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Five former Memphis Police officers plead not guilty to federal charges in Tyre Nichols' death

Tadarrius Bean, Desmond Mills, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin and Justin Smith were indicted Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023, in U.S. District Court in Memphis.

MEMPHIS, Tenn — The last of five former Memphis Police officers charged in the death of Tyre Nichols has pleaded not guilty after being indicted for federal civil rights violations.

Emmitt Martin surrendered on the charges Thursday, a day after the four other former MPD officers appeared in court and pleaded not guilty.

Desmond Mills, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, and Justin Smith appeared in federal court Sept. 13, 2023.

After pleading not guilty, all five were released on $50,000 bond each with conditions. The conditions of their bond require them to avoid contact with each other. Each defendant must turn in their passport, and they aren't allowed to have a gun or ammunition. Any violation comes with a penalty of $50,000. We learned Thursday Martin currently drives trucks, and must get permission to travel outside of the district, including any travel to Arkansas or Mississippi.

"All very standard, reasonable," said attorney Blake Ballin, who represents Mills. "My client Mr. Mills, none of these guys are going anywhere. They've shown up for state court. There's no reason for them to do anything other than release them at this point." 

All five are due back in federal court on Sept. 21.

Bean, Haley, Smith, Mills, and Martin were indicted Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023, in U.S. District Court in Memphis. The four-count indictment charges them with deprivation of rights under the color of law through excessive force and failure to intervene, and through deliberate indifference; conspiracy to witness tampering; and obstruction of justice through witness tampering.

The federal charges come nine months after the violent beating during a Jan. 7 traffic stop near Nichols' Memphis home, in which the MPD officers punched, kicked and slugged the 29-year-old with a baton as he yelled for his mother. Nichols died at a hospital three days later. The five former officers, all Black like Nichols, have pleaded not guilty to state charges of second-degree murder and other alleged offenses in the case.

Read the full federal indictment HERE.

“We all heard Mr. Nichols cry out for his mother and say ‘I’m just trying to go home,’” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a video statement after the indictment. “Tyre Nichols should be alive today.”

U.S. Attorney Kevin Ritz in West Tennessee said at an afternoon news briefing that the state and federal cases are on separate tracks. Ritz declined to predict how quickly they would proceed.

Kristen Clarke, who leads the U.S. Department of Justice's civil rights division, said at the appearance that the five former officers used excessive force, failed to advise medical personnel about Nichols’ injuries and conspired to cover up their misconduct.

“In our country, no one is above the law," she said, adding she met earlier Tuesday with Nichols’ mother and stepfather.

Attorneys for several of the former officers said the indictment was no surprise, and some added that their clients will defend themselves against the charges.

The indictment says the officers failed to tell dispatchers, their supervisor and emergency medical technicians they knew Nichols had been hit repeatedly, trying to cover up their use of force and shield themselves from criminal liability.

Additionally, the indictment alleges instances where the officers used their body cameras to limit what evidence could be captured at the scene: Martin moved his body camera where it wouldn't show video of the beating; Haley and Smith activated theirs only after the assault; and Haley and Mills took theirs off when emergency medical personnel were on the scene.

At the arrest scene, the officers afterward discussed hitting Nichols with “straight haymakers,” even as Nichols’ condition deteriorated and he became unresponsive, the indictment said. Nichols could be seen on police video on the ground, slumped against a police car.

The indictment accuses the officers of gathering after the beating and saying, among other things, that “I thought when he wasn’t going to fall, we about to kill this man.” The indictment does not specify which officer made that statement.

The indictment also alleges the officers falsely stated Nichols actively resisted arrest at the beating scene and that he grabbed on Smith’s protective vest and pulled on the officers’ duty belts.

A hearing was set for Friday morning in a federal lawsuit filed by Nichols’ mother against the five ex-officers, the city of Memphis and its police department. The former officers then have a scheduled appearance Friday afternoon in state court.

The Justice Department announced an investigation in July into how Memphis Police Department officers use force and conduct arrests, one of several “patterns and practices” investigations it has undertaken in other U.S. cities.

In March, the Justice Department said it was conducting a separate review concerning use of force, de-escalation strategies and specialized units in the Memphis Police Department. The officers were part of a crime-suppression team that officials disbanded after Nichols’ death. However, members of that “Scorpion” unit have been moved to other teams. 

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