MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Two residents of this still-stunned city told NBC News that one of the former police officers charged with murdering 29-year-old Tyre Nichols pulled a gun on them three years ago and threatened to shoot them both in the face.
Glenn Harris, 24, and Demarius Hervey, 27, described their violent encounter with former Memphis Police Officer Emmitt Martin III just days after the department released police body camera and surveillance videos of Nichols’ arrest that sparked angry protests against police violence in Memphis and across the country.
Harris and Hervey, who say they are brothers, said Sunday that they were standing outside a downtown gas station in August 2020 when police cars suddenly surrounded them.
Fearing arrest because they had been smoking marijuana and had a small amount of pot on them, as well as a registered handgun, the brothers admitted they tried to flee in Harris’ car.
“I got scared,” Harris said, adding that he was able to evade the police for about 2 miles before crashing his car. “When I got out the car and tried to run, that’s when Officer Emmitt grabbed me. He slammed me on the ground and pulled his gun out.”
Harris said Martin pinned him to the pavement with a knee on his neck and pointed a service weapon at his head. “I’ll blow your face off,” Martin said, according to Harris.
Hervey said Martin also threatened to shoot him in the face.
Stacy Harris, the brothers’ mother, said Monday that Glenn Harris called her hours after the arrest and told her about the encounter.
“He told me (Officer Martin) threw him to the ground and put the gun to him and told him he would ‘blow his f—--- head off,’” Stacy Harris said, adding that she immediately became upset and feared for her son’s life. She said all three of her sons have had run-ins with Memphis officers.
At the time Harris told his mother about the encounter, they did not know the officer was Martin. It wasn’t until Harris saw Martin on TV during coverage of the Nichols case that he identified the officer as the one who had threatened him, he said.
Attorney Arthur Horne, who represented Glenn Harris in the case, said Harris walked into his office a few days after the encounter and told him police had been aggressive and arrested him.
“He said an officer pulled a gun out and held it to his head and called him the N-word,” Horne said. “I told him he could go to internal affairs, but they probably wouldn’t do anything.”
Harris said he did not file a complaint because his main concern was getting out of jail. Horne said Monday they were undecided about whether they would file one now.
Martin’s lawyer, William Massey, and the city's police union did not return phone calls Tuesday seeking comment. A Memphis Police Department spokesman declined to comment because Harris never filed a complaint alleging excessive use of force.
An affidavit of complaint dated Aug. 2, 2020, and signed by an officer E. Martin that was obtained by NBC News confirms that Harris and Hervey were arrested after Harris crashed the black Nissan Maxima he was driving — and after a brief foot chase.
Harris is accused in the complaint of possession of a handgun while under the influence, reckless driving, driving with a suspended/revoked/canceled license, leaving the scene of an accident and evading arrest.
No charges were filed against Hervey, but police said in the affidavit they found a baggie with what appeared to be marijuana in his right pants pocket and “over $194 in different denominations.”
“Harris had over $2960 dollars on his person,” according to the affidavit, which also mentions that police found a scale and a gun with 15 rounds “in the magazine.”
Harris and Hervey said Martin didn’t need to threaten them like he did.
“He was in the wrong, he wasn’t supposed to pull a gun on me,” Harris said of Martin.
Martin, 30, a former college football player who was hired by the Memphis Police Department in March 2018, was fired on Jan. 20 with fellow officers Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith. An administrative investigation found they had violated department policy on the use of force during the Nichols arrest.
They were charged Thursday 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.
Like Nichols, all five former officers are Black.
A sixth Memphis Police Department officer, Preston Hemphill, who is seen on video firing a stun gun at Nichols on Jan. 7, was relieved of duty, the department announced Monday.
Hemphill has not been charged with a crime and is cooperating with investigators. In photos, he appears to be white.
Nichols, an amateur photographer and skateboarder, was hospitalized in critical condition and died three days after the traffic stop.
Multiple police videos released Friday showed the officers punching, kicking and hitting Nichols with a baton.
Nichols managed to escape and was about 80 yards from his house when pursuing police recaptured him. The video showed multiple officers assaulting Nichols as he shouted for his mother’s help.
Two Shelby County Sheriff’s Office deputies were also relieved of duty pending an administrative investigation into Nichols’ death, Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. announced Friday night after watching the video for the first time.
Deon J. Hampton reported from Memphis, and Corky Siemaszko reported from New York City.