The apparently reluctant revelation that a police officer who is white was quietly disciplined for the violent arrest of Tyre Nichols is evidence that the Memphis Police Department (MPD) “shielded and protected” him while it readily named and fired the Black cops involved, Ben Crump said Monday.
The civil rights attorney who represents Nichols’ family was reacting to the announcement hours earlier that MPD had relieved a white police officer from duty — not fired — for his alleged role in the violent arrest that took place Jan. 7. While the world learned three days later of the Black officers accused of murdering Nichols — they were promptly named and fired with their faces plastered across media outlets — it would take more than three weeks for MPD to say that it had disciplined Officer Preston Hemphill, whose presence during the arrest was previously unknown until he was shown on bodycam video footage made public on Friday.
It was in that context that Crump took umbrage with Monday’s disclosure.
“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. Why is his identity and the role he played in Tyre’s death just now coming to light?” Crump asked before continuing. “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.”
Crump added: “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 Memphis Police Department owes us all answers.”
The Associated Press cited an MPD spokesperson in reporting that “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.”
Hemphill is suspected of being the white officer in the bodycam video who pepper sprays Nichols before encouraging his colleagues to “stomp his ass.”
Once the bodycam video was released, Nichols’ stepfather was among those asking why the white cop wasn’t held accountable.
“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 an interview with ABC News after viewing the footage.
Amber Sherman, a Memphis-based policy analyst and activist, tweeted Sunday afternoon that “Preston Hemphill” is “named in the affidavit as having deployed his taser” during the violent traffic stop. The tweet also showed a picture of a man alleged to be Hemphill.
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.
What happened to Tyre Nichols?
Nichols died 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.
The five Black officers involved — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills and Justin Smith — have all been charged with second-degree murder, official misconduct, official oppression and aggravated kidnapping.
Nichols’ funeral is scheduled to be held in Memphis Wednesday, the first day of Black History Month.
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