MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The release of police video related to the death of a Black man after a violent arrest — which could take until next week — will be carefully timed to avoid the chance that suspects or witnesses tailor their statements to what they saw in the footage, the top prosecutor in Memphis said Tuesday.
Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy told The Associated Press that investigators probing Tyre Nichols’ Jan. 7 arrest want to complete as many interviews as possible before releasing the video this week or next week. The timetable has rankled activists who expected the video to be released after Nichols’ family viewed the footage, which occurred on Monday.
Mulroy said he feared that releasing the video too early in the investigation could influence witnesses. He asked for patience from the public.
“If you have suspects or persons of interest and they see the video, then they could theoretically ... tailor their statements to law enforcement based on what they’ve seen,” Mulroy said, speaking in general rather than to this specific case. “Even witnesses who are not suspects or not persons of interest, it’s easy to get confused, and rather than talking to law enforcement about what they themselves remember, they can start confusing it with what they saw on TV.”
On Monday, Ben Crump, who's representing Nichols' family, said police video that the family viewed showed that Nichols — a 29-year-old FedEx worker and father — was shocked, pepper sprayed and restrained when he was pulled over for a traffic stop near his home. He was returning home from a suburban park, where he had taken photos of the sunset. The legal team said that officers beat Nichols for three minutes in a “savage” encounter reminiscent of the infamous 1991 police beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King.
Mulroy said he could not discuss details of the video, but as a human being and a father, he was distraught by it.
“My heart went out to the family,” he said. “I’m a parent ... I can’t imagine anything worse than losing a child, with the possible exception of losing a child under really violent, prolonged circumstances.”
Crump released a statement Tuesday saying that a forensic pathologist who was hired by the family conducted an independent autopsy that showed extensive internal bleeding. The statement did not state a cause of death or include the independent pathologist's report. The statement said further details would be released later. Tennessee authorities have not released an autopsy of Nichols.
Relatives have accused the police of causing Nichols to have a heart attack and kidney failure. Authorities have only said that Nichols experienced a medical emergency.
Release of the video could coincide with a decision on whether to charge five Memphis Police Department who have been fired from the force for their involvement in Nichols’ arrest, Mulroy said. He declined to comment about whether charges are likely.
The Rev. J. Lawrence Turner — senior pastor of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, Disciples of Christ — said he and other clergy have met with city officials to discuss the Nichols case. Turner said it was important that charges be brought against the officers, who should be treated “like any other citizen.”
“If we were to commit a murder, and within hours be identified as a suspect, we would be arrested and charges would be brought against us,” Turner said Tuesday. “I don’t know why it takes another week and a half.”
Nichols’ family has agreed to investigators’ request to wait a week or two before making the video public to “make sure to give this family what they want most, and that is justice,” Crump said.
Mayor Jim Strickland and Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis had previously issued a statement saying body camera footage would be made public after an internal department investigation and after the family viewed it. The police department finished its investigation Friday, which is when the officers were fired.
Mulroy acknowledged that some may have misunderstood the timing mentioned in the mayor’s and police chief’s statement as an issue of “language and semantics” in an emotionally charged situation.
Two Memphis Fire Department employees have also been removed from duty while the agency conducts an investigation into Nichols' death. The employees were involved in the initial patient care of Tyre Nichols, the Memphis Fire Department said in a statement.
The fire department employees were “relieved of duty” last week while an internal investigation is conducted, the agency said. No further information was released.
Nichols' death has led to three separate law enforcement investigations — and five Black officers were fired last week after a police probe determined that they used excessive force, and failed their duties to intervene and render aid.
Nichols was arrested after officers stopped him for reckless driving. The day after the encounter, police said in a statement that “a confrontation occurred” as officers approached the vehicle and Nichols ran; they said officers caught up to him and that ”another confrontation occurred” while they were taking him into custody. Police said Nichols complained of shortness of breath and was taken to a hospital, where he died three days later.