Tire Nichols’ family gathers for vigil one year after he was brutally beaten by police

MEMPHIS, Tennessee –

A year ago, Tire Nichols was driving home to dinner with his family when Memphis police stopped him and claimed the black man was driving recklessly and pulled him out of his car.

The officers hit him with a stun gun and sprayed him with pepper spray, but he managed to escape and tried to flee home. Five officers caught up with him a few steps from his house and, while he called his mother, they kicked him, punched him, and hit him with a police baton. The attack was captured by the officers’ body cameras and a fixed camera on a police post.

Nichols died in a hospital from his injuries three days later, on January 10, 2023. His death shook Memphis to its core and sparked passionate protests across the United States. On Sunday night, Nichols’ family and supporters gathered at the Latido location to remember the life of his father, a FedEx employee, skateboarder and amateur photographer who was taken from them at age 29.

More than 100 people held flickering candles in the cold Memphis air as they listened to Nichols’ mother, stepfather and three siblings talk about how difficult the past year has been for them. Her mother, RowVaughn Wells, recalled how her stomach began to hurt the night of the traffic stop, not knowing that her son was being beaten just steps from her house.

Wearing Converse sneakers that her son gave her last Christmas, Wells cried as she talked about missing her son.

“Regardless of where my kids are, they’ll call me and come if they’re close enough,” Wells said. “This year, I didn’t get that from Tire. I didn’t get a phone call. I didn’t get a text. I didn’t get a ‘Merry Christmas.’ This year I didn’t get any of that from my baby.

“That’s the most painful thing because I used to try to be the first one to call,” Wells said. “‘Mom, was I the first one to call you today?”‘

The beating of Nichols was one of a series of cases of police violence against black people that sparked protests and renewed debate about police brutality and the need for police reform in the United States.

His death also had serious repercussions for the Memphis Police Department and the city. Seven officers were fired for violating department policies during the traffic stop and hitting, while an eighth was allowed to leave before they could be fired.

Five of the fired officers (Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith) were charged with second-degree murder and other crimes in state court, and with civil rights violations in federal court. . All five officers are black.

Mills pleaded guilty in November to federal charges of excessive force and obstruction of justice. The plea is part of a broader agreement in which prosecutors said he had also agreed to later plead guilty to state charges. The other four officers have pleaded not guilty to state and federal charges.

Officers said they stopped Nichols for reckless driving, but Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis has said no evidence was found to support that allegation.

An autopsy report showed that Nichols died from blunt force trauma to the head and that the manner of death was homicide. The report described brain injuries, cuts and bruises to the head and other parts of the body.

After Nichols’ death, the crime suppression unit the officers were a part of was disbanded. Former members of the so-called Scorpion team have been assigned to other units of the police department.

The U.S. Department of Justice in July announced an investigation into how Memphis police officers use force and make arrests, one of several “patterns and practices” investigations it has undertaken in other cities.

In March, the Justice Department said it was conducting a separate review into use of force, de-escalation strategies and specialized units in the police department.

The police department, the city and the former officers are also being sued by Nichols’ mother in federal court. Filed in April, the $550 million lawsuit blames them for her death and accuses Davis of allowing the Scorpion unit’s aggressive tactics to go unchecked despite warning signs.

Also last year, the Memphis City Council passed several ordinances in the wake of Nichols’ death, including one that prevented traffic stops for minor infractions. Media outlets reported that then-Mayor Jim Strickland sent a letter to the council in December saying he did not enforce the ordinances because he believed they were illegal.

New Mayor Paul Young, who took office Jan. 1 after Strickland’s two terms expired, told media Tuesday he would enforce the ordinances.

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