Lawyers for Tyre Nichols say beating reminded them of Rodney King

Lawyers for Tyre Nichols say beating reminded them of Rodney King

‘They used him like a human piñata’: Lawyer for family of Memphis man Tyre Nichols who died three days after ‘violent’ traffic stop say beating reminded them of Rodney King video

  • Tyre Nichols, 29, of Memphis, died on January 10 from cardiac arrest and kidney failure after being pulled over by Memphis Police 
  • Bodycam footage, which has been viewed by the family, shows their son getting shocked, pepper sprayed, and restrained by five officers 
  • The officers were let go by the department for violating ‘multiple’ policies, including using excessive force, failing to intervene, and failing to render aid  

A family lawyer for a Memphis man who died three days after a ‘violent’ traffic stop said he was used as a ‘human piñata’ by police officers and that the video of his beating reminded them of Rodney King. 

Tyre Nichols, 29, of Memphis, died on January 10 from cardiac arrest and kidney failure, three days after he was pulled over for reckless driving by police in unmarked cars and who were allegedly wearing hoodies. 

Family Attorney Ben Crump said police bodycam footage – which has been viewed by the family and is expected to be released to the public in the coming weeks – showed Nichols being shocked, pepper sprayed, and restrained after the 29-year-old FedEx worker was pulled over minutes away from his home.

‘He was a human piñata for those police officers,’ fellow family attorney Antonio Romanucci said at a press conference. ‘It was an unadulterated, unabashed, nonstop beating of this young boy for three minutes.’ 

Five police officers were terminated from the Memphis Police Department. Their names are: Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith. 

All the officers, who were hired between 2017 and 2020, could face assault or homicide charges, District Attorney Steve Mulroy said. The officers were let go for violating ‘multiple department policies,’ including using excessive force, failing to intervene, and failing to render aid. 

Tyre Nichols, 29, of Memphis, died on January 10 from cardiac arrest and kidney failure, three days after he was pulled over for reckless driving by police in unmarked cars

Family Attorney Ben Crump said police bodycam footage – which has been viewed by the family and expected to be released to the public in the coming weeks – showed Nichols being shocked, pepper sprayed, and restrained after the 29-year-old FedEx worker was pulled over minutes away from his home

Two Memphis firefighters who responded to the incident are also being investigated. 

The US Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into the arrest, and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is looking into whether excessive force was used. The FBI is also involved. 

Although the family cannot discuss the video in detail, as an investigation is currently ongoing, they said it ‘regrettably…reminded us of [a] Rodney King video.’ King was beaten to death in 1991 by Los Angeles Police officers after he was arrested for drunk driving. The four officers, who were white, were acquitted, causing thousands to take to the streets in protest. 

The city has been on edge about the release of the police footage because of the possibility of unrest. Nichols’ stepfather, Rodney Wells, asked that if there are protests, that they remain peaceful, saying violence ‘is not what Tyre wanted and won’t bring him back.’ 

Crump said Nichols’ family agreed to investigators’ request to wait a week or two before making the video public to ‘make sure to give this family what they want most, and that is justice.’ 

‘Whatever it takes to clear my son name and to get justice for my son. If they need to keep the video for two more weeks, then let them keep the video for two more weeks,’ his mother told Good Morning America (GMA). 

RowVaughn Wells, his mother, is hoping the five officers will face first-degree murder charges.  

Crump said the video shows the encounter was ‘violent’ and ‘troublesome on every level.’ Romanucci called it ‘savage’ and out of proportion to the alleged offense.

Romanucci said that the father was kicked before Crump stopped him from saying more.

‘He was a human piñata for those police officers,’ fellow family attorney Antonio Romanucci said at a press conference. ‘It was an unadulterated, unabashed, nonstop beating of this young boy for three minutes’ 

Crump said it was ‘clear that he was struggling’ in the video 

The lawyers compared Nichols’ case to that of Rodney King (pictured), who was beaten to death by Los Angeles Police officers in 1991 

Nichols stepfather also said the five officers ordered his son to ‘sit back up’ when he would fall over and that they ‘never rendered any aid,’ he told GMA. 

Crump told the outlet it was ‘clear that he was struggling’ in the video. 

‘He literally says in the first encounter: “I just want to go home,”‘ the lawyer recalled. 

RowVaughn said that on the day of the arrest, her son was looking forward to a chicken she was going to cook for dinner that night.

‘All my son was trying to do was come home,’ RowVaughn said, who sobbed during the news conference and told reporters Nichols was less than 80 yards from home when Memphis police officers ‘murdered him.’

‘We’re going to get justice for my son, Tyre, if that’s the last breath I take,’ she said.

Nichols – described by family as a ‘good kid’ who loved skateboarding, photography and his four-year-old son – was arrested after officers stopped him for reckless driving. 



Five police officers, who are all African American, were terminated from the Memphis Police Department. Their names are: Tadarrius Bean (middle), Demetrius Haley (left), Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr.(right) , and Justin Smith


All the officers, who were hired between 2017 and 2020, could face assault or homicide charges, District Attorney Steve Mulroy said (pictured L-R: Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith)

The Memphis Police Department said they have met with the family and that the investigation is ongoing. In an earlier statement, the department admitted the five officers were terminated for ‘multiple department policies,’ including using excessive force, failing to intervene, and failing to render aid 

Police said in a statement the day after the encounter that ‘a confrontation occurred’ as officers approached the vehicle and Nichols ran; they said officers caught up to him and that ‘another confrontation occurred’ while they were taking him into custody. Police said Nichols complained of shortness of breath and was taken to a hospital, where he died three days later.

Relatives have accused the police of beating Nichols and causing him to have a heart attack and kidney failure. Authorities have only said that Nichols experienced a medical emergency. 

The family has ordered a private autopsy, which is expected to be released later today.  

Rodney, who also wants the officers charged with first-degree murder, told reporters that his stepson had good reason to run from the officers.

Nichols mother, RowVaugn Wells (pictured) was inconsolable at the press conference. She also said she opens the five officers face first-degree murder charges 

His sister, Kenyana Dixon (pictured) said the officers approached him in an unmarked car and were wearing hoodies 

‘Our son ran because he was scared for his life,’ Rodney Wells said. ‘And when you see the video, you’ll see why he was scared for his life.’

Attorneys said Nichols can be heard on the video crying out for his mother.

After the family’s news conference about 10 activists walked into the lobby of Mulroy’s office to demand answers to why the district attorney was withholding the video from the public for up to two more weeks and why he hadn’t charged the officers.

‘People want to see what happened to Tyre,’ activist Pamela Buress said. ‘And we’re angry about it.’   

Crump also said the officers’ race was irrelevant and that black and brown motorists often are treated differently than whites, regardless of the officers’ own race, and that the pain of Nichols’ death ‘is just the same.’

The Nichols case is the latest high-profile death to rattle the city. Since November 2021, Memphis has seen the fatal shooting of rapper Young Dolph in a daytime ambush at a bakery, a crime rampage in which a man has been charged with fatally shooting three people and wounding three others, the killing of a United Methodist Church pastor during a carjacking in her driveway and the early-morning kidnapping of a jogger whose body was later found near a house. 

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