Bodycam footage of Tyre Nichols's fatal police beating will be released. Here's what you need to know.
The video is set to be released after 6 p.m. CT. Nichols’s mother said that while she hasn’t seen it, she has “heard it’s very horrific” and is warning parents not to let their children see it.
The body camera footage showing five Memphis police officers fatally beating Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, earlier this month will be released by authorities on Friday evening. Police are preparing for civil unrest, but his family is calling on protesters to remain peaceful.
“Please, please protest, but protest safely,” Rodney Wells, Nichols’s stepfather, pleaded at a press conference Friday afternoon.
“We want peace, that's what the family wants, that's what the community wants," Wells said. "We need to do this peacefully. The family is very satisfied with the process, the police chief, the DA. We are very, very pleased with that.”
The video — which Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis compared to the brutal beating of Rodney King in 1991 — is set to be released after 6 p.m. CT.
Davis told CNN on Friday that the traffic stop, on Jan. 7, is unlike anything she’s seen in her career and that it may have been unwarranted. Initially, the officers involved said Nichols was pulled over on suspicion of reckless driving.
“We’ve looked at cameras, we’ve looked at body-worn cameras, and even if something occurred prior to this stop, we’ve been unable to substantiate that,” she said. "It doesn’t mean that something didn’t happen. But there’s no proof. The cameras didn’t pick up.”
Nichols’s mother, RowVaughn Wells, said Friday that she has not seen the video. “But what I’ve heard it's very horrific, very horrific, and any of you that have children, please don’t let them see it,” she said.
What happened on Jan. 7?
Around 8 p.m., Nichols was pulled over by Memphis police officers. Authorities claimed that they approached his vehicle, that a confrontation ensued and that Nichols fled the scene on foot.
The officers said they pursued Nichols and made another attempt to take him into custody, but that while they were trying to make the arrest, a second confrontation occurred.
Nichols was eventually placed in police custody and complained of shortness of breath. He was taken to a local hospital, where he was said to be in critical condition. He died three days later.
In an interview with CNN, Nichols’s mother said she believes that the officers involved were hiding things from the beginning.
“Now that I’m actually putting things together, I believe they were trying to cover it up when they first came to my door,” she said.
Wells said officers arrived at her door around 4 a.m., informing her of Nichols’s injuries and saying he had been pepper-sprayed and tased. But once she received a call from a doctor, she realized the injuries were worse than she had believed.
“The doctor proceeded to tell me that my son had gone into cardiac arrest and that his kidneys were failing. This doesn’t sound consistent to somebody being tased or pepper-sprayed,” she said.
“When my husband and I got to the hospital and I saw my son, he was already gone. They had beat him to a pulp.”
The family's attorneys completed an independent autopsy and said the preliminary findings show that Nichols "suffered extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating.”
What happened to the officers involved?
On Jan. 20, 10 days after Nichols was pronounced dead, the five police officers involved in his arrest, who are all Black, were terminated. Two fire department employees were also "relieved of duty" after the arrest.
On Thursday, the officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — were booked at the Shelby County Jail and charged with second-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, “aggravated assault — acting in concert,” official misconduct and official oppression.
“We applaud the district attorney for bringing charges against the five officers. We want to proclaim this is the blueprint going forward — whether they’re Black or white,” civil rights attorney Ben Crump said on Friday.
Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said Thursday, “While each of the five individuals played a different role in the incident in question, the actions of all of them resulted in the death of Tyre Nichols, and they are all responsible.”
Online jail records showed that as of Friday morning, all five officers had been released from jail on bonds ranging from $250,000 to $350,000.
Officers were part of the 'SCORPION Unit'
All five officers were part of the SCORPION (Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods) Unit, which was formed in 2021 by the Memphis Police Department to reduce violent crime throughout the city.
Crump said Friday that the unit had been involved in the use of excessive force and police brutality many times before Nichols’s arrest.
“The officers wanted to show Tyre and the city of Memphis that as a team, they can take anyone down. No one escapes the Scorpions,” Crump said in a statement.
Crump also acknowledged the fact that the five officers were Black, adding that their race was immaterial. Instead, he criticized “the culture that allows them to think they can do this to Tyre.”
“It’s Black and brown citizens who bear the brunt of this police brutality. We don't see our white brothers and sisters who are unarmed encounter this type of excessive force at the hands of police,” he said.
At a press conference on Friday, Crump’s co-counsel, Antonio Romanucci, said the SCORPION unit has been corrupted.
“We are asking Chief Davis to disband the SCORPION Unit, to disband the unit immediately,” Romanucci said.
Bodycam video shows 'inhumane' beating
Those who have watched the video of Nichols’s arrest have described the footage as one of the worst moments of police brutality captured to date. The Memphis police chief said it shows the beating to have been “heinous, reckless and inhumane.”
The video that will be released to the public on Friday evening will include footage from the former officers’ body cameras.
At the Nichols family's press conference on Friday, Memphis NAACP president Van Turner said the video will also include footage from SkyCop cameras in the area, which the city’s police department says are used as an extra layer of protection.
The family's lawyers say Nichols was brutalized and beaten like a “piñata” in the video that will be released.
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation director David Rausch said on Thursday of the video: "In a word, it's absolutely appalling. Let me be clear, what happened here does not at all reflect proper policing. This was wrong. This was criminal.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee added that the beating was “cruel” and said, “Criminal abuse of power will not be tolerated in the state of Tennessee.”
President Biden — who talked to Nichols's parents on Friday and spoke of his own experience with losing a child — said Nichols's death is "a painful reminder that we must do more to ensure that our criminal justice system lives up to the promise of fair and impartial justice, equal treatment and dignity for all."
Preparing for potential civil unrest
Ahead of the release of the video, Police Chief Davis warned citizens against resorting to violence and destruction once its contents are seen.
“I expect you to feel what the Nichols family feels," she said. "I expect you to feel outrage in the disregard of basic human rights, as our police officers have taken an oath to do the opposite of what transpired on the video.
“I expect our citizens to exercise their First Amendment right to protest, to demand action and results. But we need to ensure our community is safe in this process,” she added.
But cities across the country are preparing for protests and civil unrest. Memphis NAACP president Turner said, “We’re going to stand united, but we’re going to protest. Y’all pray for my city. Tonight will be one of the toughest nights that we have ever experienced.”
With public safety in mind, the Shelby County schools prepared for the release of the video by canceling all after-school activities and athletic events for Friday. Southwest Tennessee Community College scheduled all Friday classes to be held online.
Miles away from Memphis, in New York City, Millennium Brooklyn High School is making sure students have the resources they need.
“This violence — the mass shootings in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay, California, the murder of Tyre Nichols by police in Memphis, TN, and too many others — impacts not only the immediate victims and their families, but also members of our community, especially those in our community who all too often experience and witness identity-based violence and oppression,” the school's principal said in a statement.
Remembering Tyre Nichols
Nichols’s mother said Tyre, a FedEx worker, was the beloved father of a 4-year-old son. She said he loved to skateboard, take pictures and watch the sunset.
“My son didn’t do no drug[s], didn’t carry no guns, he didn’t like confrontation, none of that. That’s why this is so hard,” Wells said. She described him as a “beautiful soul” who “touched a lot of people.”
"She believes God used her son as an assignment for reform,” Crump said Friday.
Crump said that how officials responded in the wake of Nichols’s death — firing the officers and filing “charges against them in less than 20 days” — created a “blueprint going forward for anytime any officers, whether they be Black or white, will be held accountable."
The family’s lawyers say they plan to file a civil suit and hope to create a “Tyre Law,” which would focus on officers’ duty to intervene when excessive force is used.
“I want to say to the five officers that murdered my son: 'You also disgraced your own families when you did this.' At the end of the day, this shouldn’t have happened,” Wells said.
A public funeral will be held Feb. 1. The Rev. Al Sharpton will deliver the eulogy.
“Thirty-two years after the nation called for us to do better after the brutal beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles, our leaders failed Tyre Nichols, Terence Crutcher and countless others,” Sharpton said Tuesday.