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Tyre Nichols was 'defenseless' during his 'savage' beating by police, attorneys say

RowVaugn Wells, the mother of Tyre Nichols, who died after being beaten by Memphis police officers, cries as she is comforted by Tyre's stepfather Rodney Wells, during a news conference on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023.
Gerald Herbert
RowVaugn Wells, the mother of Tyre Nichols, who died after being beaten by Memphis police officers, cries as she is comforted by Tyre's stepfather Rodney Wells, during a news conference on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023.

Updated January 23, 2023 at 6:08 PM ET

Tyre Nichols was "defenseless" during the "savage" beating by Memphis police officers that preceded his death earlier this month, attorneys for his family said at a Monday press conference.

Earlier in the day, law enforcement officials privately met with Nichols' family members and their attorneys to show them video footage of the police stop, which has not yet been released to the public.

Attorney Antonio Romanucci described a violent scene. "He was a human piñata for those police officers," Romanucci said. "It was an unadulterated, unabashed nonstop beating of this young boy for three minutes."

Attorney Ben Crump said the video reminded him of the infamous video of Los Angeles police beating Rodney King in 1991.

Nichols, who was Black, died on Jan. 10, three days after he was stopped by Memphis police for reckless driving. He fled the scene of the traffic stop but was ultimately taken into custody after what police said were two "confrontations" with officers.

Authorities said the 29-year-old Nichols complained of "shortness of breath" after his arrest and was taken to the hospital in critical condition. Nichols' family said the police beat him so badly that he became unrecognizable.

Crump, one of the family's attorneys, said Nichols was tased, pepper sprayed and restrained during the incident, part of which occurred about 80 yards from where Nichols lived with his mother and stepfather. Crump said Nichols could be heard calling out for his mother just before the video ended.

"Yet again, we're seeing evidence of what happens to Black and brown people from simple traffic stops," he said. "You should not be killed because of a simple traffic stop."

Authorities promised Nichols' family that they would release video of the incident to the public in one to two weeks, Crump said.

Nichols mother, RowVaughn Wells, said her son didn't do drugs or carry guns, and questioned why police felt they had to violently arrest him.

Wells remembered her son as a "beautiful soul" who loved to take photographs of the sunset. "He had my name tattooed on his arm, and that made me proud, because most kids don't put their mom's name, but he did," she said.

A photo that has circulated in news reports and on social media shows a badly bruised Nichols lying in a hospital bed after his arrest.

Multiple investigations are underway

Last week the Memphis Police Department said it had concluded its administrative investigation into Nichols' death and announced it had fired five officers: Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills, Jr. and Justin Smith. Like Nichols, all of the officers are Black.

Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn 'CJ' Davis said the officers had violated multiple police department policies, including excessive use of force, duty to intervene and duty to render aid.

"The Memphis Police Department is committed to protecting and defending the rights of every citizen in our city," Davis said in a statement. "The egregious nature of this incident is not a reflection of the good work that our officers perform, with integrity, every day."

The Shelby County District Attorney's Office said it understood the "reasonable request from the public" to view the video of Nichols death and that it was working to determine how quickly it could release the footage and would do so as soon as possible.

"However, we must ensure we abide by applicable laws and ethical rules so that we do not jeopardize an ongoing investigation or prosecution," the office said.

The Justice Department and the FBI are investigating Nichol's death, and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has also launched its own inquiry.

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