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The city of Memphis releases videos of Tyre Nichols' arrest and beating

People attend a candlelight vigil in memory of Tyre Nichols at a park on Thursday in Memphis, Tenn.
Scott Olson
Getty Images
People attend a candlelight vigil in memory of Tyre Nichols at a park on Thursday in Memphis, Tenn.

Updated January 27, 2023 at 1:40 PM ET

Memphis authorities say they're planning to release body camera footage from the police killing of Tyre Nichols, leaving cities across the U.S. on edge and bracing for a familiar ritual: protests, outrage and calls for national police reform.

Following Thursday's announcement of charges against the officers, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said the city would release body camera footage Friday after 6 p.m. CT.

In an email to NPR on Friday morning, the Memphis Police Department said they were still unsure of the exact timing of the release but it could come "sometime after 5:00 p.m. CT."

The video will be uploaded to YouTube in four different parts. Neighborhood surveillance video will appear alongside the body camera footage, all depicting a three-minute span of events leading to Nichols' death.

Nichols, a 29-year-old father and FedEx worker, was pulled over on Jan. 7 for what police said was reckless driving. After trying to flee on foot, Nichols was severely beaten by police. He died in a hospital three days later.

"Make no mistake: Tyre Nichols was, at all times, an innocent victim on that night. He did nothing wrong. He was caught up in a sting," said Antonio Romanucci, a lawyer representing his family, speaking at a Friday press conference.

All five officers have since been fired, and are facing charges of second-degree murder, assault and kidnapping. State and federal authorities are also investigating the officers.

Lawyers and Nichols' family, who have privately viewed the video of the arrest, called it "appalling," "heinous" and "horrific."

It shows Nichols being savagely beaten, kicked, pepper-sprayed and struck with a stun gun, according to one of the Nichols' family lawyers. In the video, they said, Nichols can be heard pleading for his mother and to be allowed to go home.

"He was a human piñata," said Romanucci earlier in the week. "It was an unadulterated, unabashed, non-stop beating of this young boy for three minutes."

Nichols' family lawyers call for an investigation into 'saturation patrols'

People attend a candlelight vigil in memory of Tyre Nichols on Thursday in Memphis.
Scott Olson / Getty Images
Getty Images
People attend a candlelight vigil in memory of Tyre Nichols on Thursday in Memphis.

Activists are already calling for reform in Memphis and across the nation, with many asking for a completely overhauled approach to policing.

Amber Sherman, a local Black Lives Matter organizer, told NPR's Debbie Elliot, "The only way for us to end the injustice that keeps happening and the murders of black people that keep happening is to stop using police for traffic enforcement."

The Nichols family attorneys have called on the DOJ to investigate "saturation patrols," which they described as big teams of police patrolling neighborhoods in the name of decreasing violent crime but instead foster a "wolf pack" mindset. Lawyers say the five officers who beat Nichols were part of such a unit.

"It doesn't matter if the officer's a Black officer, a Hispanic officer or a white officer. It is the culture that allows them to think they can do this to Tyre," attorney Ben Crump said Friday. "And we have to call out this culture every time we get a chance."

Lawyers for the family said they applauded the severity and swiftness of charges brought against the officers, all of whom are Black.

"No longer can you tell us we gotta wait six months to a year, even though we got a video with evidence of the excessive force and the crime," Crump said. "We now have the blueprint, America, and we won't accept less going forward in the future. We won't have Black officers treated differently than white officers under the law."

Memphis authorities and Nichols's family urge protestors to stay peaceful after the video's release

In a video statement released Thursday, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said the city would initiate an outside review of its specialized units, saying it was clear that the officers violated local policies and training practices.

National leaders like the Rev. Al Sharpton have said the police brutality against Nichols was even more painful because of the officers' race. All five officers, like Nichols, are Black.

"We fought to put Blacks on the police force," he told the BBC. "For them to act in such a brutal way is more egregious than I can tell you. [...] I do not believe these five black police officers would have done this had he been a young white man."

Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis, the first Black woman to hold the city's top police role, pledged "absolute accountability" for those responsible for Nichols' death, but asked for the city to stay calm in the meantime.

"I expect you to feel outrage at the disregard of basic human rights as our police officers have taken an oath to do the opposite of what transpired on the video," she said. "But we need to ensure our community is safe in this process."

Nichols' mother RowVaughn Wells urged the same approach, but for a personal reason.

"I don't want us burning up cities, tearing up our streets, because that's not what my son stood for," she said at a vigil for Nichols Thursday evening.

"We want peace. We do not want any type of uproar. We do not want any type of disturbance. We want peaceful protests," Rodney Wells, Nichols' stepfather, reiterated early Friday afternoon.

Memphis area schools canceled all after-class activities and postponed Saturday school events as an extra precaution, the Associated Press reports. Some local businesses, including the Memphis Power Co. and the University of Memphis, were also planning to close early.

Cities were already bracing for protests following a police killing in Atlanta

A police officer blocks a downtown Atlanta street following a protest Saturday in the wake of the death of an environmental activist killed after authorities said the 26-year-old shot a state trooper.
Alex Slitz / AP
A police officer blocks a downtown Atlanta street following a protest Saturday in the wake of the death of an environmental activist killed after authorities said the 26-year-old shot a state trooper.

President Biden joined Nichols' family in their grief on Thursday, saying "outrage is understandable, but violence is never acceptable."

Biden also called Nichols' death a "painful reminder" of the need to reform law enforcement, calling on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would ban certain policing techniques and create a national database of police misconduct.

Cities across the U.S. were already braced for protest this week after demonstrators took to the streets in Atlanta to protest the police killing of 26-year-old Manuel Esteban Perez.

Perez and other social justice activists were protesting a new police training center known as "Cop City" that is planned for what was once a 300-acre Atlanta forest.

Fierce opposition to the development erupted in unrest and vandalism last week. Six people were charged with domestic terrorism related to the riots.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp issued a state of emergency order on Thursday, authorizing 1,000 National Guard troops to be called up until Feb. 9.

CBS reports that police nationwide have been coordinating a response to possible protests since Monday. On a call last night, police departments across the country were told the body camera footage would be released today.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: January 27, 2023 at 12:00 AM EST
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the activist killed by police in Atlanta was named Manuel Esteban Perez. In fact, his name was Manuel Esteban Paez Teran.
Emily Olson
Emily Olson is on a three-month assignment as a news writer and live blog editor, helping shape NPR's digital breaking news strategy.
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Becky Sullivan
Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.
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