June 5, 2023 5:57 am

Tyre Nichols: Ex-officers plead not guilty over his death

Five former Memphis police officers charged with murder over the death of Tyre Nichols have pleaded not guilty in their first court appearance.

Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr, Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith were involved in the arrest of Mr Nichols on 7 January.

They were fired after an internal investigation by the Memphis Police Department.

Mr Nichols’ death sparked protests against police brutality in the US.

The judge confirmed the five defendants had pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression.

Judge James Jones asked for patience as lawyers build their cases.

“This case may take some time,” he said to the defendants standing before him alongside their lawyers at the Shelby County Criminal Court.

“We do ask for your continued patience and your continued civility in this case,” he said.

Members of Mr Nichols’ family were in court with their lawyer, Ben Crump.

Mr Nichols’ mother RowVaughn Wells spoke to reporters outside court and reflected on seeing the ex-officers in person.

“They didn’t even have the courage to look at me in my face,” she said.

She promised to attend every court date until “we get justice for my son”.

“Memphis and the whole world needs to see that what’s right is done in this case, and it needs to happen sooner rather than later,” lead prosecutor Paul Hagerman told reporters.

The ex-officers, dressed in suits and wearing black face masks, stood silently beside their attorneys during the brief hearing.

None of the defendants spoke. Their lawyers confirmed the not-guilty pleas when asked by the judge.

The officers were arrested and taken into custody on 26 January after the Memphis police reviewed bodycam footage of the violent arrest.

In the footage, 29-year-old Mr Nichols can be heard calling for his mother as he is beaten by police after being pulled over for alleged reckless driving.

He was pepper-sprayed, kicked and punched by the officers and died in hospital three days later.

Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis said the incident was “not just a professional failing”, but “a failing of basic humanity toward another individual”.

RowVaughn Wells previously told BBC News it was the race of the victim – in this case her son – and not the race of the perpetrators that mattered.

“It’s not about the colour of the police officer. We don’t care if it’s black, white, pink, purple. What they did was wrong,” she said.

The fallout from the violent arrest has had ripple effects throughout the city.

In addition to the arrest of the five officers directly involved, several other staff members were fired and are being investigated.

A special unit that was designed to fight crime in Memphis has been disbanded.

The former officers are currently out on bail, with the next hearing scheduled on 1 May.

They face up to 60 years in prison if convicted of murder.

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