State Watch

Sixth Memphis officer relieved of duty in connection to Tyre Nichols death

A sixth officer has been relieved of duty in connection to the beating of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who died after being beaten by five police officers after a traffic stop on Jan. 7 in Memphis, Tenn. 

Preston Hemphill, who was hired in 2018, “was relieved of duty at the beginning of the investigation involving Tyre Nichols’ death, with the other officers,” a spokesperson for the Memphis Police Department told The Hill in an emailed statement. “Once additional information is available, we will update our social media platforms.”

The Associated Press reported Monday that disciplinary action taken against Hemphill, who is white, was not immediately released to the public because he was not fired. The department usually releases information about officers who are relieved of duty once an investigation concludes.

Hemphill’s attorney, Lee Gerald, confirmed that Hemphill was among the officers at the initial stop. The first video released by authorities late Friday is from Hemphill’s bodycam footage.

“As per departmental regulations Officer Hemphill activated his bodycam,” Gerald said in a statement. “He was never present at the second scene. He is cooperating with officials in this investigation.”

In a statement Monday, Attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, who are representing Nichols’s family, said the news that Hemphill was not yet fired or charged was “extremely disappointing.”

“Why is his identity and the role he played in Tyre’s death just now coming to light? We have asked from the beginning that the Memphis Police Department be transparent with the family and the community – this news seems to indicate that they haven’t risen to the occasion,” the statement said. “It certainly begs the question why the white officer involved in this brutal attack was shielded and protected from the public eye, and to date, from sufficient discipline and accountability. The Memphis Police Department owes us all answers.”

Five other officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — were fired on Jan. 20 and have since been charged with second-degree murder, two counts of official misconduct, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, one count of official oppression and one count of aggravated assault. All five of those officers are Black.

The Memphis Police Department initially said Nichols was pulled over for reckless driving, but Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis has since said there has been no evidence to corroborate this claim.

Graphic video footage released on Friday showed the initial stop officers conducted as Nichols was driving and the beating that ensued shortly thereafter. 

The footage showed an unidentified officer, who is white, who was also involved in the altercation. When Nichols escaped from the officer, the officer can be heard saying “I hope they stomp his ass.” 

A civil rights investigation into the death of Nichols is now underway.

–Updated at 2:29 p.m.

Tags Ben Crump Memphis Memphis Police Department police brutality Tyre Nichols

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