US authorities on Thursday charged five former police officers with murder over the fatal beating of a Black man in Memphis, as the southern city braced for possible civil unrest and President Joe Biden urged demonstrators to protest peacefully.
Tyre Nichols, 29, was stopped on January 7 for what the Memphis Police Department said was reckless driving.
After a chase ensued, “police brutalized him to the point of being unrecognizable,” family attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci said in a statement.
The five officers, who are also Black, were fired after an internal investigation found them to have deployed excessive use of force and to have failed to render aid, police said.
Nichols was taken to hospital in critical condition, according to police, where he died on January 10.
Officials said police video of the arrest would be released after 6:00 pm Central time Friday (0000 GMT Saturday).
Nichols’s death at the hands of police immediately recalled the May 2020 killing of George Floyd, another Black man whose suffocation by a white police officer in Minneapolis was caught on film.
Video of Floyd’s death spread rapidly, sparking a massive wave of protests nationwide, sometimes violent, and leading to scrutiny of race relations and police brutality in the United States.
In addition to second-degree murder charges, the officers in Memphis are also facing indictments of aggravated assault and aggravated kidnapping.
“After everyone sees the video, I don’t think they’ll have any questions about those charges,” District Attorney Steve Mulroy told CNN.
Memphis is the second-largest city in Tennessee and is 65 percent African-American.
Family lawyers who watched the clip said they had seen “the disgusting way in which he lost his life at the hands of Memphis police.”
“The news today from Memphis officials that these five officers are being held criminally accountable for their deadly and brutal actions gives us hope as we continue to push for justice for Tyre,” the lawyers added.
Biden, anticipating outrage at the video’s release, called Thursday for calm.
“As Americans grieve, the Department of Justice conducts its investigation, and state authorities continue their work, I join Tyre’s family in calling for peaceful protest,” the president said in a statement.
The family’s lawyers added that the beating of Nichols “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.”
All five officers charged with Nichols’s murder have been taken into custody, though attorneys for two of them said their clients intended to post bail.
Blake Ballin, an attorney for ex-officer Desmond Mills Jr, said that his client and his family were feeling “a lot of anxiety and pain, not only for his own situation but for what this kind of accusation, this kind of incident is doing to our city.”
The attorney added that he had not yet seen the video of the incident.
David Rausch, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, said at a press briefing Thursday that he was “sickened by what I saw and what we learned through our investigation.”
District Attorney Mulroy said the victim’s family was at a loss: “They described an almost perfect son, a cheerful and happy person who enjoyed skateboarding and sunsets over Shelby Farms Park.”
“We can name all the victims of police violence,” said Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, a civil rights group, “but we can’t name a single law you have passed to address it.”