officers was available for comment. But attorneys for Martin and Mills said they were still developing their legal defenses, and their clients were posting bond to be released from jail on Thursday.
Blake Ballin, a lawyer for Mills, said his client was "devastated to find himself charged with a crime." Ballin also said it might be another two weeks before the defendants make their initial court appearances.
(Reporting by Alyssa Pointer in Memphis; Additional reporting by Tyler Clifford, Jonathan Allen, Brendan O'Brien, Dan Whitcomb and Eric Beech; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)