Appalling video exposed Memphis police brutally beating Tyre Nichols. But these 8 questions remain unanswered
Horrifying footage of the brutal and deadly beating of a Black man at the hands of law enforcement officers in Memphis has caused outrage across America and reignited demands for an overhaul of policing as we now know it.
Tyre Nichols, 29, was pulled over for a traffic stop on the night of 7 June.
He died three days later in hospital, with an independent autopsy by Nichols’ family finding that he suffered “extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating”.
Damning footage – taken from the police officers’ bodyworn cameras and a police pole camera – was finally released to the public on Friday.
It shows a group of Memphis police officers punching, kicking and tasering Nichols and beating him with batons.
The 29-year-old is then left slumped up against a police car – limp, disorientated and struggling to sit upright from his injuries.
One of the most chilling parts of the footage captures the officers laughing and boasting about the beating they rained down on the Black man, with one officer heard saying he was “hitting him with straight haymakers, dog”.
Before paramedics arrive on the scene sometime later and take him to hospital, the officers fail to administer him any medical aid.
The deadly beating – coming almost three years on from the murder of George Floyd and echoing the police beating of Rodney King three decades earlier – led to protests across America over the weekend demanding justice and an end to police brutality.
The five Memphis Police officers – Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr, and Justin Smith – were fired by department and charged with second-degree murder.
On Monday, two other officers were also relieved of their duties while three Memphis Fire Department officials – two emergency reponders and a lieutenant – were fired.
However, the hour-long footage has still left several questions still unanswered.
Here’s what we still don’t know:
Why did the officers carry out a traffic stop on Tyre Nichols’ car?
Perhaps the biggest mystery that still remains is what initally led to the fatal encounter between Nichols and the law enforcement officers and why the officers carried out a traffic stop on his car in the first place.
Initially, Memphis Police Department said that Nichols was pulled over for “reckless driving.”
“As officers approached the driver of the vehicle, a confrontation occurred, and the suspect fled the scene on foot,” police said at the time.
“Officers pursued the suspect and again attempted to take the suspect into custody. While attempting to take the suspect into custody, another confrontation occurred; however, the suspect was ultimately apprehended.”
In the footage, released on Friday, one officer is heard at one point telling other officers that Nichols’ car had swerved and almost struck his police car.
However, Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis has now cast doubt on the reckless driving claim, revealing that the investigation has so far found no evidence to support this.
“I’m going to be honest with you about the stop itself. What was said was there was witnessing of what was considered reckless driving,” she told CNN on Friday.
“We’ve looked at cameras. We’ve looked at body-worn cameras. Even if something occurred prior to this stop, we’ve been unable to substantiate it.”
She added: “We’ve taken a pretty extensive look to determine what that probable cause was and we have not been able to substantiate that. It doesn’t mean that something didn’t happen, but there’s no proof.”
The police chief toldThe Washington Post that it was clear that the first two officers involved in the traffic stop “were already ramped up about Mr Nichols in his car”.
“If something did happen we don’t know what it was. They allege that he was driving on the wrong side of the road but we have not been able to prove that,” she said.
Nichols’ family has also cast doubt on the officers’ version of events.
According to the family, Nichols – an avid photographer – had gone for a drive to take photos of the sunset.
Ben Crump, the prominent civil rights attorney representing Nichols’ family, said at a press conference that they aren’t going to take their word for what happened.
“We don’t know anything other than we got to see in the video,” he said. “They say he was driving recklessly. We have to see it. We certainly can’t take their word for it.”
Why is there no footage at the beginning of the encounter?
The challenge to determine exactly why the officers pulled Nichols over in the first place comes from the lack of available footage of that particular moment in time.
The footage released on Friday only begins at 8.24pm local time when Nichols’ car has come to a stop and the officers are pulling him from the vehicle.
The confrontation appears instantly aggressive, with Nichols thrown to the ground and the officers drawing guns as they shout at him to show his hands.
No footage has yet been released showing Nichols’ vehicle on the road prior to the start of the encounter.
Chief Davis told The Washington Post that such footage has not been released because it does not exist.
She said that there is no footage of the initial traffic stop because the officer who initially executed the stop was driving one of the force’s new vehicles that are both unmarked and do not have dashboard cameras.
It is currently unclear why the officer was driving one of the unmarked cars, she said – explaining that officers can drive those particular cars if they are conducting surveillance at the time. It is unclear if the officer was carrying out surveillance at the time and, if so, on who.
Why did they beat him?
From the start of the officers’ interactions with Nichols, the situation is hostile and aggressive.
In the initial encounter, the officers drag him from the car and onto the floor.
One officer is heard shouting: “B**ch put your hands behind your back before I break them.”
Nichols initially complies and tells them he is “just trying to go home”.
“I’m going to knock your ass the f**k out,” one officer is heard telling him.
When the officers try to deploy their tasers on him, he gets away and flees the scene, running in the direction of his mothers’ home.
Footage then captures the officers catching up with Nichols, wrestling him to the ground and pepper spraying him.
The officers are seen kicking, punching, and beating him with batons to the extent that Nichols is unable to stand.
Meanwhile, the 29-year-old does not appear to take a swing back at any officers. He cries out repeatedly for his mother.
Nichols’ family’s attorney Antonio Romanucci described the officers as treating him like “a human piñata”.
Who are the other officers in the footage?
The five Memphis police officers charged with Nichols’ murder were publicly identified in the days after the murders. They are: Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr, and Justin Smith.
All five were members of the specialist SCORPION unit – a unit launched to fight street crime in the city, which was officially disbanded on Saturday in response to the Black man’s death.
But, the five officers aren’t the only law enforcement officials and first responders captured in the footage on the scene.
In the pole surveillance footage, 10 people are seen on camera at one point.
One day on from the deadly traffic stop, Memphis Police suspended seven officers over the matter – including the five now charged with murder.
On Monday, the department confirmed that a sixth officer – Preston Hemphill, the only white officer on the scene – had been relieved of duty. Soon after, the seventh officer was also relieved of duty.
In a statement, MPD said that “Officer Preston Hemphill and other officers’ actions and inactions have been and continue to be part of an investigation since its inception”.
“There are numerous charges still developing that are impending,” the statement said.
The identity of the seventh officer is still unknown. It isn’t clear which officers may be charged and whether the charges will be departmental or criminal.
On Monday, Memphis Fire Department announced that three officials – two of its EMTs and a lieutenant – had been fired.
This comes after Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. announced on Friday that two of its deputies were also on the scene and that they had been “relieved of duty” while an “internal investigation” into their actions is under way.
The identities of those deputies was not released and it is not clear what part they may have played in the fatal incident.
Why did it take so long to render medical aid?
As well as law enforcement, questions are also being asked about the actions of emergency medical workers who responded to the scene.
The footage reveals that – after being violently beaten by the officers – a bloodied Nichols was left propped up against a police car. He kept falling down and was moaning in pain.
At 8.41pm – three minutes after he was propped against the vehicle – two EMTS arrived on the scene.
But, as the footage shows, they did not appear to render him emergency medical aid for some time.
Instead, they appeared to stand around looking at him writhing in pain on the ground and walk around the area. At one point, they help him sit upright after slumping down on the ground but still give him no first aid.
One person is heard saying in one of the bodycam videos that “it’s going to be a while for an ambulance” but they still provide no care.
For more than 20 minutes, no aid is rendered to Nichols.
Finally, at 9.02pm, an ambulance arrives and takes him to hospital where he died three days later.
Memphis Fire Department said last week that two of its employees who were involved in Nichols’ “initial patient care” had been relieved of their duties pending an investigation. Their identities were not released.
On Monday, the department confirmed that three officials – two of its EMTs and a lieutenant – had been fired over their response that day.
Robert Long, JaMichael Sandridge and Lt Michelle Whitaker were found to have violated multiple department policies and protocols, the fire department said.
“Their actions or inactions on the scene that night do not meet the expectations of the Memphis Fire Department and are not reflective of the outstanding service the men and women of the Memphis Fire Department provide daily in our community,” the department said in a statement.
Will anyone else be criminally charged?
It remains to be seen whether any of the other law enforcement officers and first responders on the scene of the deadly arrest will also face discipline or criminal charges.
Nichols’ stepfather Rodney Wells has called for others on the scene to be charged with his stepson’s death.
“I feel that everyone there should be charged,” he told ABC News on Friday.
“Everyone — that’s the paramedics, that’s the fire department, the paramedics that came out that stood around, didn’t do anything. They’re just as guilty. Everyone that was active in the whole scene, the whole video, should be charged.”
What is the cause of death?
Nichols died in hospital on 10 January – three days after the police encounter.
While the footage shows that he was beaten, kicked and punched by the officers, his cause of death has not been released and officials have not released his autopsy.
An independent autopsy commissioned by Nichols’ family found that he suffered “extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating”.
“We can state that preliminary findings indicate Tyre suffered extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating, and that his observed injuries are consistent with what the family and attorneys witnessed on the video of his fatal encounter with police on January 7, 2023,” said attorney Benjamin Crump in a statement.
The full independent autopsy report is also yet to be released.
Will the charges stick?
The five former officers are each charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression.
But it remains to be seen whether they will be convicted of a crime.
While it is rare for officers to be charged over deadly incidents while on duty, convictions are even more rare.
According to MappingPoliceViolence.org, police in America killed at least 1,123 people in 2022.
Between 2005 – when records began – and April 2021 when Derek Chauvin was convicted of the murder of George Floyd, Bowling Green State University Professor Philip Matthew Stinson found that at least 140 law enforcement officers had been arrested for murder or manslaughter over on-duty police shootings.
Yet, he told CNN that only seven of those officers were actually convicted of murder.