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Memphis hit video highlights police first account

Newly released video shows Memphis police officers hitting motorist Tire Nichols with punches and kicks and also using pepper spray and a baton, with Nichols howling in pain as he tries to shield the blows.

However, initially, in a statement posted to social media the day after the incident, Memphis police used vague language to describe the attack and said nothing to suggest officers acted with the ruthlessness and violence captured in videos released late Friday.

It is the latest example in a long line of early police accounts of the use of force that were later shown to have minimized or ignored violent and sometimes fatal confrontations, including the account given by Minneapolis police after the killing of George Floyd in 2020.

In its first comment on the arrest of Nichols, a 29-year-old FedEx worker, by members of the city’s so-called Scorpion unit on the night of Jan. 7, the department said vaguely that the officers involved were “routinely relieved of duty” during an investigation and were brought in. external agency.

As Nichols lay dying in hospital, the official police account reported that he was pulled over for reckless driving when a “confrontation occurred” and he fled on foot. He was about to go home after taking pictures of the sunset in a park.

“While trying to detain the suspect, another confrontation occurred; however, the suspect was eventually arrested,” the police said on January 8. The place.. The suspect was transferred to St. Francis Hospital in critical condition.”

No mention of punches, kicks, pepper spray, or clubbing.

Aisha Bell Hardaway, a Case Western Reserve School of Law professor, said police departments can increase trust among the public by being more transparent and prepared with raw data about such encounters.

“It’s misleading,” Bill Hardaway said regarding the police’s first statement regarding Nichols’ arrest. “It rings a regular traffic stop, when in reality we know these weren’t officers on patrol looking for speed.”

“I wonder what prompted them to call out this incident and acknowledge it at all,” Bill Hardaway said.

Asked about that initial statement, Memphis Police spokeswoman Major Karen Rudolph said Saturday only that like “all information that has been disclosed, it is preliminary.”

Nichols and the five officers, who were charged with murder and dismissed from the department, are all black.

It’s common for police agencies to release information about an incident with very little description when it lacks full details, and it’s often just “so general information that it’s not effectively useful,” said University of South Carolina law professor Seth Stoughton, a former police officer. .

“I don’t think that’s actually a big deal,” Stoughton said, “as long as there’s detailed follow-up.” “Agencies must be attuned to the possibility of lying by omission. Or deceiving, let’s not tell lies, or misleading by omission.”

Civil rights attorney Michael Avery, founder of the National Police Accountability Project, said police and elected officials can have an interest in minimizing officer misconduct.

“They don’t want to admit that these things happen, especially in their own town or under their guard,” Avery said. “I would say there is a tendency toward denial.”

He said the use of negative tension in the Memphis police’s initial statement — that confrontations had occurred — obscured what really happened.

“It’s not true either,” Avery said. “He complained of shortness of breath? When you watch the video, he’s lying there either unconscious or semi-conscious. Calling that a complaint of shortness of breath is ridiculous.”

Nichols died on January 10. Upon announcing his death the next day, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said he “succumbed to his injuries” but did not describe their nature.

Just three days later, on January 14, the public learned that Nichols had suffered cardiac arrest and kidney failure after being beaten by police, when his stepfather told local media. Recently, attorneys for the Nichols family said that an autopsy conducted by a coroner they hired found severe internal bleeding.

The reference to breathing problems was reminiscent of Floyd’s 2020 death after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on the back of his neck for minutes while he lay facedown in the street and repeatedly shouted, “I can’t breathe.” Police there initially said publicly that Floyd died in a “medical accident during an interaction with the police.”

A Minneapolis police spokesperson, who later issued this statement, said he did not visit the scene or review the body camera footage, and that once video of a bystander surfaced and outside agencies brought in, he was unable to issue a corrected statement.

Publicly released videos contradicted police accounts elsewhere, such as Buffalo, New York, where officers said a protester hit his head when he “tripped and fell” but video showed he was pushed by two officers.

In Philadelphia, officers said a female college student sustained a serious head injury from a metal police baton that assaulted an officer. However, the student was released after prosecutors watched a videotape showing an officer hitting him on the head and neck with a baton.


Scolvo reported from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Associated Press reporter Adrian Saenz in Memphis, Tennessee, contributed.

Copyright © 2023 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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