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Attorneys for Family of Tyre Nichols Say Memphis Police Acted Like He Was ‘Human Piñata’

Ben Crump stands behind microphones at a podium. He is wearing a grey pinstriped suit with a white shirt and purple tie and is looking down. Attorney Tony Romanucci is wearing a navy suit with a striped tie and is looking straight ahead. Nichols' mother RowVaughn Wells is standing to Crump's left, wearing dark sunglasses and her head bowed down and to the left. Her husband and Nichols' stepfather, Rodney Wells, is wearing a black baseball cap and has his hand on RowVaughn's shoulder as he looks straight ahead.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump speaks at a news conference with the family of Tyre Nichols, who died after being beaten by Memphis police officers, as RowVaughn Wells, mother of Tyre, right, and Tyre’s stepfather Rodney Wells, along with attorney Tony Romanucci, left, also stand with Crump, in Memphis, Tenn., Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Attorneys for the family of a Memphis, Tennessee, man who died days after being beaten by police say that video shows the officers acted as if the man was a “human piñata.”

Tyre Nichols, 29, died on Jan. 10, three days after being severely injured during a confrontation with five Memphis police officers during a traffic stop. According to civil rights attorneys Benjamin Crump and Tony Romanucci, who viewed police body camera footage of the incident along with Nichols’ mother RowVaughn Wells and stepfather Rodney Wells, the officers had “brutalized him to the point of being unrecognizable.”

“Regrettably, it reminded us of [the] Rodney King video,” Crump also said. “And unlike Rodney King, Tyre didn’t survive.”

A portrait of Tyre Nichols is displayed at a memorial service for him on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023 in Memphis, Tenn. Nichols was killed during a traffic stop with Memphis Police on Jan. 7. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)

Crump said that RowVaughn Wells left the room as the video played.

“His mother couldn’t get through the first minute of it,” Crump said at a press conference Monday, according to the New York Times. “What we can tell you about the video is that it is appalling, it is deplorable, it is heinous.”

“He was a human piñata for those police officers,” Romanucci said. “It was an unadulterated, unabashed nonstop beating of this young boy for three minutes.”

Nichols had been stopped for reckless driving, according to the Memphis Police Department, who in a Jan. 8 statement described a “confrontation” from which Nichols “fled on foot.”

“Officers pursued the suspect and again attempted to take the suspect into custody,” the MPD statement said. “While attempting to take the suspect into custody, another confrontation occurred; however, the suspect was ultimately apprehended. Afterward, the suspect complained of having a shortness of breath, at which time an ambulance was called to the scene. The suspect was transported to St. Francis Hospital in critical condition.”

The five officers involved in the incident have been identified: Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills, Jr., and Justin Smith. The MPD announced last Friday that all five officers have been fired. The officers have not been charged in connection with Nichols’ death.

Additionally, the Memphis Fire Department announced Monday that two personnel connected to the incident had been “relieved of duty.”

“Last week, two MFD personnel involved in the initial patient care of Tyre Nichols were relieved of duty while an internal investigation is being conducted,” MFD said in a statement Monday. “This is an ongoing investigation, and we cannot comment further at this time.”

Authorities have indicated that the video will be released sometime this week or next week, but have remained tight-lipped beyond that.

“The Memphis Police Department & City Administration met with the family of Tyre Nichols yesterday to facilitate the viewing of video recordings,” a spokesperson for the city of Memphis told Law&Crime in an emailed statement. “The Memphis Police Department is fully cooperating with the criminal investigation being conducted by the US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office.”

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation told Law&Crime that the investigation is ongoing.

“Our agency’s work is active and ongoing in the investigation into the circumstances leading to the death of Tyre Nichols,” an agency spokesperson told Law&Crime in an email Tuesday.

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