Memphis Officers Had Been Reprimanded After Using Force

Two of the former Memphis police officers charged with killing Tyre Nichols had previously been reprimanded for failing to file required reports about the use of physical force in making arrests, according to records released Tuesday.

In one case from 2019, Officer Desmond Mills Jr. was assisting in a traffic stop and “used physical force” to take a suspect to the ground for arrest, personnel records show. After a hearing two years later, Mr. Mills was given a written reprimand for failing to file the mandatory incident report.

Similarly, Officer Demetrius Haley was reprimanded in 2021 for failing to file a report after grabbing someone by the arm to turn them around to make an arrest. Mr. Haley said at a hearing that he had been mistaken about “the amount of force necessary to require” such documentation.

Two other officers charged in Mr. Nichols’s death also had disciplinary histories. Officer Emmitt Martin III was suspended for not checking his vehicle after a shift, a problem that came to light when another officer found a gun inside the vehicle. Later, Mr. Martin received a one-day suspension after failing to take a report when he responded to a reported domestic violence case.

Officer Justin Smith was suspended for two days in 2021 after crashing his vehicle, according to the records. He and another driver were injured in the crash.

The fifth officer charged in Mr. Nichols’s death, Tadarrius Bean, did not appear to have had any prior disciplinary issues since joining the department in 2020.

The disciplinary cases involving the use of force focused on whether the officers had appropriately reported the encounters; the hearings did not appear to examine whether the force had been appropriate.

The records show that the officers’ managers at times appeared at disciplinary hearings to praise the work of the officers. At Mr. Haley’s hearing, a lieutenant spoke on his behalf, saying he was “a hard-working officer” who “routinely makes good decisions.” At Mr. Martin’s hearing, records show, a lieutenant called him among the “top producers.”

All five officers were fired this month after Mr. Nichols’s death. Video from his arrest on Jan. 7 showed officers kicking, pepper-spraying and punching him. He was taken to a hospital and died three days later.

The officers were part of a dedicated “Scorpion” unit, established in 2021 to deploy in neighborhoods where the city had documented high rates of crime. The department has now disbanded the unit, with police officials saying that the “heinous actions of a few” had cast a cloud of dishonor on the unit.

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