The city of Memphis in Tennessee released hours of additional video and audio on Tuesday in the case of five former police officers charged with the violent beating and death of Tyre Nichols last January.
The files were made public based on a judge’s order from November 2, the same day former officer Desmond Mills Jr pleaded guilty to federal charges in the case that sparked outrage around the world and intensified calls for police reform.
City officials also plan to release additional written documents.
Mills also intends to plead guilty in state court and could testify against his four ex-colleagues — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin and Justin Smith — who remain charged with civil rights violations in federal court and second-degree murder and other offences in state court. They have pleaded not guilty.
Mr Nichols died in hospital on January 10, 2023 three days after he was kicked, punched and hit with a police baton after a traffic stop.
Police video released weeks after the killing showed the five officers beating Mr Nichols as he yelled for his mother just steps from his house.
That video also showed the officers milling about and talking with each other as Mr Nichols sat on the ground, struggling with his injuries.
Mr Nichols was black. The five officers also are black. The four who remain charged face federal trial in May and state court trial in August.
Following the January 2023 release of police body camera and pole camera footage, the city had planned to release about 20 more hours of video, audio and documents including the officers’ personnel files, but the judge granted the defence’s motion for a delay “until such time as the state and the defendants have reviewed this information”.
A coalition of media organisations, including The Associated Press, pressed to have them made public, arguing that blocking their release went against “the First Amendment’s protections for newsgathering and publication, particularly in the context of criminal proceedings”.
Lawyers for the former officers argued that their rights to a fair trial must be recognised and protected pending trial.
Shelby County Judge James Jones Jr had considered objections from defence lawyers to the public release of certain documents related to the officers’ personnel records and other information tied to the case. Prosecutors outlined the information they thought should and should not be released to the public, and then gave the list to defence lawyers.
The defence objected to the release of any information that is part of the ongoing investigation. That includes audio from body cameras that may contain statements made by officers that could be used against them.
Prosecutors and defence lawyers agreed that most police personnel records that pre-dated Mr Nichols’ beating could be released. But they both also agreed that the media must not get so-called Garrity statements, which stem from investigative interviews given by the officers to department administrators after Mr Nichols’ beating.
Garrity statements are not allowed to be used at trial against defendants.
The US Department of Justice opened a “patterns and practices” investigation into how Memphis Police Department officers use force and conduct arrests, and whether the department in the majority-black city engages in racially discriminatory policing.
In March, the Justice Department announced a separate review concerning use of force, de-escalation strategies and specialised units in the Memphis Police Department.
Mr Nichols’ mother has sued the city and its police chief over her son’s death.
The new material shows what officers and others did and said before, during and after the beating.
Much of their comments suggest officers and others tending to Mr Nichols appeared fixated with the idea that he was high on drugs. One emergency medical technician even claimed, “He’s not injured. He’s just high.”
Mr Nichols’ post-mortem examination later detected only low levels of alcohol and THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in his system.
As for what prompted the traffic stop, Bean’s bodycam recorded another officer saying that Mr Nichols “drove into oncoming traffic” and “swerved like he’s going to hit my car” after they turned on sirens and ordered him to stop. But the same officer also says Mr Nichols “stopped at the red light and put his turn signal on”.
The officer said they got out to pursue him and that is apparently when Mr Nichols fled on foot towards his home, to where the beating would occur, less than a block from his front door.