A former Memphis Police officer involved in the traffic stop preceding Tyre Nichols‘ beating told a Memphis Police Department hearing officer he believed he used departmental training and tactics during the incident.
Justin Smith, 26, was the only former officer to make a statement during administrative hearings in January that resulted in Smith and four other officers being fired.
“It is my contention that I personally utilized the training and defensive tactics provided to me as a Memphis police officer in attempting to handcuff (Nichols),” Smith wrote in the statement.
The Memphis Police Department declined to comment on Smith’s statement.
Smith’s written statement, along with other documents created during the Memphis Police Department’s internal investigation, were obtained through a public records request from the Peace Officer Standards and Training commission (POST). POST is Tennessee’s police certification body, which also decertifies officers and prevents them from working in the state at another department.
Memphis Police sent the documents to the certification body along with its request to decertify the now-fired officers. The department did not provide the documents in a previous public records request by The Memphis Commercial Appeal, a member of the USA TODAY Network, for the five officers’ personnel files.
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No mention of punches and kicks to Tyre Nichols
Smith’s statement made no mention of the punches, kicks or baton strikes captured on body camera and SkyCop video that Nichols received from officers that night, and only mentioned wrestling and pepper spraying Nichols.
Smith also “categorically” denied “utilizing any defensive weapons other than OC spray (pepper spray).”
Although Smith provided a written statement, he told the hearing officer — Deputy Chief Michael Hardy — he did not provide either a written or spoken statement to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Former officers Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Tadarrius Bean also told Hardy they did not give a statement to TBI. The FBI is also investigating the circumstances of Nichols’ death.
The five now-former officers — Smith, Haley, Martin, Mills, Jr. and Bean — have all been indicted and face one count of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, kidnapping, official oppression and two counts of official misconduct after body camera and SkyCop footage showed them aggressively pulling Nichols from his car.
Nichols ran away, but was later caught by the officers. They proceeded to punch Nichols, kick him, hit him with a baton and pepper spray him.
Nichols died three days later.
Another now-former officer, Preston Hemphill, was fired Feb. 3 — three weeks after the first five firings were announced.
The documents from administrative hearings dive into further detail of the internal charges that the five officers faced, also bringing a spotlight to what internal investigators uncovered 10 days after Nichols’ death.
Which officers were at the traffic stop?
Of the six officers who have been named and fired, Martin and Haley were the only two at both the traffic stop and at the intersection where officers beat Nichols. Hemphill was present during the traffic stop, his body camera footage showed, but no footage or documentation confirmed his presence at the second scene.
According to the hearing documents, Haley was the first officer to pull Nichols from the car and Martin was close behind him.
“(Haley) exited (his) unmarked vehicle, stopped in an opposing traffic lane, and (Haley) forced (Nichols) out of his vehicle while using loud profanity and wearing a black sweatshirt hoodie over your head,” the statement of charges against Haley read. “(Haley) never told (Nichols) the purpose of the vehicle stop or that he was under arrest.”
Martin arrived and began to restrain Nichols, claiming that Nichols was reaching for his gun. Video footage from the traffic stop did not show Nichols reaching for any officers’ weapons.
“Audio…did not capture (Nichols) using profanity or displaying any violent threats,” the document read. “However, (Martin) made assaultive statements.”
After being pepper sprayed, Nichols jumped up and ran away, with Hemphill firing his taser. It appears to hit Nichols, who seems to pull the prongs out while taking off his jacket.
Who was at the beating?
Smith, Bean and Mills, Jr., were the first three officers to reach Nichols after he had run from the traffic stop.
After the officers restrained Nichols, Haley arrived and began kicking Nichols.
“As three of (Haley’s) partners were attempting to handcuff (Nichols), (Haley) ran up and kicked (Nichols) in the upper torso area,” the document read.
Bean and Smith then held Nichols’ arms, according to the internal investigators, while Mills, Jr., pepper sprayed and then hit Nichols with a baton.
In body camera footage, an officer can be seen extending his baton and saying, “I’m gonna baton the (expletive) out of you,” prior to hitting Nichols.
Haley and Martin were ‘deceitful’ about Nichols incident
Both Haley and Martin were cited for violating MPD’s truthfulness policy by filing statements that are false and do not match with video and audio from the traffic stop and beating.
According to the department’s internal charging documents, both of the officers “reported the subject (Nichols) grabbed (Martin’s) duty weapon before (Martin and Haley) placed him on the ground.” However, footage did not show that.
The duo also did not report that they had punched or kicked Nichols — instead referring to the hits as “body blows.”
Investigators from the Inspectional Services Bureau (ISB) had asked both former officers if the details they listed were correct. Both Haley and Martin said the reports were correct.
A multitude of body camera, miscellaneous violations
Although each of the five former officers were hit with many of the same violations, some received the same charges for different reasons.
The officers who spoke with RowVaughn Wells, Nichols’ mother, the night he was beaten were not named previously. In the administrative hearing documents, Mills, Jr., was identified as one of the officers who told Wells that her son was at the hospital.
According to the documents, Mills, Jr., along with an unnamed supervisor, went to speak with Wells.
“When (Mills, Jr.) changed location to speak with the victim’s mother, (he) and the supervisor did not obtain her contact information and refused to provide an accurate account of her son’s encounter with police or his condition,” Mills, Jr.’s statement of charges said. “Your on-duty conduct was unjustly, blatantly unprofessional and unbecoming for a sworn public servant.”
All five of the officers were also given body camera violations. Both Haley and Martin did not have their body cameras on during the initial traffic stop. Later, Martin took his vest off, with the camera attached, and left it in his unmarked squad car.
Mills, Jr. and Bean had their body cameras on while officers were beating Nichols, but both took their vests and cameras off later. Smith did not have his body camera on during the entire event.
Haley also violated Memphis Police Department policy about spreading police information when he took and sent two pictures of Nichols after he was beaten and was leaning against a police cruiser. Haley told internal investigators that he sent those pictures to five people. A sixth person also received it, but the documents were not clear who that was, or how they received the pictures.
There was also a personal conduct violation filed against Haley, which the other officers also received, that mentioned Haley was speaking on his personal cell phone with someone when the initial traffic stop happened. The person Haley was on the phone with “overheard the police encounter,” the statement of charges said.
Lucas Finton is a news reporter with The Commercial Appeal, a member of the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at Lucas.Finton@commercialappeal.com and followed on Twitter @LucasFinton.
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