Tyre Nichols traffic stop in Memphis is reminiscent of Rodney King beating, lawyer says after seeing video

By Doha Madani

Tyre Nichols was the victim of an “unadulterated, unabashed, nonstop beating” reminiscent to the brutality Rodney King suffered at the hands of police officers, attorneys representing the man’s family said Monday after having seen video of the police encounter that happened days before Nichols died.

Nichols, 29, was hospitalized and died three days after Memphis, Tennessee, police officers stopped him on Jan. 7.

Five officers involved in the traffic stop were fired Friday after an administrative investigation found they violated department policies, Police Chief C.J. Davis said in a statement.

Attorneys Benjamin Crump and Antonio Romanucci, who are representing Nichols’ family, said they could not offer many details of the video after having viewed it with city officials.

At a news conference Monday, Romanucci described it as an “unadulterated, unabashed, nonstop beating” for three minutes.

“There were multiple uses of force, multiple uses of force,” Romanucci said. “That’s what we can say.”

Crump told reporters that it reminded him of “the Rodney King video,” referring to the 1991 bystander video of Los Angeles police officers beating a Black man.

“What we can tell you about the video: It is appalling, it is deplorable, it is heinous … violent,” Crump said. “And it’s very troublesome on every level, because you have to ask yourself, yet again, we’re seeing evidence of what happens to Black and brown people from simple traffic stops.”

Ravaughn Wells, Nichols’ mother, was visibly and audibly upset at a news conference after having viewed the video.

“All my son was trying to do was get home. … He was two minutes from the house when they stopped him,” she said. “He was less than 80 yards away when they murdered him. Yes, I said murder … because when I walked into that hospital room, my son was already dead.”

Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said he expected video in the case to be released to the public “this week or next.”

“Transparency remains a priority in this incident, and a premature release could adversely impact the criminal investigation and the judicial process,” Davis said in a statement Monday.

The police department and the mayor’s office said last week that the body camera video would be released after the internal investigation concluded and the family was able to view it privately. Details of what happened have been scarce.

Police said in an initial statement after the Jan. 7 stop that Nichols had been pulled over for reckless driving and ran away and that a “confrontation” occurred when officers tried to detain him.

Nichols complained of having shortness of breath and was taken to the hospital in critical condition. A cause of death has not been released.

A photo provided by his stepfather, Rodney Wells, showed Nichols in the hospital with blood on his face and what appeared to be a swollen eye. His mother said Monday that he was placed on a “breathing machine.”

Nichols’ case is being investigated by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations and the U.S. Justice Department, which announced it was launching a civil rights inquiry.

Officials identified the officers Friday as Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith.

NBC News was unable to contact the officers for comment after they were fired Friday, and they did not immediately respond to emails requesting comment Monday.

In an emailed statement, the president of the Memphis Police Association, Lt. Essica Cage-Rosario, cited the criminal investigation and declined to comment on the officers’ firing.

“The citizens of Memphis, and more importantly, the family of Mr. Nichols deserve to know the complete account of the events leading up to his death and what may have contributed to it,” she said.

Nichols’ family described him as beloved by his co-workers at FedEx, where he worked the last year with his stepfather. They said he loved to skateboard, take pictures and watch the sunset.

Nichols was also father to a 4-year-old boy, Crump said.

His mother said: “My son was a beautiful soul. And he touched everyone.”