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7th Memphis officer is relieved of duty after Tyre Nichols' death, police say

It isn't clear whether the officer, who wasn't identified, will face charges.
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The fallout from Tyre Nichols' fatal beating continued Monday when the Memphis Police Department said a seventh police officer who responded was relieved of duty.

In a statement, the agency didn't identify the seventh officer or say whether the person would face departmental or criminal charges.

The department also confirmed that a sixth officer, Preston Hemphill, had been relieved of duty.

"Officer Preston Hemphill and other officers' actions and inactions have been and continue to be part of an investigation since its inception" on Jan. 8, the day after Nichols' traffic stop and the day all seven officers were relieved of duty, the department said.

The statement added that "numerous" impending charges are developing. It isn't clear which officers may be charged.

"We expect the next phase of personnel actions in the coming days," the department said in the statement.

Hemphill’s attorney, Lee Gerald, confirmed Monday his client was at the scene of the traffic stop and had activated his body camera.

"Video One is his bodycam footage,” Gerald said in a statement.

He said the officer was never present at the scene where five officers who have been charged with second-degree murder and other crimes were seen beating Nichols.

“Hemphill’s actions and involvement has been under investigation as he participated in the initial traffic stop and the use of a TASER,” the department said in its statement Monday.

More coverage of Tyre Nichols' death

The five other officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — were fired Jan. 20 after an administrative investigation found they had violated department policy about the use of force. They were hired from 2017 to 2020.

Those five former officers were charged with second-degree murder, two counts of official misconduct, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, one count of official oppression and one count of aggravated assault, prosecutors announced last week.

Asked why the police department didn't announce disciplinary action against Hemphill the day it announced the firings of the five other officers, a police spokesperson said: "The other 5 officer’s names were announced when they were charged departmentally, then subsequently charged criminally. Officer Hemphill has not received departmental or criminal charges. As we have advised, the investigation is ongoing. Officer Hemphill’s name came out after it was heard in the video from the Tyre Nichols scene, that was released Friday evening. We are simply confirming that he is relieved of duty.”

Memphis Police Officer Preston Hemphill.
Memphis Police Officer Preston Hemphill.Memphis Police via Facebook

That answer wasn't sufficient for Nichols family attorney Ben Crump.

“The news today from Memphis officials that Officer Preston Hemphill was reportedly relieved of duty weeks ago, but not yet terminated or charged, is extremely disappointing. Why is his identity and the role he played in Tyre’s death just now coming to light?” he asked.

Crump added: “We have asked from the beginning that the Memphis Police Department be transparent with the family and the community — this news seems to indicate that they haven’t risen to the occasion. It certainly begs the question why the white officer involved in this brutal attack was shielded and protected from the public eye, and to date, from sufficient discipline and accountability. The Memphis Police Department owes us all answers.”

Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy's office said Monday that authorities “worked extraordinarily swiftly but thoroughly to charge those whose offenses were plain and clear and directly contributed to the death of Mr. Nichols” but that the investigation is far from over.

“The current charges do not preclude us from adding additional charges as more information is presented. We are looking at all individuals involved in the events leading up to, during, and after the beating of Tyre Nichols. This includes the officer present at the initial encounter who has not — so far —been charged, Memphis Fire Department personnel, and persons who participated in preparing documentation of the incident afterward,” Mulroy's office said in a statement.

'Relieving someone of duty is not firing them'

At least one city official said the discipline against Hemphill does not go far enough.

“For the record, relieving someone of duty is not firing them,” City Council Vice Chair J.B. Smiley Jr. tweeted, ending the post with "#FirePrestonHemphill" and "#JusticeForTyre."

A representative with the union representing rank-and-file officers, the Memphis Police Association, couldn't be reached for comment.

Nichols, 29, a Black man who was an amateur photographer and skateboarder, was hospitalized in critical condition and died three days after the traffic stop.

Tyre Nichols.
Tyre Nichols.Courtesy Ben Crump Law

Multiple police videos show officers punching, kicking and hitting him with a baton.

There were three videos from police body cameras and one from a police surveillance camera mounted on a pole. A body camera video shows Nichols escaped while he was on the ground. At least one officer appeared to have been hit with a chemical irritant when it was sprayed at Nichols during the initial encounter.

Nichols managed to run to his mother’s neighborhood and was about 80 yards from her house when video captured multiple officers assaulting him as he repeatedly shouted, "Mom!"

'I will tase your a--'

The body camera video Hemphill’s attorney referred to shows an officer arriving at the traffic stop and pointing a gun. Another shouts, “You’re going to get your a-- blown the f--- out.”

One of the officers yanks Nichols out of the car, video shows.

Multiple officers hover around him, according to the video, as he is on the ground. They sometimes yell contradictory commands at him in a chaotic scene.

“I will tase your a--,” an officer shouts.

Officers yell at Nichols to lie on the ground and put his hands behind his back. He is on his side on the ground, with an officer holding on arm and a second holding the other, the video shows.

Nichols says, “OK, dude, dang!” at one point, and “you guys are really doing a lot right now. ... I’m just trying to go home.”

He tells officers yelling at him, “I am on the ground!” and it then appears that he is sprayed with a chemical irritant, the video shows.

Nichols, during a struggle on the ground, manages to break free from the officers, according to the video. An officer then shoots a stun gun at him while he sprints away.

That officer chases him for a short distance before he stops, the video shows.

"Taser was deployed," the officer says while breathing heavily. He then gives a description of Nichols and says the direction and the street where he was last seen running.

"One of the prongs hit the b------," the officer also says, referring to the stun gun he fired, according to the video.

Fallout from the traffic stop hits other agencies

The fallout from Nichols' traffic stop and fatal beating has spread to other agencies beyond the Memphis Police Department.

Three fire department employees were fired Monday after they were accused of violating "numerous" departmental policies and protocols, the agency said in a statement.

The department didn't provide a list of charges. It said two of the employees — both EMTs — "failed to conduct an adequate patient assessment of Mr. Nichols."

The third employee, a lieutenant, remained in her vehicle, the department said.

Two Shelby County sheriff’s deputies were also relieved of duty pending an administrative investigation in connection with Nichols’ death, Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. announced Friday night after having watched the video for the first time.

Bonner said he had “concerns about two deputies who appeared on the scene following the physical confrontation between police and Tyre Nichols.”

The investigation will look into their conduct to determine what happened and whether any policies were violated, Bonner said.