WASHINGTON - US authorities on Thursday charged five officers, who are black, with second-degree murder over the fatal beating of a black man in the eastern state of Tennessee following a traffic stop.
Mr Tyre Nichols, 29, was stopped on Jan 7 for what the Memphis Police Department (MPD) said was reckless driving.
After a chase ensued, “police brutalised him to the point of being unrecognisable”, said family attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci.
The five officers were fired after an internal police investigation found them to have “violated multiple department policies, including excessive use of force, duty to intervene and duty to render aid”, the MPD said last Friday.
Mr Nichols was taken to the hospital in critical condition, according to police, where he died on Jan 10.
“These officers were found to be directly responsible for the physical abuse of Mr Nichols,” Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis said on Wednesday.
“This is not just a professional failing, this is a failing of basic humanity towards another individual. This incident was heinous, reckless and inhumane.”
The five officers – Justin Smith, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III and Desmond Mills Jr – were additionally charged with aggravated assault and aggravated kidnapping. All are now in police custody.
“The news today from Memphis officials that these five officers are being held criminally accountable for their deadly and brutal actions gives us hope as we continue to push for justice for Tyre,” the family’s lawyers said.
Officials have said a video of the episode exists and will be released sometime after 6pm Central time on Friday (8am Saturday in Singapore).
“I expect you to feel outrage in the disregard of basic human rights,” Ms Davis said.
Family lawyers who watched the clip said they had seen “with our own eyes the disgusting way in which he lost his life at the hands of Memphis police”.
The lawyers added that the beating of Mr Nichols “points to the desperate need for change and reform to ensure this violence stops occurring during low-threat procedures, like in this case, a traffic stop”.
Racial injustice and police brutality has been in the spotlight in the United States since the 2020 death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
US President Joe Biden on Thursday called for calm and said he backed “peaceful protest”.
“As Americans grieve, the Department of Justice conducts its investigation, and state authorities continue their work, I join Tyre’s family in calling for peaceful protest,” Mr Biden said.
“Outrage is understandable, but violence is never acceptable.” AFP