Four former Memphis police officers involved in the brutal beating death of Black motorist Tyre Nichols pleaded not guilty to federal civil rights charges.
The Associated Press reports that Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills and Justin Smith appeared in court Wednesday (Sep. 13) wearing handcuffs and leg restraints to enter their not-guilty pleas. The judge released them on a $50,000 unsecured bond.
Emmitt Martin, the fifth officer federally indicted for Nichols’ death, was scheduled to appear in court on Thursday (Sep. 14) to enter his plea.
The U.S. Justice Department announced a four-count indictment against the ex-cops on Tuesday. Federal prosecutors charged them with deprivation of rights under the color of law through excessive force and failure to intervene, and through deliberate indifference; conspiracy to witness tampering; and obstruction of justice through witness tampering.
They face a life sentence if convicted on the first two counts of the federal indictment. Counts three and four each carry a maximum of 20 years in prison.
“It’s especially scary and uncomfortable for somebody who dedicated his life to being a law enforcement officer and now finds himself on the other side of things,” Mills’ lawyer, Blake Ballin, told reporters about his client’s reaction to the charges, adding that Mills looks forward to defending himself in court.
Shocking police bodycam video shows several officers pulling Nichols, 29, from his vehicle during a Jan. 7 traffic stop for alleged reckless driving and brutally beating him for no apparent reason. Nichols, the father of a 4-year-old son, died three days later in a hospital. According to authorities, the traffic stop led to a “confrontation,” and Nichols fled the scene on foot as police pursued him.
According to federal prosecutors, the officers, all of whom are Black, manipulated their body cameras to prevent the devices from recording the assault. For example, Martin allegedly moved his body camera to a position that would not capture footage of the beating, while Haley and Smith activated their devices only after the assault.
The indictment alleges that the five former officers used excessive force and failed to alert medics to the full extent of Nichols’ injuries. It also accuses them of lying to supervisors to cover up their misconduct and falsely claiming that Nichols resisted arrest.
Meanwhile, the ex-cops also pleaded not guilty in February in a separate state prosecution over Nichols’ death. They face charges for second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct, and official oppression.