(CNN) — Video of a traffic stop that led to the deadly beating of a 29-year-old Black man shows “acts that defy humanity,” the Memphis police chief told CNN on Friday, hours before the expected public release of the footage.
“You’re going to see a disregard for life, duty of care that we’re all sworn to and a level of physical interaction that is above and beyond what is required in law enforcement,” Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis told Don Lemon of the video in the Tyre Nichols case, noting it will be released on YouTube in four parts.
Five Memphis officers were charged Thursday in Nichols’ death following a reckless driving stop that Davis said her department has not been able to substantiate.
With the release of the footage imminent, officials are urging any demonstrations Friday to be civil.
“Individuals watching will feel what the family felt,” Davis said. “And if you don’t, then you’re not a human being. … There will be a measure of sadness, as well.”
Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, told CNN on Friday, “It’s still like a nightmare right now.”
“I’m still trying to understand all of this and trying to wrap my head around all of this,” Wells said. “I don’t have my baby. I’ll never have my baby again.”
In describing her reaction to the video, Davis said she heard Nichols “call out for his mother, for his mom.”
“Just the disregard for humanity … That’s what really pulls at your heartstrings and makes you wonder: Why was a sense of care and concern for this individual just absent from the situation by all who went to the scene?”
Police nationwide have been under scrutiny for how they treat Black people, particularly since the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and the mass protest movement known as Black Lives Matter. Davis likened the video to the 1991 Los Angeles police beating that sparked outrage across the country.
“I was in law enforcement during the Rodney King incident, and it’s very much aligned with that same type of behavior,” she said. “I would say it’s about the same, if not worse.”
In the case of Nichols, his encounter with Memphis police occurred after he had fled from his vehicle following a traffic stop on January 7, police said. Following a brief pursuit, responding officers captured Nichols, who required hospitalization after the arrest and died on January 10.
Davis said that police have not been able to find anything that substantiated the probable cause for reckless driving by Nichols before his fatal encounter with police.
“We’ve been unable to substantiate that at this time,” Davis told Lemon. “That was why he was supposedly stopped at the beginning.”
Davis said the department will release the video of in four parts on YouTube.
“The video is broken into four different sort of fragmented pieces,” that are all relative to the incident, Davis said. The department plans “to post it on a YouTube link so that it can be accessible to just about anybody who wants to access that video,” she said. The video will show the initial stop the stop near Tyre’s home and also body-worn camera of individual officers she noted.
‘They had beat him to a pulp’
Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, told CNN that Memphis Police Department officers arrived at her home between 8 and 9 p.m. on January 7 to tell her that Nichols had been arrested.
Officers told her that her son was arrested for a DUI, pepper sprayed and tased, she said. Because of that, he was going to the hospital and would later be taken to booking at the police station, she said.
“They then asked me (if) was he on any type of drugs or anything of that nature because they were saying it was so difficult to put the handcuffs on him and he had this amount of energy, superhuman energy,” Wells said. “What they were describing was not my son, so I was very confused.”
Wells said officers told her that Nichols was “nearby” but would not tell her exactly where. They also told her she could not go to the hospital, she said.
However, at about 4 a.m., she said, she received a call from a doctor asking her to see Nichols.
“The doctor proceeded to tell me that my son had went into cardiac arrest and that his kidneys were failing,” she said, adding that it didn’t “sound consistent” with what police had described as Nichols being tased and pepper-sprayed.
“When my husband and I got to the hospital and I saw my son, he was already gone,” Wells said. “They had beat him to a pulp.”
Wells described the horrific injuries her son had when she saw him in the hospital.
“He had bruises all over him. His head was swollen like a watermelon. His neck was busting because of the swelling. They broke his neck. My son’s nose look like a S,” she said. “They actually just beat the crap out of him. And so when I saw that, I knew my son was gone, the end. Even if he did live, he would have been a vegetable.”
She said she feels sorry for the officers involved.
“They have brought shame to their own families,” she said. “They have brought shame to the Black community. They didn’t have to do this.”
Family and attorneys have seen footage
Rodney Wells said he didn’t want his wife to see the video, but the attorneys asked that she try and watch as long as she could.
“She heard one word and had to leave out of the room,” Wells said. “And that was when they initially pulled him out of the car, he said, ‘What did I do?'”
Nichols’ stepfather, in the interview with CNN, also described in detail what he said the video of the incident shows.
“He said, ‘What did I do? Why are y’all doing this to me? What did I do?’ and they proceeded to snatch him out of the car and was trying to wrestle him to the ground. And he got scared. So he was athletic enough to get out of (that) situation and run, and he was trying to run home, because he was three blocks from the house when they stopped him,” Wells said.
He said officers hit Nichols with a stick and then kicked him.
“One officer kicked him like he was kicking a football, a couple of times,” Wells said.
He said there were “maybe 10 officers on the scene” and none tried to help Nichols after he’d been beaten and propped up against a car.
“No one rendered aid to him whatsoever. They walked around, smoking cigarettes like it was all calm and like, you know, bragging about what happened,” Wells said. “He was sitting there, and then he slumped over. And an officer walked over to him and said, ‘sit back up mother — mf,’ while he’s handcuffed. So, he had to — they prop him back up, and he slumped over again, and they prop him back up again, but no one was rendering aid.
“I saw some fire department people come out there and they just walked around and nobody showed him any aid, and they supposed to be trained in first aid. By the time the paramedic truck pulled up, that’s when we couldn’t see anything because the paramedic truck blocked the camera.”
‘It is very troubling’
Memphis City Council Chairman Martavius Jones told CNN Thursday he hopes the charges brought forth against the officers will help allay concerns from the community that the matter is not being treated seriously.
“Our next step is going to see what the video actually looks like, and we hope that since we’ve delivered this accountability, that the community will accept that steps are being taken to bring justice to those individuals responsible for this act,” Jones said.
Police and city officials have expressed shock and disappointment at how the officers used force against Nichols during the arrest.
The footage will “remind you of Rodney King in many regards,” Nichols family attorney Ben Crump said. Though the King incident involved White officers — Nichols and the five Memphis officers charged are Black — the violence seen is similar, Crump said.
“Being assaulted, battered, punched, kicked, tased, pepper sprayed. It is very troubling,” he said.
Police officials in a number of major cities nationwide have said they are monitoring for any possible public outcry this weekend over what will be seen in the video footage.
Nichols’ mother is asking for supporters to be peaceful during demonstrations, saying at a vigil in Memphis on Thursday that she wants “each and every one of you to protest in peace.”
“I don’t want us burning up our cities, tearing up the streets, because that’s not what my son stood for,” Wells said. “And if you guys are here for me and Tyre, then you will protest peacefully.”
‘This could be potentially explosive’
The five Memphis Police Department officers identified — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin and Desmond Mills Jr. — have each been charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, two charges of aggravated kidnapping, two charges of official misconduct and one charge of official oppression, according to Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy.
Martin and Haley were released from jail on a $350,000 bond, according to Shelby County Jail records, while Smith, Bean and Mills Jr. have been released after each posting a $250,000 bond.
Two members of the city’s fire department associated with the case “are on administrative leave pending the outcome of the internal investigation,” according to the department.
Mulroy called the video “heartbreaking” and immediately understood Nichols’ death could trigger a “potentially explosive” backlash.
“I’ve only been on the job, not even five months and you know, I realized that this could be potentially explosive,” he told CNN.
He also said what the police report describes and what the video shows do not “overlap” perfectly.
“That’s the kind of thing that I think the ongoing federal investigation might be particularly interested in,” Mulroy said.
Crump, in a news conference Friday in Memphis, called Memphis’ rapid criminal charges — compared to other cities and states that have waited months or years in similar cases — is a “blueprint” moving forward.
“We have a precedent that has been set here in Memphis, and we intend to hold this blueprint for all America from this day forward,” Crump said.
He called for Tennessee to enact what he called “Tyre’s Law”: A proposed measure that would require police officers to intervene when they see crimes being committed, including by fellow officers.
Blake Ballin, an attorney for Mills Jr., one of the officers, said he doesn’t believe his client “is capable of” the accusations, and that his client is “remorseful” to be “connected to the death” of Nichols.
Ballin told CNN he has not yet seen the video, but has spoken to people who have. He urged those who watch the video to “treat each of these officers as individuals.”
“The levels of culpability amongst these five officers are different, and I expect that you’re going to see in this video that my client Desmond Mills is not, in fact, guilty of the crimes he’s been charged with,” Ballin said.
Memphis, other cities prepare for protests
Police departments in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Nashville, Milwaukee, Seattle, Denver, Dallas, New York and Atlanta told CNN they are either monitoring the events in Memphis closely or already have plans in place in case of large-scale protests or unrest.
Memphis Shelby County Schools announced that all after-school activities and events will be canceled Friday.
Memphis City Council Vice Chair JB Smiley Jr. said the city will continue to work with community leaders and organizers ahead of the video release, in hopes of quelling any potentially dangerous protests.
“You will see protests, but it will be peaceful because the Memphis Police Department, the sheriff’s department, the district attorney and the Memphis City Council, along with the city administration, has took all the necessary steps to quell any potential of rioting in our city,” Smiley said.
President Joe Biden is echoing Nichols’ family’s call for peaceful protests, White House National Security Council Special Coordinator for Communications John Kirby said on “CNN This Morning.”
“We certainly don’t want to see anyone else hurt by this terrible, terrible tragedy, and we’ll stay in close touch with the local and state authorities,” Kirby said.
The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement on Friday that it is coordinating with partners across the United States ahead of the expected release of the video.
Swift condemnation of officer conduct
Police officials, elected leaders and the family of Nichols have all been adamant in their dismay regarding the officers’ conduct.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said authorities were quick in their investigation of Nichols’ death and that “proper legal steps” needed to be followed before releasing the footage of the arrest.
“We have worked to get a resolution to these matters in record time because we take them extremely seriously,” he said Thursday.
“I am sad and angry for the family of Tyre Nichols,” he added. “I am also angry for the many good men and women of the Memphis Police Department who devote their lives to serving our citizens. We must all work to regain the public’s trust and work together to heal the wounds these events have caused.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee vowed in a statement Thursday that “cruel, criminal abuse of power will not be tolerated in the state,” adding his prayers to Nichols’ family and for “peace, healing & justice to the Memphis community in these difficult days.”
“This is not just a professional failing,” Davis said Wednesday of the officers’ treatment of Nichols. “This is a failing of basic humanity toward another individual.”
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