‘The Definition of Excessive Force’: Memphis Releases Footage of the Fatal Police Beating of Tyre Nichols

Memphis authorities released the police bodycam footage capturing the brutal beating of Tyre Nichols by five police officers before his death three days later in a hospital.


Memphis authorities released the police bodycam footage capturing the brutal beating of Tyre Nichols by five police officers before his death three days later in a hospital.

  • The footage shows the five Memphis police officers chasing down Nichols and repeatedly tasing, kicking, pepper-spraying, and assaulting him with fists and batons while Nichols, who is Black, was restrained and screaming for his mother. The five police officers are also Black.
  • Memphis Police released four videos of the Jan. 7 encounter and its aftermath, totaling more than an hour of graphic footage. Nichols was pulled over for what police originally said was suspicion of reckless driving, but Memphis police later admitted the cause of the stop has not been substantiated.
  • “You guys are really doing a lot right now,” Nichols says at one point. “I’m just trying to go home.” Another video depicts officers kicking Nichols in the head, before propping him up so another officer can, in his words, “baton the f—k” out of the 29-year-old father of one.
  • The final video footage from a pole-mounted police camera showed at least three officers simultaneously punching and kicking him while Nichols laid on the ground, with an additional five officers standing around watching the beating while making no attempt to intervene and stop the vicious assault.
  • Tyre Nichols was remembered by his family as a loving father and an amateur photographer who enjoyed watching sunsets and skateboarding and was proud of his job working for FedEx, which is headquartered in Memphis. Nichols was driving home from photographing the sunset at Shelby Farms park when he was pulled over by police.
  • Nichols was a native of Sacramento, California who moved to Memphis to be closer to his family. “All my son was trying to do was get home,” said his mother, RowVaughn Wells, at a press conference. “He was two minutes from the house when they murdered him.”
  • The initial police statement merely said two “confrontations” occurred at the traffic stop, and Nichols was taken to the hospital after he complained of “shortness of breath.” The brutal assault on a restrained man went unmentioned.
  • The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation opened a use-of-force investigation on Jan. 8 due to Nichols’s condition, and Nichols “succumbed to his injuries” on Jan. 10. Nichols’s friends and family protested in front of a Memphis police station on Jan. 14, leading Chief Cerelyn Davis, who is also Black, to announce on Jan. 15 that she had reviewed the encounter and would take “immediate action.”
  • The five officers – Justin Smith, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III, Demetrius Haley, and Tadarrius Bean – were all fired last week. All five have been charged with second-degree murder, assault, kidnapping, official misconduct and oppression.
  • One police training expert told The New York Times, “In my career, I’ve never seen — I mean, you see it in the movies — but I’ve never seen an individual deliberately being propped up to be beaten.” The executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum called the beating “the definition of excessive force.”


reporting from the left side of the aisle


  • The New York Times argued the Nichols case demonstrates how many cities have revisited how they investigate and the kinds of public statements officials make during police brutality cases. Cities are making charging decisions more quickly, avoiding misleading statements – the most notorious recent example of official deception being the 2014 shooting of Laquan MacDonald – and working to maintain public trust.
  • NBC News profiled the five police officers charged with second-degree murder and other counts in the death of Tyre Nichols. The oldest officer is 32 years old, and none of the officers were on the force longer than six years. One officer, Demetrius Haley, had previously been accused of taking part in the beating of an inmate in a 2016 lawsuit.
  • CNN identified some remaining unanswered questions about the Nichols case.  Police are still not able to substantiate the alleged “confrontation” that initiated the incident, who was involved in the initial encounter, and how far Nichols fled on foot before the second “confrontation.”



  • Fox News reported the Shelby County sheriff’s office has opened a new internal investigation of two deputies after the release of the video. Sheriff Floyd Bonner, Jr. placed two deputies on administrative leave due to “concerns about two deputies who appeared on the scene following the physical confrontation between police and Tyre Nichols.”
  • Protesters blocked a highway in Memphis on Friday night after the footage was released, according to Breitbart. Protesters blocked traffic on the Memphis-Arkansas bridge, a part of I-55.
  • The Wall Street Journal noted several of the officers belonged to a specialized task force known as the Scorpion unit that was tasked with violent-crime reduction in some of the most violent neighborhoods of Memphis. Lawyers for Nichols’s family have called for the unit to be disbanded.


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© Dominic Moore, 2023