Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn appears on “Good Morning America,” on Jan. 27, 2023. – ABC News
(MEMPHIS, Tenn.) — Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said video of the Jan. 7 traffic stop that allegedly led to Tyre Nichols’ death left her “horrified,” “disgusted,” “sad” and “confused.”
“In my 36 years, […] I would have to say I don’t think I’ve ever been more horrified and disgusted, sad […] and, to some degree, confused,” Davis told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos during an interview Friday on Good Morning America.
“As we continue to try to build trust with our community, this is a very, very heavy cross to bear — not just for our department but for departments across the country,” she added. “Building trust is a day-by-day interaction between every traffic stop, every encounter with the community. We all have to be responsible for that and it’s going to be difficult in the days to come.”
Nichols, 29, died in a hospital three days after a confrontation with police during a traffic stop in Memphis on Jan. 7. Video of the incident, comprised of footage from the city’s surveillance cameras and the former officers’ body-worn cameras, has yet to be made public but is expected to be released on Friday evening.
“There was much discussion about when an appropriate time for the video to be released,” Davis told ABC News. “We felt that Friday would be better. We’re taking under consideration the reaction of the community that could potentially take place and ensuring that our schools, you know, are out, most business folks would be on the way home.”
Authorities have warned law enforcement agencies of the reaction that may transpire when the footage is released, and Memphis is not the only city on alert. In Washington, D.C., the Metropolitan Police Department said Thursday that it has “fully activated all sworn personnel in preparation for possible First Amendment activities.” The United States Capitol Police, charged with protecting Congress, is also taking steps to boost security ahead of the video release, a source briefed on the agency’s plans told ABC News on Friday.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Police Department said Friday that it is “closely monitoring the situation in Memphis” and is “working with our stakeholders to ensure that we have ample staffing on hand in order to provide for the safety and First Amendment rights of demonstrators, residents, and visitors.”
Last week, the Memphis Police Department fired five officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — in connection with Nichols’ death. All five men were arrested on Thursday and each charged with several felonies, including second-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated assault, official misconduct and official oppression, according to online jail records for Tennessee’s Shelby County and a press release from the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office.
“Even though this is a very, very difficult video to watch, it was never a thought that we would not release this video,” Davis noted. “We wanted to make sure that it wasn’t released too prematurely because we wanted to ensure that the DA’s office, the TBI and also the FBI had an opportunity to cross some of the hurdles that they had to in their investigation. And we’re sort of at a point now that the DA has made his statements in reference to charges of these officers, that this is a safe time for us to release the video.”
When pressed on why the video left her “confused,” the police chief told ABC News that it was “just in the level of aggression and response to what had occurred in this traffic stop and is still very unclear, you know, as to the real reason for the stop in the first place.”
Nichols was arrested in Memphis on the evening of Jan. 7, after officers attempted to make a traffic stop for reckless driving near the area of Raines Road and Ross Road, according to separate press releases from the Memphis Police Department and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. A confrontation unfolded as the officers approached Nichols, who ran away. Another confrontation occurred when the officers pursued Nichols and ultimately apprehended him, police said.
After the incident, Nichols “complained of having a shortness of breath” and was transported by ambulance to Memphis’ St. Francis Hospital in critical condition, according to police.
Due to Nichols’ condition, the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office was contacted and TBI special agents were subsequently requested to conduct a use-of-force investigation, according to the TBI.
Nichols “succumbed to his injuries” on Jan. 10, the TBI said.
Local, state and federal authorities continue to investigate the Jan. 7 traffic stop and Nichols’ death.
According to a preliminary independent autopsy commissioned by Nichols’ family and released by their lawyers, he suffered from “extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating.”
Neither the independent autopsy report nor official autopsy report have been publicly released.
When asked what went wrong that fateful day, the police chief told ABC News that she thinks “there were several gaps that took place.”
“I’m just going to be honest, anytime we have officers that are working in various types of units — and our police department along with departments around the country have specialized units — it’s just important to make sure that there are supervisors that are where they’re supposed to be during these types of operations,” Davis added. ” You know, individuals that are the right people that are in place that will act appropriately when these types of incidents occur.”
“I believe there was a sense of group think in the mentality of what was happening,” she said, “and it’s just very unfortunate that nobody stepped forward to say ‘enough.'”
Davis also noted that “the stop itself was very questionable” and investigators “have been unable to verify the reckless driving allegation.”
Bean, Haley, Martin, Mills and Smith were part of the SCORPION Unit, an acronym for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace In Our Neighborhoods launched in 2021 by the Memphis Police Department. The goal of the unit was created to address violent crimes in the city in a 50-person unit that operates seven days a week. According to the Memphis Police Department, the five former officers violated policies for use of force, duty to intervene and duty to render aid. Other officers are under investigation for department violations as well.
The police chief told ABC News that she is not aware of any prior criminal records for Bean, Haley, Martin, Mills or Smith.
All five were booked into Shelby County Jail on Thursday. Bonds were set at $350,000 for Martin and Haley, and $250,000 for Bean, Mills and Smith, according to a press release from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. As of early Friday morning, online jail records show Bean, Martin, Mills and Smith have since been released after posting bond. Records show Haley is the only one still in custody, though it appears he has posted bond.
Mills’ lawyer, Blake Ballin, and the attorney for Martin, William Massey, told reporters on Thursday that they have not yet seen video of the Jan. 7 incident, but they said their clients were “devastated” about the charges and will be pleading not guilty. Although there have been no public announcement of other defense attorneys representing the officers, Ballin and Massey told reporters that all former officers are currently represented.
Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy, joined by TBI Director David Rausch and other members of the state agency, held a press conference on Thursday afternoon to officially announce the charges against the five former officers.
“Nothing we do today or did today precludes the addition of any further charges regarding any of the people [involved],” Mulroy told reporters.
Earlier this week, Nichols’ stepfather, Rodney Wells, told ABC News that the family is seeking a first-degree murder charge. But Mulroy said Thursday that he had met with the family about the charges brought and “expedited” the investigation.
The TBI director described the Jan. 7 incident as “absolutely appalling.”
“Let me be clear, what happened here does not at all reflect proper policing,” Rausch told reporters. “This was wrong. This was criminal.”
Nichols’ family and their lawyers have already seen video of the incident. One of the family’s attorneys, Ben Crump, told ABC News that the footage was “tragic” and “so difficult to watch,” describing Nichols as a “gentle soul.”
“Even while he’s being brutalized, you still see the humanity in Tyre that he was a good kid,” Crump said during an interview Thursday night on ABC News Live Prime. “It’s just troubling on so many levels that they continue to escalate. They never de-escalate. And it’s just heart wrenching at the end where, you know, he calls for his mother three times. I mean, heart wrenching cries for his mother. And then he never says another word again.”
Crump said Nichols’ family is “relieved” that the officers were terminated “in a swift manner” and also “thankful that the charges were brought today.”
“What I found is — in my almost 25 years of doing this civil rights work in America — it is not the race of the police officer that is the determining factor of whether they are going to engage in excessive use of force,” he added. “But it is the race of the citizen and, oftentimes, it’s Black and brown citizens who bear the brunt of this police brutality. We don’t see our white brothers and sisters who are unarmed encounter this type of excessive force at the hands of police.”
ABC News’ Nakylah Carter, Armando Garcia, Ahmad Hemingway, Josh Margolin, Mark Osborne, Stephanie Wash and Whitney Lloyd contributed to this report.
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