Seventh Memphis cop suspended in Tyre Nichols' death

Mr Tyre Nichols is examined by EMTs as he lays against a police car after being beaten by Memphis Police Department officers on Jan 7. PHOTO: REUTERS

MEMPHIS – Memphis police said on Monday that a seventh officer has been suspended over the fatal beating of Mr Tyre Nichols, a young black man whose death shocked the United States and has seen five officers fired and charged with murder.

The city’s fire department also said it had terminated three firefighters who arrived at the scene but failed to provide adequate medical assistance to Mr Nichols.

“The Memphis Police Department began administrative investigations on officers involved in the death of Tyre Nichols on Jan 7, 2023. On Jan 8, seven officers including Officer Preston Hemphill were relieved of duty,” the Memphis Police Department said in a statement.

Mr Hemphill, who joined the force in 2018 and who is white, is suspended “pending the outcome of the ongoing investigation”, police spokesman Kim Elder said in a separate statement.

Five police officers, all of whom are black, were fired earlier in January, soon after being placed on leave, and charged last week with second-degree murder in connection with Mr Nichols’ death.

The sixth, Mr Hemphill, has been placed on administrative leave; it is not clear exactly what role he played in the encounter.

A spokesman for the department confirmed on Monday that Mr Hemphill was placed on leave on the same day that the other officers were suspended.

The identity and involvement of the seventh officer who has been suspended have not been disclosed.

Videos of the incident released last Friday showed that police officers kicked Mr Nichols in the head, pepper-sprayed him and hit him repeatedly with a baton after pulling him over, allegedly for reckless driving, on the night of Jan 7, even as he showed no signs of fighting back. Mr Nichols, 29, died in a hospital three days after the encounter.

Mr Hemphill’s lawyer, Mr Lee Gerald, said in a statement that one of the four videos of the encounter that were released by the city last Friday, labelled Video 1, came from Mr Hemphill’s body camera.

“He was never present at the second scene,” where officers caught up with Nichols after a brief chase on foot and beat him severely, Mr Gerald said of Mr Hemphill. He added that his client “is cooperating with officials in this investigation”.

Others involved in the encounter have also been taken off duty.

The Memphis Fire Department on Monday said it had fired two emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and an emergency vehicle driver who responded to the brutal beating, saying an investigation had found that they failed to provide adequate medical care.

EMTs Robert Long and JaMichael Sandridge “failed to conduct an adequate patient assessment” upon seeing the injured Mr Nichols a few minutes after police had stopped beating him, Fire Chief Gina Sweat said in a statement.

Ms Michelle Whitaker, a lieutenant in the fire department, drove them to the scene and remained in the vehicle after arriving. She was also terminated for violating department policy, the statement said.

And two Shelby County sheriff’s deputies have been relieved of duty pending an investigation into their involvement in the encounter, Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr said last Friday night.

Mr Tyre Nichols died in a hospital on Jan 10, three days after suffering injuries during his arrest by police officers. PHOTO: REUTERS

At the White House on Monday, US President Joe Biden again threw his support behind passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a comprehensive package of police reforms that failed to pass both chambers in the last Congress.

“I think we should do it right now. We should’ve done it before,” Mr Biden said.

Four White House officials – aides Keisha Lance Bottoms, Mitch Landrieu, Tara Murray and Erica Loewe – will travel to Memphis to attend Mr Nichols’ funeral on Wednesday.  NYT, BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

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