The official reason why former Memphis police officers charged with Tyre Nichols’ murder initiated a brutally violent traffic stop last month is seemingly being upended as a new report suggests there may have been a different motivation to detain the Black motorist.
It’s added fuel to the lingering question:
Why was Tyre Nichols really pulled over on Jan. 7?
The latest apparent evidence that Nichols was pulled over for something other than reckless driving came Thursday when it was revealed that one of the six fired Memphis officers admitted he lied on his police report about why the traffic stop took place. The revelation came courtesy of a document submitted by the Memphis Police Department (MPD) in an effort to keep the former officers involved from working in law enforcement capacities ever again, according to local news outlet WMC-TV.
Preston Hemphill, who deployed his Taser on Nichols and encouraged officers to “stomp his ass,” initially told investigators the reason for the traffic stop was reckless driving. But the MPD document shows Hemphill, who was fired last week, admitted he never actually saw Nichols driving recklessly, contrary to what he told investigators.
Nevertheless, Hemphill — who did not participate in the vicious beating his colleagues inflicted on Nichols — approached Nichols’ car with his gun drawn, which is not the standard operating procedure for such an alleged traffic violation. Was there a reason other than reckless driving compelling Hemphill to draw his gun for suspicion of a nonviolent misdemeanor?
Hemphill was also found to have lied that Nichols started fighting with officers and tried to grab one of their guns, further damaging the former officer’s credibility.
The devil is in the details
Also helping to cast doubt on the reckless driving allegation is the fact that Nichols was never actually informed of why he was pulled over, according to documents from the Tennessee Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission obtained by the New York Post.
Former officer Demetrius Haley was driving an unmarked car and wearing a black hoodie when he pulled Nichols over for a routine traffic stop last month, the records show. He and another officer had their guns drawn when they ripped Nichols from his car.
Later, they claimed they pulled Nichols over for reckless driving, but they never communicated that to him.
“You never told the driver the purpose of the vehicle stop or that he was under arrest,” the documents state.
Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis previously said there was “no proof” that Nichols was driving recklessly.
“We looked at cameras, we’ve looked at body-worn cameras and, even if something occurred prior to this stop, we’ve been unable to substantiate that at this time,” Davis told CNN late last month. “We’ve taken a pretty extensive look to determine what that probable cause was, and we have not been able to substantiate that. It doesn’t mean that something didn’t happen, but there’s no proof.”
Conspiracy theories abound
The new disclosures came on the heels of a report that former officer Haley used his cellphone to take photos of Nichols after beating him and texted at least one of the images to five other people. One of the people who received the photo was a “female acquaintance,” a fact that renewed a social media rumor that the police violence was personal and motivated by more than just the pursuit of an allegedly reckless driver.
Sherrilyn Ifill, the former president and director-counsel of LDF, said in a tweet that the revelation about Haley “raised alarm bells” surrounding the “rumors” she said she has “tried to ignore.” Ifill said, “We need the entire story ASAP.”
To be sure, Nichols’ stepfather previously debunked the rumor.
“My son was not messing around with one of the officer’s wives,” Rodney Wells said last week during a vigil in Memphis. “That’s just a rumor.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who delivered the eulogy at Nichols’ funeral last week, also dismissed the rumor.
“Nobody mentioned nothing about no girlfriend,” Sharpton previously said before adding, “they started beating an unarmed man.”
What happened to Tyre Nichols?
Nichols, a 29-year-old father of a young son, died Jan. 10, more than two days after he was pulled over under the reported suspicion of reckless driving.
Nichols’ mother said the bodycam video is evidence that the Memphis Police Department “murdered” her son.
At least 13 people have been held accountable for Nichols’ death, including six police officers and three fire department personnel, the latter of whom were accused of failing to render aid.
An independent autopsy revealed that Nichols “suffered extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating, and that his observed injuries are consistent with what the family and attorneys witnessed on the video of his fatal encounter with police on January 7, 2023.”
The Department of Justice announced this week that it intends to participate in an independent review of the MPD.
Nichols’ funeral was held Feb. 1.
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