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Press Release

Five Former Memphis Police Officers Charged with Federal Civil Rights, Conspiracy and Obstruction Violations In Connection with the Death of Tyre Nichols

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Tennessee

WASHINGTON – A federal grand jury in Memphis, Tennessee, returned an indictment today charging five former Memphis Police Department (MPD) detectives with federal civil rights, conspiracy, and obstruction offenses resulting in the death of Tyre Nichols on Jan. 7.

“The country watched in horror as Tyre Nichols was kicked, punched, tased, and pepper sprayed, and we all heard Mr. Nichols cry out for his mother and say ‘I’m just trying to go home,’” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “Officers who violate the civil rights of those they are sworn to protect undermine public safety, which depends on the community’s trust in law enforcement. They dishonor their fellow officers who do their work with integrity every day. The Justice Department will continue to hold accountable officers who betray their oath.”

“Tyre Nichols should be alive today,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “It is tragic to see a life cut short at 29, with so many milestones unmet, so many words unsaid, so much potential unfulfilled. These federal charges reflect the Justice Department’s unwavering commitment to protecting the constitutional and civil rights of every American and preserving the integrity of the criminal justice system. We stand ready to hold law enforcement officers accountable for their misconduct because no one is above the law in our country.”

“When I announced this investigation back in January, I said I wanted this city to be a place where justice is done,” said U.S. Attorney Kevin Ritz for the Western District of Tennessee. “This indictment alleging civil rights violations is an important step in ensuring that justice is done for Tyre Nichols. I want to thank the dedicated team of prosecutors and law enforcement agents who are working on this case. I’m proud of our team and proud of their commitment to protecting the civil rights of all Americans.”

According to the four-count indictment, all five defendants, Emmitt Martin III, 31; Tadarrius Bean, 24; Demetrius Haley, 30; Desmond Mills, Jr., 33; and Justin Smith, 28, while serving as members of an MPD SCORPION team, willfully deprived Nichols of his constitutional rights. The first count of the indictment alleges that the defendants, aided and abetted by one another, violated Nichols’ right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a police officer by assaulting him and by failing to intervene in the unlawful assault. Count one also alleges that this offense resulted in bodily injury and the death of Nichols. 

Count two of the indictment alleges that all five defendants violated Nichols’ right to be free from a law enforcement officer’s deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. Specifically, the indictment alleges that even though the defendants knew that Nichols had a serious medical need, the defendants willfully disregarded that medical need by failing to render medical aid and by failing to advise the MPD dispatcher and emergency medical personnel of the circumstances surrounding Nichols’ serious medical need.  Count two also alleges that this offense resulted in bodily injury and death of Nichols.

Count three of the indictment alleges that all five defendants conspired to cover up their use of unlawful force by omitting material information and by providing false and misleading information to their supervisor and to others. Specifically, the indictment outlines overt acts the defendants committed in furtherance of the conspiracy, including, among others, failing to tell MPD and Memphis Fire Department personnel that the defendants had struck Nichols and that the defendants had discussed hitting Nichols with straight haymakers and taking turns hitting him. Further, the indictment alleges that the defendants provided false and misleading information to two MPD officers tasked with writing reports about Nichols’ arrest. Finally, it alleges that the defendants submitted Response to Resistance Reports that contained false and misleading information and omitted that the defendants had assaulted Nichols.

Count four of the indictment alleges that the defendants committed an obstruction offense by intentionally omitting material information, and providing false and misleading information, to two MPD officers tasked with writing MPD reports about the arrest of Nichols.

Counts one and two of the indictment carry a maximum penalty of life in prison. Counts three and four each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

The charges announced today are separate from the Justice Department’s civil pattern or practice investigation into the MPD. The charges announced today are criminal, while the pattern or practice investigation is a civil investigation that will be conducted separately and independently from the criminal case and will be handled by a different team of career staff from the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The charges announced today are also separate from, and in addition to, the charges the State of Tennessee has brought against these former officers related to the death of Nichols. The federal charges allege different criminal offenses. Specifically, and among other federal charges, today’s indictment alleges violations of the U.S. Constitution, rather than of state law.

The FBI Memphis Field Office investigated this case. 

Assistant U.S. Attorneys David Pritchard and Elizabeth Rogers and Special Litigation Counsel Kathryn E. Gilbert and Deputy Chief Forrest Christian of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division are prosecuting the case.

View the Attorney General’s full video statement here.

An indictment is merely an allegation. The defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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For more information, please contact Public Affairs Specialist Tiffany Thomas-Turner at (901) 544-4231 or  Follow the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Facebook or on Twitter at @WDTNNews for office news and updates.

Updated September 12, 2023