Videos of Tyre Nichols police beating show ‘sadistic’ rage - experts
Published January 29,2023
The brutality shown in videos released Friday of Memphis police officers beating Tyre Nichols was roundly condemned by law enforcement use-of-force experts as indefensible and "sadistic."
"This is far worse than Rodney King," said Ed Obayashi, a Northern California sheriff's deputy and use-of-force expert. "This is as bad as it gets.
"They are fighting with him during the initial traffic stop," Obayashi said. "You can tell they are, their agitation level is way high. They are yelling f this and f that."
Seth Stoughton, a former Florida police officer and a University of South Carolina law professor and law enforcement expert, agreed.
"I don't use 'brutality' lightly, but especially those kicks to the face or punches while he is being held by other officers who have control of his hands, that's just brutality," Stoughton said. "There was no justification for that."
The videos, which include numerous angles from police body-camera footage, show the violent encounter between Nichols and police during his Jan. 7 arrest, which stemmed from a traffic stop. Nichols, 29, died of his injuries Jan. 10.
In the videos, police have their guns drawn the moment they step out of their cars and approach Nichols, who is still in the driver's seat of his car in the middle of a lane.
"You gonna get your ass blown the f— out," one officer yells while Nichols is still in the car.
An officer tells Nichols to get out of the car, then drags him from the driver's seat.
"I didn't do anything," Nichols says as he is hauled from the car. "All right, I'm on the ground."
"OK. Stop," Nichols says as officers scream at him to get on the ground. "OK dude, dang. … You guys are really doing a lot right now. … I can't breathe."
Nichols gets up after about 30 seconds on the ground by his car and begins to run away. An officer tries to shoot him with a Taser, though it's not clear whether it hits Nichols.
Footage from a pole-mounted police camera shows the beating in a nearby neighborhood, after police tackle Nichols to the ground following a chase.
Nichols can be seen on the ground, wiping his face after getting pepper-sprayed. One officer makes the others move.
"Watch out, I'm gonna baton the f— out of you," he yells at Nichols.
Nichols gets back to his feet and moans as another officer punches him in the face with his left hand.
"All right, all right," Nichols says.
Three officers kick him and attempt to restrain him as Nichols lies on the ground by a curb. After a few minutes of police hitting and attempting to restrain Nichols, they sit him up against a police vehicle. From there, Nichols slumps to the ground, without officers noticing for nearly a minute.
Obayashi said it appeared the officers wanted "payback."
"In all my years of use-of-force cases, I have never had one where they are holding him up to beat him," he said. "These cops acted like villains in a movie. You've got two guys on either side controlling him, holding back his arms as the main guys get [their] punches in repeatedly. ... They are really holding up the kid to get more punishment. There is no effort to cuff him or take him down. This was payback. This was sadistic."
Stoughton said it was notable that none of the officers appeared to deescalate the situation. All it takes is for one officer to say, "enough," Stoughton said.
"Given the number of officers, it becomes toxic, like a mob," he said. "Nothing in the video justified those punches or the kicks or the baton."
Former Officers Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith, who are Black, were each charged with one count of second-degree murder, two counts of official misconduct, one count of official oppression, one count of aggravated assault while acting in concert, and two counts of aggravated kidnapping in the death of Nichols, according to the Shelby County Sheriff's Office.
Carl Douglas, civil rights attorney and part of the legal team for O.J. Simpson, said the fact that all five officers are Black does not remove the racial taint of the fatal beating.
"Even though the officers are Black, race absolutely played a role in what happened here," he said. "The race of Mr. Nichols."