MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — A Criminal Court judge Wednesday morning blocked the release of 20 additional hours of video and records in the Tyre Nichols case until the state and defendants have time to review the information.
Nichols, a 29-year-old father, died three days after he was beaten by officers from the Memphis Police Department (MPD) in a Jan. 7 traffic stop near his parents’ home in Hickory Hill. The incident was caught on police video, some of which was released in January.
Twenty additional hours of video were supposed to be released Wednesday, along with associated records, the city’s chief legal officer said. The judge’s order Wednesday morning delayed that indefinitely.
“The release of this information shall be subject to further orders of the court and, in the public interest, will be ordered as soon as practicable,” the order stated.
The Shelby County District Attorney’s Office said in a response that the office supported the judge’s decision in the name of transparency:
“Regarding other material planned for release, our office needs to review it carefully to ensure it doesn’t prejudice the defendant or jeopardize our prosecution. We know the judge has the final say in this matter and trust that the appropriate decision has been made to protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation. We will work to review the material promptly in the hopes that the majority of it will be released sooner rather than later.”
Blake Ballin, attorney for defendant Desmond Mills Jr., said in a statement on behalf of his client that the judge’s decision would help ensure a fair trial.
“Police department investigations often uncover evidence that is irrelevant, prejudicial, misleading or inadmissible. The order issued today will allow all parties to review the information that the Memphis Police Department wants to release to ensure that the public is not exposed to such evidence,” Ballin said.
While giving an update on the internal investigation of Nichols’ case on Tuesday, Jennifer Sink announced that the city’s administrative investigation is complete. They have had hearings for all of the employees, and they are now ready to release additional information to the public.
Sink said Tuesday they planned to upload 20 hours of police video and audio Wednesday afternoon.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said Wednesday that the videos mainly focus on the aftermath of Nichols’ beating, not the initial traffic stop that led up to it.
“You’ll see, I think, an explanation of why the other officers who were not involved in beating Tyre Nichols were punished,” Strickland said.
Aside from footage, the city will also release redacted records related to the charges and administrative investigations against those involved.
The investigation resulted in four Memphis Fire Department personnel being administratively charged and 13 Memphis Police Department personnel being administratively charged.
Of the 13 MPD officers, seven have been terminated, three suspended, two had charges dismissed, and one resigned, Sink said.
Because of state law, the officer who resigned would qualify for pension benefits if they are pension-eligible. That means taxpayers are left paying for his retirement.
That upset Councilman J.B. Smiley, who said he was troubled that Nichols’ parents would, essentially, be paying for the resigned officer’s retired lifestyle. This comment garnered a reaction from those in attendance.
“It’s upsetting, it’s upsetting. Because this individual, I don’t know the extent of what he, or she has done. But I do know they played a part in something that played out very publicly in which it ultimately lead to a life being taken from a young man,” Smiley said.
Because this case is so rare, as the council put it, there are some gray areas, which means changes could be on the horizon.
“We should have some discussion regarding what changes, if any, we should be making based upon our own internal processes, and not just to regards to the pension, but regards to the entire process,” Sink said.
The officers involved in the arrest — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith — were all terminated by the Memphis Police Department on Jan. 21. They are charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, and aggravated kidnapping. The unit those officers belonged to, known as the SCORPION Unit, was disbanded shortly after Nichols’ death.
All have entered pleas of not guilty.
Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it would conduct an investigation into the Memphis Police Department and its specialized units. DOJ said the mayor and police chief had requested the investigation.