A sixth Memphis police officer has been relieved of duty after the traffic stop that led to Tyre Nichols’ death earlier this month, the department said Monday.
Body camera video released Friday shows the officer, identified by police and his attorney as Preston Hemphill, firing a stun gun at Nichols as he initially ran from officers during the Jan. 7 stop.
“I can confirm that I represent Memphis Police Officer Preston Hemphill who was the third officer at the initial stop of Mr. Nichols. Video One is his bodycam footage,” the attorney, Lee Gerald, said in a statement.
However, Hemphill was not at the scene where Nichols was beaten, according to the attorney.
“He was never present at the second scene. He is cooperating with officials in this investigation,” Gerald said.
More coverage of Tyre Nichols’ death
Five other officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — were fired on Jan. 20 after an administrative investigation found they had violated department policy on the use of force. They were hired between 2017 and 2020.
The former officers were charged with second-degree murder, two counts of official misconduct, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, one count of official oppression and one count of aggravated assault, prosecutors announced last week.
Asked why the department did not announce disciplinary action against Hemphill on the same day it announced the firing of the five officers, a police spokesperson said: “The other 5 officer’s names were announced when they were charged departmentally, then subsequently charged criminally. Officer Hemphill has not received departmental or criminal charges. As we have advised, the investigation is ongoing. Officer Hemphill’s name came out after it was heard in the video from the Tyre Nichols scene, that was released Friday evening. We are simply confirming that he is relieved of duty.”
That answer was not sufficient for Nichols’ family attorney Ben Crump.
“The news today from Memphis officials that Officer Preston Hemphill was reportedly relieved of duty weeks ago, but not yet terminated or charged, is extremely disappointing. Why is his identity and the role he played in Tyre’s death just now coming to light?” he asked.
Crump added: “We have asked from the beginning that the Memphis Police Department be transparent with the family and the community — this news seems to indicate that they haven’t risen to the occasion. It certainly begs the question why the white officer involved in this brutal attack was shielded and protected from the public eye, and to date, from sufficient discipline and accountability. The Memphis Police Department owes us all answers.”
Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy’s office on Monday said authorities “worked extraordinarily swiftly but thoroughly to charge those whose offenses were plain and clear and directly contributed to the death of Mr. Nichols,” but the investigation is far from over.
“The current charges do not preclude us from adding additional charges as more information is presented. We are looking at all individuals involved in the events leading up to, during, and after the beating of Tyre Nichols. This includes the officer present at the initial encounter who has not — so far —been charged, Memphis Fire Department personnel, and persons who participated in preparing documentation of the incident afterward,” Mulroy’s office said in a statement.
‘Relieving someone of duty is not firing them’
At least one city official said the discipline against Hemphill does not go far enough.
“For the record, relieving someone of duty is not firing them,” Memphis City Council Vice Chair J.B. Smiley Jr. tweeted, ending the post with “#FirePrestonHemphill” and “#JusticeForTyre.”
A representative with the union representing rank-and-file officers, the Memphis Police Association, could not be reached for comment.
Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who was an amateur photographer and skateboarder, was hospitalized in critical condition and died three days after the traffic stop.
Multiple police videos show officers punching, kicking and hitting Nichols with a baton.
There were three videos from police body cameras and one from a police surveillance camera mounted on a pole. A body camera video shows Nichols escaped while on the ground. At least one officer appeared to have been hit with a chemical irritant when it was sprayed at Nichols during the initial encounter.
Nichols managed to run to his mother’s neighborhood and was about 80 yards from her house when video captured multiple officers assaulting him as he repeatedly shouted “Mom!”
‘I will tase your a–‘
The body camera video referred to by Hemphill’s attorney shows one officer arriving at the traffic stop and pointing a gun. Another shouts, “You’re going to get your a– blown the f— out.”
One of the officers yanks Nichols out of the car, video shows.
Multiple officers hover around him, according to the footage, as he is on the ground. They sometimes yell contradictory commands at him in a chaotic scene.
“I will tase your a–,” one officer shouts.
Officers yell at Nichols to lie on the ground and put his hands behind his back. He’s on his side on the ground, with one officer holding on arm and a second holding the other, the video shows.
Nichols says “OK, dude, dang!” at one point, and “you guys are really doing a lot right now. … I’m just trying to go home.”
He tells officers yelling at him, “I am on the ground!” and it then appears that he is sprayed with a chemical irritant, the video shows.
Nichols, during a struggle on the ground, manages to break free from the officers, according to the footage. An officer then shoots a stun gun at him while he sprints away.
That officer chased him for a short distance before stopping, the video shows.
“Taser was deployed,” the officer says while breathing heavily. He then gives a description of Nichols and says the direction and street where he was last seen running.
“One of the prongs hit the b——,” the officer also says, referring to the stun gun he fired, according to the video.
Fallout from the traffic stop hits other agencies
The fallout from Nichols’ traffic stop and fatal beating has spread to other agencies beyond the Memphis Police Department.
Two Shelby County Sheriff’s Office deputies were relieved of duty pending an administrative investigation in connection to Nichols’ death, Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. announced Friday night after watching the video for the first time.
Bonner said he had “concerns about two deputies who appeared on the scene following the physical confrontation between police and Tyre Nichols.”
The investigation will look into their conduct to determine what happened and if any policies were violated, the sheriff said.
Last week, two Memphis fire personnel also were “relieved of duty” while that department conducts an internal investigation into Nichols’s death.
Fire spokesperson Qwanesha Ward said the employees were “involved in the initial patient care” of Nichols; she did not provide further details.
“This is an ongoing investigation, and we cannot comment further at this time,” Ward said in a Jan. 24 statement.