Bodycam video shows fatal Memphis traffic stop beating; protesters march in Philadelphia, across US

Protesters gathered Friday night at Philadelphia City Hall after the release of the video of Memphis police officers beating Tyre Nichols, who died days later.
Protesters gathered Friday night at Philadelphia City Hall after the release of the video of Memphis police officers beating Tyre Nichols, who died days later. Photo credit Antionette Lee/KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Memphis authorities released more than an hour of footage Friday of the violent beating of Tyre Nichols in which officers held the Black motorist down and struck him repeatedly as he screamed for his mother. Protesters responded with marches in Philadelphia and across the U.S.

The video emerged one day after the officers were charged with second-degree murder in Nichols' death. On Friday, a pair of deputies who appeared at the scene of the beating were relieved of their duty, pending an internal probe.

Links to the raw video released by the City of Memphis.
(WARNING: Graphic and disturbing content, language.)
Video one | Video two | Video three | Video four

Protesters gathered in cities across the country, including outside Philadelphia City Hall Friday night, as the video was released at 7 p.m. The group in Center City held signs saying “End Police Terror.” Police shut down streets near City Hall to vehicular traffic due to the protests.

A group of dozens then marched down 15th Street and toward Rittenhouse Square before heading east again on Market Street with a heavy police presence nearby.

Protesters, including some from the Party for Socialism and Liberation, chanted "Black lives matter," "No justice, no peace," and "Say his name, Tyre Nichols."

As protesters marched by restaurants and businesses, some bystanders looked on apathetically, while others jointed in the chanting.

Protest organizers said they want to see a world in which people are not dying at the hands of police.

“The murder of Black people has gone on for far too long,” said Talia Giles, one of the protest leaders. “The video shows absolutely horrendous images. It shows a complete and utter disregard for human life that we’re fighting against.”

“Policing in this country just needs to be reformed and policies need to be changed, and legislation needs to go ASAP,” said Diamond Gibbs of Upper Darby, who participated in the protest.

“Tyre’s life was literally brutally taken by members of the Black community and it’s just very sickening to see … it’s really the system at whole that should be held accountable.”

“We need to stop killing us, whether it’s us or by the police,” said Jamal Johnson, who is known for protesting gun violence in Philadelphia.

That wave of protests ended in Center City at about 9 p.m.

The footage released Friday night shows police savagely beating the 29-year-old FedEx worker for three minutes. The Nichols family legal team has likened the assault to the infamous 1991 police beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King.

“I’m going to baton the (expletive) out you,” one officer can be heard saying. His body camera shows him raise his baton while at least one other officer holds Nichols.

After the beating, officers milled about for several minutes while Nichols lay propped up against the car, then slumped onto the street. Nichols died three days later.

"I would have to say I don't think I've ever been more horrified and disgusted, sad … and, to some degree, confused,” said Memphis Police Director Cerelyn Davis.

While the video is difficult to watch, Davis said, there was never a thought that it would not be made public. And the timing of its release is intentional.

"We felt that Friday would be better. We're taking into consideration the reaction of the community that could potentially take place and ensuring that our schools are out. Most business folks would be on the way home," she said.

Davis says she understands people might be angry by what they see — but says it's not a calling card for inciting violence.

Speaking at the White House, President Joe Biden said Friday that he was “very concerned” about the prospect of violence and called for protests to remain peaceful.

'Appalling': Philadelphia leaders react

Many of Philadelphia's civic leaders gave unanimous declarations of heartbreak and outrage at what they saw on video Friday night of the beating that ended Nichols' life.

“I am horrified by the brutal and inhumane violence that led to Tyre Nichols’ death. My heart breaks for his family and community, and from knowing that so many people across the country, including here in Philadelphia, live in fear that this could happen to them or a loved one," said Mayor Jim Kenney.

"With this injustice, we are again reminded of America's long and painful history of violence, especially against Black Americans and people of color. Senseless violence is never acceptable, including by those who have sworn to protect others and uphold public safety.

"What happened to Tyre Nichols is appalling, and these officers' actions undermine the very principles that law enforcement officers are sworn to uphold," Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw added.

"I want to thank Memphis Police Chief C.J. Davis for taking swift and necessary action by removing these officers from their duties."

Philadelphia Director for Faith-Based and Interfaith Affairs Rev. Naomi Washington-Leaphart said her city knows well the pain Memphis is feeling after similar cases involving law enforcement.

"How much longer will tragedy be the catalyst for swift accountability? How much longer will grief be the context for justice? When will care finally be the first response of all public servants? When will enough be enough?" Washington-Leaphart said.

"Black lives matter, and like the biblical ancestors of my faith, I refuse to be comforted until the day a badge is no longer a license to kill."

“Police reform has been at the forefront of the national consciousness, often precipitated by incidents that stir strong emotions from all sides. One thing most incidents lack is consensus," said Anthony Erace, executive director of the Citizens Police Oversight Commission.

"What we have all seen with the murder of Tyre Nichols is uniform outrage from everyone who has viewed the footage of his death. CPOC stands with the family of Tyre Nichols in their fight for justice. Police reform is public safety.”

"The recent death of Tyre Nichols is a devastating tragedy in the all too familiar narrative of negative experiences Black men and boys have with their city government," said Eric Westbrook, director of the Mayor’s Office of Black Male Engagement.

"I am outraged at another misuse of authority and disregard for human life. Most of the time these events tend to have a racially or culturally charged context, but in this case the five main suspects are Black men, adding more difficulty for our community.

'Heinous, reckless and inhumane'

Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy told a news conference that although the officers each played different roles in the killing, "they are all responsible."

Nichols' family members and their lawyers said the footage shows officers savagely beating the 29-year-old FedEx worker for three minutes in an assault that the legal team likened to the infamous 1991 police beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King.

Davis described the officers' actions as "heinous, reckless and inhumane," and said Friday that her department has been unable to substantiate the reckless driving allegation that prompted the stop.

This combo of images provided by the Memphis Police Department shows officers Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills, Jr. and Justin Smith.
This combo of images provided by the Memphis Police Department shows, from top row from left, officers Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, bottom row, from left, Desmond Mills, Jr. and Justin Smith. The five former Memphis police officers have been charged with second-degree murder and other crimes in the arrest and death of Tyre Nichols. Photo credit Memphis Police Department via AP

"As far as I know today, I do believe that the stop itself was very questionable," she told ABC's "Good Morning America."

Given the likelihood of protests, Davis told ABC that she and other local officials decided it would be best to release the video later in the day, after schools are dismissed and people are home from work.

As a precaution, Memphis-area schools canceled all after-class activities and postponed an event scheduled for Saturday morning. Other early closures included the city power company's community offices and the University of Memphis.

Nichols' mother, RowVaughn Wells, warned supporters of the "horrific" nature of the video but pleaded for peaceful protests.

"I don't want us burning up our city, tearing up the streets, because that's not what my son stood for," she said Thursday. "If you guys are here for me and Tyre, then you will protest peacefully."

Davis also urged calm after the video's release.

"None of this is a calling card for inciting violence or destruction on our community or against our citizens," she said.

A portrait of Tyre Nichols is displayed at a memorial service for him on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023 in Memphis, Tenn. Nichols was killed during a traffic stop with Memphis Police on Jan. 7.
A portrait of Tyre Nichols is displayed at a memorial service for him on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023 in Memphis, Tenn. Nichols was killed during a traffic stop with Memphis Police on Jan. 7. Photo credit AP Photo/Adrian Sainz

Andre E. Johnson, pastor of Gifts of Life Ministries and a local activist, noted that past protests in Memphis have largely been peaceful. He said the anticipation of unrest is different from when white people stormed the U.S. Capitol or "show up at any statehouse with weapons," and said people in the community see the contrast.

"Any time any violence has ever happened in this city, more than likely it has come from the police," he said. "I pray that the police tonight will not be violent, and I pray that all goes well."

On Thursday night, several dozen supporters joined Rodney and RowVaughn Wells for a candlelight vigil and prayer service at a Memphis skate park. Nichols, who had a 4-year-old son, was an avid skateboarder.

Activists and clergy led the group in prayer. Afterward, skaters rode their boards as the Wells family watched.

Court records showed that all five former officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith — were taken into custody.

The officers each face charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression. Four of the five officers had posted bond and been released from custody by Friday morning, according to court and jail records.

Martin's lawyer, William Massey, and Mills' lawyer, Blake Ballin, said their clients would plead not guilty. Lawyers for Smith, Bean and Haley could not be reached.

"No one out there that night intended for Tyre Nichols to die," Massey said.

Both lawyers said they had not seen the video.

"We are in the dark about many things, just like the general public is," Ballin said.

Second-degree murder is punishable by 15 to 60 years in prison under Tennessee law.

Attorneys for the Nichols family, Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, called on Davis to disband the police department's so-called scorpion unit focused on street crime.

Nichols "at all times was an innocent victim," Romanucci told reporters Friday. "He did nothing wrong. He was caught up in a sting. This scorpion unit was designed to saturate under the guise of crime fighting, and what it wound up doing instead was creating a continual pattern and practice of bad behavior."

Davis said other officers are still being investigated for violating department policy. In addition, she said "a complete and independent review" will be conducted of the department's specialized units, without providing further details.

Two fire department workers were also removed from duty over the Nichols' arrest.

As state and federal investigations continue, Davis promised the police department's "full and complete cooperation" to determine what contributed to Nichols' Jan. 10 death.

Crump said the video showed that Nichols was shocked, pepper-sprayed and restrained when he was pulled over near his home. He was returning home from a suburban park where he had taken photos of the sunset.

Relatives have accused the police of causing Nichols to have a heart attack and kidney failure. Authorities have only said Nichols experienced a medical emergency.

One of the officers, Haley, was accused previously of using excessive force. He was named as a defendant in a 2016 federal civil rights lawsuit while employed by the Shelby County Division of Corrections.

The claims were ultimately dismissed after a judge ruled that the plaintiff had failed to file a grievance against the officers within 30 days of the incident.

Of the Memphis Police Department's 2,006 commissioned officers, 1,194, or 59.5%, are Black, police spokesperson Karen Rudolph said.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Antionette Lee/KYW Newsradio