Attorneys for the family of Tyre Nichols, the 29-year-old Black man fatally beaten by Memphis police following a traffic stop, expressed disappointment and frustration with the Memphis Police Department over the news that a sixth officer involved in the stop has been relieved of his duty, but has not been fired or charged.
Officer Preston Hemphill – who is white – was relieved of his duties “when the other officers were relieved”, a Memphis police spokesperson told Memphis . That was over a week ago.
In that time, the other five officers, who are all Black, have been fired and charged with second-degree murder among other offenses, which has raised even more questions for the department about their transparency and alludes to the possible racial dynamics in this case.
“The news today from Memphis officials that Officer Preston Hemphill was reportedly relieved of duty weeks ago, but not yet terminated or charged, is extremely disappointing,” civil rights and personal injury attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci said in a joint statement Monday. “Why is his identity and the role he played in Tyre’s death just now coming to light? We have asked from the beginning that the Memphis Police Department be transparent with the family and the community – this news seems to indicate that they haven’t risen to the occasion.”
Memphis Police did not respond to Yahoo News’ request for comment.
News of the additional officer’s discipline has angered waves of people of police brutality, particularly after the department’s swift and public firing of the five Black officers.
“It certainly begs the question why the white officer involved in this brutal attack was shielded and protected from the public eye, and to date, from sufficient discipline and accountability,” the statement continued. “The Memphis Police Department owes us all answers.”
The Memphis Fire Department announced Monday that they have terminated two EMTs and a Lieutenant for “violating numerous policies” in caring for Nichols. Prosecutors are examining whether to bring charges against these employees.
On Friday evening, Memphis police from surveillance cameras and numerous officer body cameras that recorded the Jan. 7 encounter. In one of those videos, Hemphill’s own body camera captures the officer helping pull Nichols from his car before Hemphill deployed his Taser. After Nichols gets out from under several officers beating on him, Hemphill begins to chase Nichols down the road before turning back to return to the car at the initial traffic stop. Later in the video, Hemphill can be heard saying twice, “I hope they stomp his ass.”
The other videos released show different moments of Nichols getting sprayed with pepper spray, chased and beaten by at least five officers at once as Nichols’ once animated body slowly stops moving. Nichols, an amateur photographer and father of a 4-year-old son, died in the hospital three days later.
Those five other officers – Justin Smith, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III and Desmond Mills Jr – seen beating on Nichols were fired on Jan. 20 and charged less than a week later on Jan. 26 with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression.
Hemphill, who joined MPD in 2018, however, has not been charged with anything.
While critics online have piled on in to Hemphill not being charged, others believe that, though he should be held accountable, he appeared to play a smaller role in Nichols’ arrest.
“I think the white officer in this situation clearly should be investigated … but when we look at the video, that particular officer was not involved in the beating that killed Tyree Nichols,” Dr. Rashawn Ray, a Senior Fellow at The Brookings Institution, told Yahoo News, admitting that Hemphill’s punishment should look different. But Ray added that the response towards the Black officers should be uniform nationwide.
“What should be happening is that the swiftness by which these five officers were brought forth on charges and also fired from the department is the same thing that should happen across the country.”
Jayla Whitfield contributed reporting to this article.
Cover thumbnail photos: Yahoo News; photos: Gerald Herbert/AP, Memphis Police Department