The five former Memphis, Tennessee, police officers have entered a not-guilty plea to second-degree murder and other counts in connection with Tyre Nichols’ death.
The not-guilty pleas were made on behalf of Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith by their attorneys, who were in court on Friday.
The officers were fired on January 20 and then charged with two counts of official misconduct, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, one crime of official oppression, and one count of aggravated assault, in addition to two counts of second-degree murder. Together with family lawyer Ben Crump, Nichols’ mother RowVaughn Wells, and stepfather Rodney Wells were in court.
At a news conference after the hearing, Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, said that the officers didn’t have the courage to look her in the eye during the hearing but that “they’re going to see me at every court date — every one — until we get justice for my son.”
“I feel very numb right now,” Wells said. “And I’m waiting for this nightmare basically that I’m going through right now, I’m waiting for somebody to wake me up. I know that’s not going to happen.”
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During the appearance, Judge James Jones Jr. asked for patience as “this case may take some time” and “there may be some high emotions.”
“But it’s important for you all to understand that the state of Tennessee, as well as each one of these defendants, have an absolute right to a fair trial, and I will not allow any behavior that could jeopardize that right,” he said.
Addressing reporters outside the courtroom, Blake Ballin, an attorney for Desmond Mills Jr., said that “justice for Mr. Nichols will not be achieved at the expense of justice for Mr. Mills.”
Five former Memphis officers plead not guilty in death of Tyre Nichols | Reuters https://t.co/KhlaPFvbAu
— Quanda Francis (@QuandaFrancis) February 17, 2023
“I want to remind everyone that the resolution of this indictment, to which Mr. Mills has pleaded not guilty, must be carried out without sympathy or prejudice, that it must be based on the facts and the law, and not the raw emotions that our country is currently experiencing,” he said. Last month, Memphis Police Chief C.J. Davis said the officers were “directly responsible” for Nichols’ “physical abuse.”
At the traffic stop of Nichols on January 7, the officers are reported to have broken numerous policies, including the use of excessive force, the responsibility to intervene, and the duty to offer help, according to a Memphis police administrative inquiry, Davis said.
According to a video that the city has made public, Nichols was pulled and stopped by the officers and forcibly forced out of his car while they yelled a bewildering stream of orders at him.
Having made it to his mother’s area, Nichols was just 80 yards from her home when video showed several officers beating him while he yelled repeatedly, “Mom!”
According to Davis, an investigation and assessment of the available camera footage revealed “no proof” of the police claim that Nichols was allegedly stopped for reckless driving.
Nichols, 29, a skateboarder and amateur photographer, was taken to the hospital in severe condition and passed away three days later.
Nichols was the father of a 4-year-old son and was the youngest of four children. When the epidemic began, he was visiting his family in Memphis from his home in Sacramento, California, so he stayed there and found a job working the overnight shift at FedEx.