Ex-Memphis police officer says Tyre Nichols was pulled over for 'speeding' in newly-released videos

ByJaide Timm-Garcia, CNN, CNNWire
Wednesday, January 31, 2024
Tyre Nichols was pulled over for 'speeding', ex-cop says in new videos
After the deadly Memphis police confrontation with Tyre Nichols, video shows officer Preston Hemphill saying he was pulled over for "speeding."

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Newly-released videos from the city of Memphis, Tennessee, appear to shed light on the reason why Tyre Nichols was initially stopped by police last year - an encounter that eventually led to his death and sparked fresh protests over how police in America treat people of color.

Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was violently and repeatedly punched and kicked by officers following a traffic stop and brief foot chase on January 7, 2023. He later died from blunt force trauma to his head.

In police body-camera footage released Tuesday, then-officer Preston Hemphill tells other officers Nichols was initially pulled over for speeding.

In a conversation captured on the body-worn cameras of two officers, Officer Samuel Lively asks Hemphill what Nichols was originally stopped for and Hemphill replies, "Speeding, and an improper lane change."

SEE ALSO | Preston Hemphill, white officer in Tyre Nichols case, will not be charged, his attorney says

In a statement released last January, Memphis Police said Nichols had been pulled over for suspected reckless driving. Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn "CJ" Davis later told CNN authorities had not "been able to "substantiate" the probable cause for why Nichols was pulled over.

When asked for comment on the videos released Tuesday, police officials replied, "As standard practice, the Memphis Police Department doesn't comment on pending litigation."

The officers' interaction on the bodycam video continues with Lively suggesting Nichols could be charged with evading a vehicle, but Hemphill cuts him off saying, "You can't do evading a vehicle, because that means it was a pursuit." Hemphill continues, "You can get him for resisting arrest, fleeing on foot, which is a misdemeanor, speeding and improper lane change. That's at least four."

In the footage, Hemphill describes the initial traffic stop, telling Lively Nichols was "politely resisting" the officers' orders.

"Dude was very polite while resisting, I'll give him credit," Hemphill says in the video.

"We were telling him 'get on the ground!'" Hemphill says, adding Nichols replied, "'OK officers I'm getting on the ground.' But he wasn't doing s***," Hemphill says.

READ MORE | Memphis police officer took photos of beaten Tyre Nichols and shared one with others, documents show

Minutes later, Hemphill's body camera was recording as Lively and another officer asked him if Nichols might have been on anything because of his strength.

"Hell yeah, he was strong. It took the three of us and we could barely get him to the ground till I persuaded him to kneel," Hemphill says in the video.

According to the bodycam video, an hour after the initial traffic stop and about 15 minutes after an ambulance had taken Nichols to the hospital, Nichols' parents approached Hemphill at the intersection where he was first pulled over and where his car was still sitting to ask what had happened.

"We tried pulling over your son. He ran from us. We found him at this red light, pulled him over again. He started fighting with us, and took off, he got pepper sprayed and took off running," Hemphill tells Nichols' mother, RowVaughn Wells, and his stepfather on the bodycam video.

The video then shows Hemphill walked away from the conversation with Nichols' parents to answer a phone call from someone whom he described as his lieutenant. He can be heard saying, "I really don't even know any more. So, we tried pulling him over with speeding, lane changes and then he started fighting us when we pulled him over ... I don't know if they found anything on him or not."

Hemphill then returned to Nichols' parents and told them, "I'm a CIT officer so I specialize in people who - not saying that they have substance abuse problems, stuff like that - but from the way he was fighting, he had to be on something," according to the bodycam video.

Toxicology testing on Nichols detected the presence of chemicals associated with marijuana and alcohol use, according to documents obtained by CNN affiliate WMC. Nichols' blood alcohol content was 0.049, which is below the legal limit of 0.08 in Tennessee.

RELATED | Tyre Nichols case: 2 deputies at man's arrest, beating suspended after investigation, county says

Then-officer, Demetrius Haley, who was with Hemphill during the initial traffic stop as well as part of the group that violently beat Nichols, approaches the parents and tells them, "I've never seen nobody act like this. I believe something was in his system. Because he had unbelievable strength. I mean we had to pepper spray him and tase him," according to the bodycam video.

Hemphill was fired for his involvement in the traffic stop that led to Nichols' death; the Shelby County District Attorney declined to file any criminal charges against him.

Haley is among five former Memphis officers charged in relation to Nichols' death. Haley, Tadarrius Bean, Justin Smith and Emmitt Martin III have all pleaded not guilty to state charges, the most serious being second-degree murder. They were also indicted on federal civil rights charges in September.

The fifth former officer, Desmond Mills Jr., pleaded guilty to two of four federal charges in November, federal prosecutors said. He also agreed to plead guilty to the state charges and testify against the other defendants, prosecutors said.

CNN's Paul P. Murphy, Shawn Nottingham, Pamela Kirkland and Eric Levenson contributed to this report.

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