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Memphis officer took and shared photos of bloodied Tyre Nichols, documents show

In this image from video released and partially redacted by the city of Memphis, Tenn., on Jan. 27, 2023, Tyre Nichols leans against a car after a brutal attack by five Memphis Police officers on Jan. 7, in Memphis.
In this image from video released and partially redacted by the city of Memphis, Tenn., on Jan. 27, 2023, Tyre Nichols leans against a car after a brutal attack by five Memphis Police officers on Jan. 7, in Memphis.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Documents released Tuesday provided a scathing account of what authorities called the "blatantly unprofessional" conduct of five officers involved in the fatal police beating of Tyre Nichols during a traffic stop last month — including new revelations about how one officer took and shared pictures of the bloodied victim.

The officer, Demetrius Haley, stood over Nichols as he lay propped against a police car and took photographs, which Haley sent to other officers and a female acquaintance, according to documents released by the Tennessee Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission.

"Your on-duty conduct was unjustly, blatantly unprofessional and unbecoming for a sworn public servant," the Memphis Police Department wrote in requesting that Haley and the other officers be decertified.

Haley's lawyer declined to comment, and lawyers for the other four officers either declined to comment or did not respond to requests from The Associated Press.

The five officers — Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Tadarrius Bean, Justin Smith and Emmitt Martin III — have all been fired and charged with second-degree murder. The new documents offer the most detailed account to date of each officer's actions.

Another officer has also been fired and a seventh has been relieved of duty in connection with the latest police killing to prompt angry nationwide protests and an intense public conversation about how police officers treat Black residents.

As many as 13 Memphis officers could end up being disciplined, officials said Tuesday.

The newly released documents are part of a request by the Memphis Police Department that the five officers who have been charged with murder be decertified and prohibited from working in law enforcement again. Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn "CJ" Davis signed each of the five requests to decertify the officers.

Haley, who was driving an unmarked car and wore a black sweatshirt hoodie over his head, forced Nichols from his car using loud profanity, then sprayed him directly in the eyes with a chemical irritant spray, according to the statement.

"You never told the driver the purpose of the vehicle stop or that he was under arrest," it states.

Haley did not have his body camera on when he stopped Nichols but was on a phone call with someone who overheard the encounter.

Nichols ran from the officers but was apprehended again a few blocks away. At that point, Haley kicked him in the torso as three other officers were handcuffing him. Other officers kicked Nichols in the face, punched him or struck him with a baton. According to footage captured on a utility pole camera, one of the officers appears to quickly take a photo of Nichols on his phone as flashlights are shined on him.

"You and other officers were captured on body worn camera making multiple unprofessional comments, laughing, bragging about your involvement," the decertification charges against Mills said.

They added, "You admitted you did not provide immediate medical aid and walked away and decontaminated yourself from chemical irritant spray," and further accused Mills of later failing to give Nichols' mother an accurate account of what happened.

Martin claimed Nichols tried to snatch the officer's gun from his holster after another officer forced him out of the vehicle, with Martin helping by grabbing Nichols' wrist. However, video evidence doesn't corroborate the gun-grab claim, the documents said.

Audio from a body camera did not capture Nichols using profanity or making violent threats — instead, he appeared calm and polite in his comments to the officers. Martin, meanwhile, cussed at Nichols and threatened to knock him out as he commanded Nichols to put his arm behind his back.

Martin also failed to disclose in a required form that he punched Nichols in the face and kicked him multiple times, and instead added in his later statement to investigators that he gave "body blows," the documents said. Video showed Martin kicking Nichols repeatedly and punching him in the face five times while two officers held Nichols' arms.

Police deemed Martin's oral and written statements deceitful, the charges said.

A hearing officer wrote of Justin Smith: "You admitted you struck an unarmed and non-violent subject with a closed fist two to three times in the face because you and your partner were unable to handcuff him. ... You sprayed the subject with your chemical irritant spray and also held the individual's arm while other officers kicked, punched and pepper sprayed him several times."

In a letter from Smith included in his file, he defends his conduct, stating that Nichols was "violent and would not comply."

Bean was accused of holding Nichols by one arm while another officer pepper sprayed and beat him with a baton. It also notes that his indifference to Nichols' distress in the aftermath was reported by a civilian who took video of the incident.

Nichols died three days after the beating. His family attended the State of the Union address Tuesday as guests of first lady Jill Biden.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press
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