UPDATED: 12:10 p.m. ET, Jan. 30
The Memphis Police Department suspended a sixth officer involved in the violent traffic stop of Tyre Nichols, a Black motorist who died from injuries sustained during that encounter earlier this month.
The announcement that Officer Preston Hemphill “was relieved of duty shortly after the Jan. 7 arrest” came after a white officer was shown on bodycam video of the police brutality-laden arrest. Notably, police said he was “not fired.”
Officer Preston Hemphill was relieved of duty shortly after the Jan. 7 arrest of Nichols, who died three days later at a hospital, Memphis police spokeswoman Karen Rudolph said. She did not disclose Hemphill’s role in the arrest.
Rudolph said information on disciplinary action taken against Hemphill was not immediately released because Hemphill was not fired and the department typically releases information about officers who are relieved of duty after an investigation ends.
Since the city of Memphis released videos showing a group of its police officers brutalizing Tyre Nichols, two of the main questions being asked are 1) who the white cop is seen in the violent traffic stop footage and 2) why wasn’t he also fired, arrested and charged with murder in the Black motorist’s death?
It seems at least one of those questions may be finally answered.
According to a tweet by Amber Sherman, a Memphis-based policy analyst and activist, “Preston Hemphill” is “named in the affidavit as having deployed his taser” during the violent traffic stop on Jan. 7. The tweet also showed a picture of a man alleged to be Hemphill.
Hours later, the claim made in Sherman’s tweet was amplified without credit by the Tennessee Holler, an independent news organization covering the Volunteer State.
“Meet Detective Preston Hemphill. This is apparently who tased #TyreNichols and said ‘I hope they stomp his ass'” the Tennessee Holler tweeted Sunday night. It said Hemphill’s name “is confirmed” in an “incident narrative” provided by the Memphis Police Department.
The video below does not show any graphic footage.
The Tennessee Holler punctuated its tweet by asking why Hemphill was not fired, arrested and charged like the other officers involved, all Black men. The tweet was directed at Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy and Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis.
A 2019 entry on the Open Payrolls website identifies a person named Preston Hemphill as “a Police Service Technician for the city of Memphis.”
According to a job listing on the city of Memphis’ website recruiting for a Police Service Technician, someone working in that capacity has job duties that include responding to “traffic control, non-critical crash investigation, and motor vehicle code and status enforcement.” Notably, the job is described in part as “a non-commissioned entry-level trainee position in which individuals will receive preparatory training and experience to become future police candidates.”
The Gov Salaries website identified “Preston Hemphill” as a “Police Officer” for the City of Memphis in 2020.
A link showing the City of Memphis employee salaries in 2021 also identified “Preston Hemphill” as a “Police Officer.”
Sherman’s tweet even pointed to a wristband for an Apple Watch as an indicator that Hemphill must be the white cop in the video.
An inquiry sent to the City of Memphis asking about Hemphill was not immediately returned.
Do white blue lives matter more than Black ones?
Before any name was reported, there was widespread speculation on social media about why the Black cops were fired and charged but not the white one who also appeared to be an active participant in the brutality.
Nichols’ family specifically asked why the white officer wasn’t fired, arrested and charged.
“There was a white officer that was tasing my son and we don’t understand how come his name was not put out there or mentioned in this whole fiasco,” Nichols’ stepfather, Rodney Wells, said in a recent interview.
The bodycam and police videos were released Friday and came just one day after five Memphis police officers responsible for the beating death of the 29-year-old were charged with second-degree murder.
What happened to Tyre Nichols?
Nichols died on Jan. 10, three days after he was hospitalized from injuries sustained during a violent arrest for the alleged offense of reckless driving. Officers were shown on the bodycam video approaching Nichols’ car on the night of Jan. 7 and aggressively ordering him out without disclosing a reason for doing so. Nichols was thrown to the ground and pepper-sprayed and assaulted before he was able to get up and run for his life.
When officers located him a little while later, they seemingly took out their stated anger on him by taking turns beating and kicking him, including multiple blows to his face for minutes at a time.
The results from an independent preliminary autopsy performed last Monday showed Nichols “suffered extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating.”
The autopsy findings came one day after it was reported that two Memphis firefighters have been “relieved of duty” for their roles during the traffic stop, suggesting the investigation into the brutality was widening in scope.
Nichols’ mother said the video is evidence that the Memphis Police Department “murdered” her son.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Nichols’ family, said the officers treated Nichols like “a human piñata” and compared the police violence to the infamous Rodney King beating in 1991.
“Regrettably, it reminded us of (the) Rodney King video,” Crump told reporters. “Regrettably, unlike Rodney King, Tyre didn’t survive.”
The Memphis Police Department (MPD) has pledged transparency and swiftly fired the five officers involved. MPD said “a confrontation occurred” during the traffic stop when officers approached Nichols, who “fled on foot.” A second unspecified “confrontation” occurred when MPD tried to take Nichols into custody, police said.
“Afterward, the suspect complained of having a shortness of breath, at which time an ambulance was called to the scene. The suspect was transported to St. Francis Hospital in critical condition,” MPD said in a press release admitting the officers “violated multiple departmental policies, including excessive use of force, duty to intervene, and duty to render aid.”
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