By TRAVIS LOLLER and ADRIAN SAINZ
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — One of three Memphis Police officers who initially detained Tyre Nichols last month has admitted he did not witness the alleged reckless driving that was the justification for pulling over Nichols but still approached his car while brandishing his gun, according to police documents seeking to bar him from working in law enforcement.
That Jan. 7 traffic stop quickly escalated into a beating, and Nichols died three days later.
Officer Preston Hemphill’s own body camera showed that from the very beginning of the traffic stop he and two other officers approached Nichols with force that was disproportionate for the alleged offense of reckless driving, according to a statement from the disciplinary hearing that took place before he was fired.
Hemphill was fired last week but has not been charged for his role in Nichols’ beating and arrest, which has sparked widespread outrage and reignited a national discussion of police brutality against Black people. Five other officers, who are Black and were caught on video pummeling Nichols with their fists, feet and a baton, have been charged with murder and other offenses.
Hemphill did not take part in the second, more violent encounter, which took place after Nichols ran from police. But the documents highlight that he was heard on his body camera telling his partner: “I hope they stomp his ass!”
The information about Hemphill’s actions is contained in supporting documents attached to a Wednesday request from Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis to strip Hemphill, who is white, of his police certification so that he could not work in law enforcement again. Hemphill’s lawyer did not immediately comment Thursday because he had not fully read the documents.
The documents help create a fuller picture of the initial encounter with the 29-year-old Nichols that involved Hemphill, Demetrius Haley and Emmitt Martin III. Haley and Martin were fired last month and charged with second-degree murder in Nichols’ death along with Tadarrius Bean, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith.
The police chief has said she saw no justification in video of the incident for pulling Nichols over in the first place.
Meanwhile, the office of the top prosecutor in Memphis said in a statement Thursday that it will review all previous cases, “closed and pending,” of the five officers charged in the Nichols investigation. It was not immediately clear how many cases the review by the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office will involve, but there is at least a chance that some cases could be re-opened if problems emerge.
The new documents state that Nichols was not given the opportunity to step out of the car before being forced out by Haley. Martin then grabbed one of Nichols’ wrists and claimed that Nichols tried to grab his gun. That claim was later repeated by Hemphill and Haley but was contradicted by the video evidence.
Once they had Nichols out of his car, the officers took him to the ground while yelling profanity at him. Hemphill threatened to use a stun gun on Nichols, while placing the gun against Nichols’ leg. Martin threatened to break one of his arms. Haley sprayed Nichols in the eyes with pepper spray while he was on the ground.
Nichols, by contrast, was “not using profanity” or showing any “signs of violence,” according to the documents. When Nichols managed to get free and started running away, Hemphill deployed his stun gun, even though police policy forbids the use of a stun gun against a subject who is running away or as a means of gaining compliance with someone who is not violent.
The hearing officer also faulted Hemphill for deploying his stun gun while Nichols was in the middle of the street. “You put everyone involved at risk of serious bodily injuries due to oncoming traffic,” the statement reads.
Within a few minutes, Bean, Mills and Smith caught Nichols a few blocks away and began beating him. They were joined by Haley and Martin, while Hemphill remained with the vehicle.
In all, 13 officers have either been disciplined or are under investigation for their roles in Nichols’ death. Two Shelby County sheriff’s deputies were also suspended, and three emergency medical technicians with the Memphis Fire Department have been fired.
Loller reported from Nashville.
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