Initial Police Report on Tyre Nichols Arrest Is Contradicted by Videos

MEMPHIS — The videos show a brutal beating in which a group of Memphis police officers repeatedly kicked and punched Tyre Nichols after they yanked him from his car, shouted a series of threats and orders, and then pushed him to the ground while he pleaded for them to stop.

But in an official account written up by a police officer only hours after the beating, Mr. Nichols, 29, is described as an irate suspect who refused to comply with police officers’ directions and “started to fight” with them, even reaching for one of their guns.

The videos that were released on Friday do not show Mr. Nichols fighting with officers, let alone reaching for any of their guns.

Instead, they show Mr. Nichols, a FedEx employee and father, pleading with the police to stop in the moments before they deploy pepper spray in his face. At that point, Mr. Nichols gets up and runs away as an officer fires a Taser at him. When officers catch up with him, less than 100 yards from his mother’s house, they tackle and severely beat him, delivering powerful punches, a series of kicks and several swings of a baton. At no point does he appear to strike back.

Tyre Nichols.Credit…Nichols family, via Associated Press

The police report was the latest instance in which video evidence — whether from body camera footage or a bystander’s cellphone — offered a starkly different account of police violence than what officers had reported themselves. In Minneapolis, for example, the police said in May 2020 that George Floyd had died following a “medical incident,” a description that was soon challenged by a teenager’s cellphone video, leading to international protests against police abuse and charges against four officers. Five Memphis police officers have been charged with second-degree murder in Mr. Nichols’s death.

A photograph of the report was first posted online over the weekend by Thaddeus Matthews, a talk-show host in Memphis who is known as The Cussing Pastor and who said he received it from a source. The local district attorney, Steven J. Mulroy, who is leading the prosecution of the officers, said on Monday that he had a copy of a police report with the same account.

More on the Death of Tyre Nichols

  • Police Report: An official account written up hours after the beating of Tyre Nichols is the latest instance in which video evidence offered a starkly different account of police violence than what officers had reported.
  • The Officers: Five Memphis officers were fired and charged with murder in connection with Mr. Nichols’s death. The Police Department later confirmed that a sixth officer was taken off duty.
  • Scorpion Unit: Leaders in Memphis had praised this specialized police group as a key strategy for fighting crime. Now, as the unit is disbanded, they are trying to assess whether it was flawed from the start.
  • Medical Response: The video footage has also turned public attention to the emergency medical workers at the scene, raising questions of whether they should or could have done more to help Mr. Nichols.

The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office and the Memphis Police Department are listed on the photograph of the report published by Mr. Matthews, which only includes the last name of the officer who wrote it, making it unclear which agency was responsible for its content. The Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on the report or confirm its authenticity; the Police Department did not immediately respond to questions about the document.

The officer wrote that the police stopped Mr. Nichols’s car on Jan. 7 after seeing him drive quickly and into oncoming traffic. Cerelyn Davis, the Memphis police chief, has said investigators have been unable to confirm that Mr. Nichols was driving recklessly before the stop.

The officer also wrote that Mr. Nichols “was refusing a lawful detention,” was “sweating profusely” and had initiated a fight. In body camera footage of the initial traffic stop, Mr. Nichols can be heard asking the officers to stop and saying they are “really doing a lot right now” as they shout a series of directions at him and pull his arms, with one officer threatening to break his hands. At no time does it show him starting a fight.

The police report is not the only police narrative that has been challenged by the videos.

Body camera footage showing Memphis Police Department officers standing near Mr. Nichols after he was beaten. In the footage, one officer claims Mr. Nichols reached for his gun. The footage does not show that. Credit…Memphis Police Department, via Reuters

The Police Department’s first public statement, issued just hours after the arrest, described each of the two encounters only as “confrontations” and omitted details of the beating. It noted that state investigators had been called in. The messaging changed after Mr. Nichols died, residents protested and his family pressed the authorities for answers.

The videos from the scene also capture officers’ discussions after the beating, in which they describe events that, if they happened, were not shown on the footage, such as that Mr. Nichols “swung” at one officer and “literally had his hand” on an officer’s gun.

Five of the officers were fired earlier this month. Memphis Police said on Monday that a sixth officer, Preston Hemphill, had been suspended. Officer Hemphill’s lawyer said that a recording from his body camera was one of the videos released by the city. It showed that he was involved in the initial traffic stop and had fired his Taser at Mr. Nichols as he ran away, but it appeared that he was not at the scene of the beating.

Chief Davis has condemned the actions of the indicted officers as “a failing of basic humanity.”

Those officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — have each been charged with the same seven felonies, which, in addition to the second-degree murder charge, include kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression. Those officers are all Black, as was Mr. Nichols. The sixth officer, who was suspended, is white.

Officials have said the investigation remains ongoing and that more charges are possible. The city’s Fire Department suspended two emergency medical technicians who had initially treated Mr. Nichols.

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