A Memphis police officer, identified as Preston Hemphill, has been relieved of duty after the traffic stop that led to the death of Tyre Nichols earlier this month. Hemphill was the third officer present at the stop and fired a stun gun at Nichols as he ran from officers on January 7th. Hemphill’s attorney, Lee Gerald, confirmed that Hemphill activated his bodycam as per departmental regulations and is cooperating with the ongoing investigation.
Five other officers, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith, were fired on January 20th following an administrative investigation that found they had violated department policy on the use of force. They were charged with second-degree murder, two counts of official misconduct, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, one count of official oppression and one count of aggravated assault by prosecutors.
Hemphill’s name was not announced by the department on the same day as the five officers because he has not received any departmental or criminal charges yet. The investigation is ongoing and a police spokesperson confirmed that Hemphill was relieved of duty, but did not elaborate on the timing of the announcement.
The news has disappointed Tyre Nichols’ family attorney, Ben Crump, who has called for transparency from the Memphis Police Department. Crump has questioned why Hemphill’s identity and role in Tyre’s death are only coming to light now and why the white officer involved in the incident was protected from the public eye and sufficient discipline and accountability.
Memphis City Council Vice Chair J.B. Smiley Jr. also believes the discipline against Hemphill does not go far enough, tweeting, “For the record, relieving someone of duty is not firing them.” Smiley has called for Hemphill to be fired. A representative from the Memphis Police Association, which represents rank-and-file officers, could not be reached for comment.
Tyre Nichols was a 29-year-old Black man and amateur photographer and skateboarder who was hospitalized in critical condition and died three days after the traffic stop. Video footage from police body cameras and a police surveillance camera showed officers punching, kicking and hitting Tyre with a baton. One video showed Tyre escaping while on the ground and an officer shot a stun gun at him. Tyre managed to run to his mother’s neighborhood, but was eventually confronted and assaulted by multiple officers as he shouted for help.
Two Shelby County Sheriff’s Office deputies were relieved of duty pending an administrative investigation into Tyre’s death, and two Memphis fire personnel were also relieved of duty while the department conducts an internal investigation into the case. The investigations will look into the conduct of the officers and personnel involved to determine what happened and if any policies were violated.
In conclusion, the death of Tyre Nichols has sparked multiple investigations and disciplinary actions against several officers and personnel. The Memphis Police Department and the community are still waiting for answers and accountability for Tyre’s death.
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