If Tyre Nichols was targeted by members of a Memphis Police Department violent crime unit because of his alleged involvement with one of the officers’ ex-wives, there’s nothing on the subject included in a new federal indictment against the five former law enforcement officials.
A federal grand jury in Memphis on Tuesday returned a four-count indictment against Emmitt Martin III, 31; Tadarrius Bean, 24; Demetrius Haley, 30; Desmond Mills, Jr., 33; and Justin Smith, 28. The former detectives with the controversial SCORPION unit have been indicted on federal civil rights, conspiracy, and obstruction charges in the January death of Nichols.
“The country watched in horror as Tyre Nichols was kicked, punched, tased, and pepper sprayed, and we all heard Mr. Nichols cry out for his mother and say ‘I’m just trying to go home,’” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a video release. “Officers who violate the civil rights of those they are sworn to protect undermine public safety, which depends on the community’s trust in law enforcement. They dishonor their fellow officers who do their work with integrity every day. The Justice Department will continue to hold accountable officers who betray their oath.”
The fired officers already faced several charges in Shelby County, including second-degree murder, aggravated assault, and aggravated kidnapping following the brutal beating death. Nichols died days after a traffic stop in which the members of the SCORPION (“Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods) team claimed that Nichols was driving recklessly. Investigators have said there was no evidence to back up those charges.
Video images of the officers repeatedly hitting, kicking, and stomping Nichols as he cried out for his mother shocked the nation.
While the federal indictment alleges the defendants “willfully deprived Nichols of his constitutional rights,” it includes nothing about one suspected motive: That the officers were going after Nichols in a vendetta-style attack.
As The Tennessee Star reported a little more than a month after Nichols’ death, police were investigating rumors that Haley and his fellow officers at the scene were targeting Nichols because of a relationship he allegedly had with Haley’s ex-wife.
Haley was found to have used his personal smartphone to take photos of the handcuffed and bloodied black man, according to records.
“On [Haley’s] personal cell phone, [Haley] took two photographs while standing in front of the obviously injured subject after he was handcuffed,” states the document obtained through media public records requests. “[Haley] admitted [he] shared the photo in a text message with five people; one civilian employee, two MPD officers, and one female acquaintance.”
The record was filed by the Memphis Police Department with the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), Tennessee’s police certification board. MPD sought to have Haley and officers Tadarrius Bean, Justin Smith, Desmond Mills, and Emmitt Martin III decertified. The officers, all black, are awaiting trial on the state charges.
Sir Maejor, an actor and model, tweeted in late January that he was told that Nichols “was in a relationship with and worked at a Memphis FedEx with Memphis Police Demetrius Halys’s ex-girlfriend & baby mama. After the beating Officer Halys took a pictures of Tyre Nichols’ face and sent it to his babymama.” Others on social media claiming to know the situation made similar assertions.
— Sir Maejor 🇺🇸 (@Maejor4Congress) January 30, 2023
Tiffany Turner, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Kevin Ritz, who leads federal law enforcement in the Western District of Tennessee, said Tuesday’s indictment includes nothing about a personal motive for the officers’ alleged treatment of Nichols at the scene of the traffic stop.
An official with the Shelby County District Attorney’s office could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon. She did not answer her phone, and her voicemail box was full.
Rodney Wells, Nichols’ stepfather, shot down the allegations.
“My son was not messing around with one of the officer’s wives. That’s just a rumor,” he said at a candlelight vigil in late January.
Politifact, in late February, rated claims that Nichols was dating a police officer’s wife, girlfriend or ex as “false.” In making its ruling, the controversial “fact-checker” states that neither “investigators nor attorneys for the officers arrested in Tyre Nichols’ death have released any solid information about the officers’ motives.”
Such is the case in the federal indictment. Of course, if the brutal beating is discovered to have been premeditated and personal, that could alter the second-degree homicide charges in the state case.
Regarding the federal indictment, the five former officers are facing charges that they aided and abetted one another in violating Nichols’ right to be “free from the use of unreasonable force…” with the assault resulting in bodily injury and Nichols’ death. The second count alleges the officers were indifferent to Nichols’ serious medical needs.
Both counts carry a maximum life sentence.
Count three alleges the defendants conspired to cover up the use of unlawful force, including that they had “discussed hitting Nichols with straight haymakers and taking turns hitting him.” The indictment alleges the former officers lied to the MPD officers who wrote up their statements.
Count four accuses the defendants of obstruction. The third and fourth counts carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.