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'Reprehensible': KPD chief calls for accountability after 5 Memphis officers charged with murder in Tyre Nichols' death

"Based on what I know, the actions of the involved officers were reprehensible, and they should be held accountable to the highest possible extent of the law."

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Knoxville Police Chief Paul Noel and other East Tennessee leaders are calling for accountability after a grand jury formally charged five fired Memphis Police Department officers with murder in the death of Tyre Nichols during a traffic stop near his home.

The former officers -- Demetrius Haley, Tadarrius Bean, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills, Jr. and Justin Smith -- are all facing second-degree murder charges.

“I am shocked and disgusted by the senseless murder of Tyre Nichols at the hands of five now-charged Memphis Police Department officers. Based on what I know, the actions of the involved officers were reprehensible, and they should be held accountable to the highest possible extent of the law," Noel said on Friday. "Their actions represent a grievous disregard for basic human dignity. And unfortunately, they also undermine all of the positive work the men and women of law enforcement do on a daily basis all across the country.”

Noel said the Knoxville Police Department's thoughts were with Nichols' family and the Memphis community, saying he encouraged his officers and employees to reflect on how they carry themselves and interact with people in the community.

"We must hold ourselves accountable to one another and the community and strive to treat every person we encounter with the utmost dignity and respect,” he said.

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs also offered prayers for Nichols' family and Memphis.

"I'm a strong believer in law and order. When police (and government in general) break the law, there is only lawlessness and disorder. This is absolutely unacceptable," Jacobs said.

The Sevierville Police Department also released a statement, calling the beating an "abhorrent abuse of police authority."

"As many of you have, we at SPD have waited with trepidation for the release of the Memphis Police Department video of the Tyre Nichols killing. Now that we have seen what transpired, I can only say it is the most abhorrent abuse of police authority that I can imagine. There is absolutely no justification for the force that these officers used, for the pain that they inflicted, for the death that they caused. 

First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with the Nichols family. We offer our sympathies for their tremendous loss, especially in these circumstances. We also pray for the city of Memphis, as they mourn the unnecessary and grievous loss of a fellow citizen.

Yesterday, in anticipation of the video release, Deputy Chief Hinson and I had an opportunity to meet with SPD supervisors. We reminded these dedicated public servants of our pledge to protect and serve our community, residents and visitors alike, and that we must continue to treat everyone with dignity and fairness. The well-being of our community depends upon it."

Five former MPD officers indicted & charged

On Thursday, Shelby County District Attorney General Steve Mulroy announced all five fired officers had been indicted by a grand jury for second-degree murder and other charges in Nichols' death. 

Mulroy said the city would be able to release body camera and SkyCop video of the arrest to the public after 6 p.m. CST on Jan. 27. 

You can watch those recordings with this link to YouTube.

WARNING: This video shows graphic violence and other disturbing content. It contains four different recordings, from different angles, that show the deadly beating of Tyre Nichols. The recordings were unedited by WBIR, and were first posted by the City of Memphis.

Ben Crump, the civil rights attorney representing Nichols' family, said the police video the family viewed showed Nichols — who was a 29-year-old FedEx worker and father — shocked, pepper-sprayed and restrained when he was pulled over for a traffic stop near his home on Jan. 7. The legal team said officers beat Nichols for three minutes in a "savage" encounter reminiscent of the infamous 1991 police beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King. Antonio Romanucci, a Civil Rights Lawyer who is a part of Crump's team, said the officers beat Nichols "like a human piñata.” Nichols died three days after his arrest.

The Crump legal team requested an independent autopsy, and said preliminary findings “indicate Tyre suffered extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating, and that his observed injuries are consistent with what the family and attorneys witnessed on the video of his fatal encounter with police on January 7, 2023. Further details and findings from this independent report will be disclosed at another time."

During the Thursday news conference, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director David Rausch called the video "absolutely appalling."

"This does not reflect policing. What I saw was sickening," he said.

The Memphis Police Department fired the five officers last week after it said they were found to be "directly responsible for the physical abuse of Mr. Nichols." 

"This is not just a professional failing. This is a failing of basic humanity toward another individual," Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis said.

Haley, Smith, Bean, Mills and Martin are each charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault – acting in concert, aggravated kidnapping causing bodily injury, aggravated kidnapping while possessing a weapon, official misconduct through unauthorized exercising of official power, official misconduct through failure to perform a duty imposed by law, and official oppression.

Read the full indictment here

The TBI said all five were taken into custody in the Shelby County Jail. Bond for Haley and Martin was set at $350,000, while bond for Bean, Mills and Smith was set at $250,000. As of Friday morning, all but Haley had been released from custody on bond.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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