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Tyre Nichols’ family attorney says video shows police beating Nichols like a ‘human pinata’

Tyre Nichols’s memorial was held on Jan. 17, 2023 at MJ Edwards Funeral Home in Memphis. Nichols’ death resulted from two confrontations with the Memphis Police Department. (Photo: Tyre Nichols' Memorial)

(CNN) — Attorneys for the family of Tyre Nichols, a Black man who died after a traffic stop in Memphis, Tennessee, said police body camera footage shows the cops’ “non-stop beating” of Nichols.

“He was defenseless the entire time. He was a human piñata for those police officers. It was an unadulterated, unabashed, non-stop beating of this young boy for three minutes,” attorney Antonio Romanucci said during a news conference Monday.

Nichols’ family and legal team earlier Monday viewed the police footage of Nichols’ arrest earlier this month, giving them an opportunity to see what happened before he was taken in critical condition to a hospital, where he died days later.

Attorney Benjamin Crump compared the video to the 1991 beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles Police Department officers.

“It is appalling. It is deplorable. It is heinous,” Crump said of what he saw. “It is violent. It is troublesome on every level.”

Ravaughn Wells, Nichols’ mother, was unable to get through viewing the first minute of the footage after hearing Tyre ask, “What did I do?” on the video, Crump said. At the end of the video, Nichols can be heard calling for his mother three times, the attorney said.

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Crump, who was joined by Nichols’ mother, step-father, grandmother and aunt, said the family described Nichols as “a good kid” who enjoyed skateboarding, photography and computers.

Wells was visibly upset throughout the news conference. She called her son a “beautiful soul.” “Nobody’s perfect, OK, nobody,” Wells told reporters. “But he was damn near.”

Memphis Police confirmed in a statement on Twitter that police and city officials met with Nichols’ family to let them view the video recordings, which Chief Cerelyn Davis indicated would be released publicly at a later time.

“Transparency remains a priority in this incident, and a premature release could adversely impact the criminal investigation and the judicial process,” she said. “We are working with the District Attorney’s Office to determine the appropriate time to release video recordings publicly.”

The January 10 death of Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, follows a number of recent, high-profile cases involving police using excessive force toward members of the public, particularly young Black men.

“Yet again, we’re seeing evidence of what happens to Black and brown people from simple traffic stops,” Crump said. “Simple traffic stops. You should not be killed because of a simple traffic stop.”

The Memphis Police Department has terminated five police officers, all of whom are Black, in connection with Nichols’ death January 10, three days after the department says officers pulled over a motorist, identified as Nichols, for alleged reckless driving the previous day.

A confrontation followed, and “the suspect fled the scene on foot,” police said in a statement on social media. Officers chased him and another confrontation took place before the suspect was taken into custody, the statement said.

“Afterward, the suspect complained of having a shortness of breath, at which time an ambulance was called to the scene. The suspect was transported to St. Francis Hospital in critical condition,” officials said.

Nichols died a few days later, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which is investigating. The Department of Justice and the FBI have also opened a civil rights investigation.

Details about Nichols’ injuries and the cause of his death have not been released. CNN has reached out to the Shelby County coroner for comment.

The Shelby County District Attorney’s Office expects to release the video of Nichols’ arrest either this week or next week, a spokesperson told CNN on Monday, about a week after city officials said video recorded by officers’ body-worn cameras would be released publicly after the police department’s internal investigation was completed and the family had a chance to review the recordings.

“(The video) should be made public, it’s just a matter of when,” Director of Communications Erica Williams said.

Williams declined to characterize the nature of the video, saying it would be inappropriate to comment on it before the family sees it.

Asked if officials anticipated charges against the five officers involved in Nichols’ arrest, Williams said, “charges, if any, will be announced later this week.”

The Memphis Police Department’s administrative investigation found the five officers terminated — identified by the department as Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills, Jr., and Justin Smith — violated policies for use of force, duty to intervene and duty to render aid, the department said in a statement.

“The egregious nature of this incident is not a reflection of the good work that our officers perform, with integrity, every day,” Police Chief Cerleyn “CJ” Davis said.

The Memphis Police Association, the union representing the officers, declined to comment on the terminations beyond saying that the city of Memphis and Nichols’ family “deserve to know the complete account of the events leading up to his death and what may have contributed to it.”

During Monday’s news conference, Rodney Wells, Nichols’ step-father, called for any potential protestors to be peaceful.

Violent protests were “not what Tyre wanted, and that’s not going to bring him back,” he said.

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