- The video of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols being beaten by Memphis police was released Friday.
- Legal experts told Insider the footage showed police met Nichols with force even though he wasn’t initially resisting.
- He may have run away from the officers because he thought he needed to in order to save his life, lawyers said.
Content note: This story describes police brutality, death, and contains graphic videos.
The video released Friday of five Memphis police officers brutally beating Tyre Nichols during a traffic stop showed clear police misconduct and a breakdown in protocol for detaining someone, legal experts told Insider.
The violent footage was taken during a traffic stop on January 7 in Memphis, Tennessee, and was released days after the five officers were all charged with second-degree murder, among other charges. Nichols, who was 29, died of his injuries on January 10. Police said Nichols was pulled over on suspicion of reckless driving, but later said there was no evidence substantiating the allegation.
Prior to the video’s release, the Memphis police chief said it was “heinous” and “inhumane.”
“What I saw was certainly police misconduct,” Joshua Ritter, a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney, former prosecutor, and partner with El Dabe Ritter Trial Lawyers, told Insider of the footage. “What I saw is never the way that five fully trained officers should try to detain a person.”
The videos showed an officer approaching the car after pulling Nichols over and immediately telling him to “get the fuck out of the fucking car.” After Nichols exclaims that he didn’t do anything, an officer pulls him out, throws him to the ground, and says “I’m gonna tase your ass.” Nichols then stands, struggles with an officer, and runs away after the officer deploys his taser.
As he runs, an officer can be heard saying: “I hope they stomp his ass.”
Ritter said it was “abundantly clear” that “there was either a breakdown in training and protocol or a complete lack of training and protocol that these officers had to begin with.”
“There’s no reason why five officers need to reduce themselves to closed-fist punching in order to subdue a suspect who does not appear to be violent in return, but at the very worst can be said to not be compliant with their orders,” he added.
He added it was hard to believe there was no way the five officers should not have been able to detain Nichols safely, without resulting to physical blows. “It’s almost as if they are trying to gain his compliance by assaulting him,” he said.
Los Angeles-based civil rights attorney V. James DeSimone agreed the police’s treatment of Nichols from the beginning of the interaction was excessive, adding, “this could’ve all been avoided if police had treated this young man with respect in the first incidence” rather than with a “physical confrontation” and threats.
All of the lawyers Insider spoke to said that Nichols initially appeared compliant but was met with force anyways, raising questions about why he ended up running away, which could be construed as him resisting arrest and used to argue they were just trying to make a non-compliant person comply.
“They came in hot. They came in just straight beating on him even though he was very compliant,” Matthew Barhoma, a criminal defense attorney and founder of Power Trial Lawyers and Barhoma Law, told Insider. “Then he resisted. And it raises the question: Why did he resist? It’s very likely he resisted because he felt the need to save his life.”
Ritter agreed, adding that the “natural human instinct may be to resist when five people are essentially beating up on you.”
Barhoma said he was “shocked” by the footage, adding that when the charges were announced he thought it may be a case of “overzealous prosecution,” but that after the video he clearly sees how this could be a case of police brutality.
Whether or not the officers’ conduct clears the high bar of second-degree murder is another question.
“I think the second-degree charge is probably high, and it’s going to be difficult for them to ascertain,” Barhoma said, adding he thought manslaughter charges may have been more fitting.
Ritter agreed the murder charges would be hard to prove, but that given all the context — the video showing force, Nichols being pulled over on suspicion of a non-violent offense — prosecutors may be able to prove it.
However Neama Rahmani, president of West Coast Trial Lawyers and a former federal prosecutor, said there was “no question in my mind that murder charges are appropriate.”
“I’ve prosecuted police officers. I’ve seen police officers imprisoned. I’ve seen a lot,” he said. “This is probably one of the worst things I’ve ever seen.”